Category: Movies

Cats In Movies: 1985’s ‘Explorers’

When I was a kid, my best friend’s dad had a trove of science fiction on VHS tapes, running the gamut from 1950s flying saucer classics to 80s fare like The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator and Explorers, a little-known Disney film that quietly came and went from theaters in 1985.

The Joe Dante-directed movie attained cult status in subsequent years via home video, and it’s easy to see why: Explorers is the stuff kids’ dreams are made of.

The movie follows three boys who dream of a bizarre symbol — a symbol that, when entered into a computer, spawns self-writing code that generates a floating sphere.

The sphere is an an airtight, transparent, inertia-less magnetic bubble. The boys soon realize they can make the sphere move and manipulate its size. More importantly, they can ride in it.

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Wulfgang (River Phoenix) and Ben (Ethan Hawke) activate the sphere for the first time, before Wulfgang’s cat shows them how to make a space ship out of it.
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The dream symbols from Explorers: Not bad for 1985 computer-generated graphics.

Naturally, they build their own space ship out of junk parts — an old Tilt-A-Whirl ride, a garbage can, a TV screen and washing machine doors for windows — and use the magnetic bubble as its invisible shell.

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The boys build a space ship, which they dub Thunder Road, out of parts found in a junkyard.

After their first flight — in which they lose control of their new ship, crash through the snack bar at a drive-in theater and draw the attention of police — the kids refine their invention, discovering a way to reach outer space.

Explorers is Ethan Hawke’s first movie. He plays Ben, the dreamer of the trio, the kid who lays on his roof at night and gazes at the stars, wondering what’s out there.

The late River Phoenix also made his film debut with Explorers and plays Wulfgang, the proud nerd and young scientist who uses his computer to control the ship-in-a-bubble.

And former child actor Jason Presson plays Darren, the kid who comes from a rough existence with an alcoholic dad, and befriends Ben and Wulfgang when he defends them from bullies at school. (This being the 80s, the bullies are very blond, very stupid and very cruel.)

So where does the cat come in? By showing the three kids the potential of their invention, of course.

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Wulfgang’s cat jumps on the keyboard, sending the sphere zig-zagging through his basement.

Wulfgang and the boys first conjure their magnetic sphere into existence in using a computer in Wulfgang’s basement lab, and marvel at it as it hangs in the air, impenetrable and seemingly immobile.

That’s when Wulfgang’s orange tabby does what cats do and flops down on the keyboard, sending random spatial coordinates to the sphere which then zig-zags throughout the basement. As the sphere tears holes in old junk, punctures a window and comes to rest a few feet away, the boys realize it can not only move, it can be guided.

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Takeoff!

Every boy dreams of exploring space at some point, and Explorers is that dream realized through a child’s eyes. Three kids from the suburbs build a ship that can reach outer space, offering answers to the tantalizing questions about what’s out there.

We’re not the only ones with fond memories of the movie. A Hollywood script-writing duo which includes the director of True Detective has been working on an updated version that would play out as a live-action TV series. Here’s to hoping if their project gets the greenlight, the cat stays in.

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A Cat Really Did Bring Her Kitten To An ER In Instanbul

Buddy and I were a bit skeptical when we first heard the story of a cat who padded into the emergency room of a hospital, carrying her kitten by the scruff of the neck, to plead for help for the little one.

The story first appeared on Reddit without any details, but we were able to track down some of the people involved to fill out the narrative and answer some questions.

A woman was waiting in the emergency room of Kucukcekmece Hospital in Istanbul at about 5 p.m. on April 27 when the cat dragged her baby through the open doors.

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A mom cat brings her sick baby into an ER in Istanbul. Credit: Merve Özcan

The witness, Merve Özcan, described the kitten as “a little bit mischievous” in Twitter posts about the incident.

An article in Sözcü, a daily newspaper whose name translates to “spokesperson,” said the mother cat brought her kitten right up to the blue-gowned hospital staff, meowing for attention.

Hospital staff immediately helped — more about that below — and the cat mom followed them, keeping her eyes on her baby as they brought the kitten into a room for treatment.

“While the kitten was being cared for, the mother cat was given milk and food,” the newspaper reported. “Hospital staff ensured full treatment by passing them onto a veterinarian after their intervention.”

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Staff take the kitten as the mother watches. Credit: Merve Özcan

The story doesn’t say exactly what was wrong with the kitten, and Özcan did not know either.

While this story would seem insane to most of us, it starts to make a lot more sense when you consider where it happened: Istanbul, a city famous for its massive cat population, and the humans who revere those felines.

From the Legal Nomads travel blog:

Cats are the most beloved animal in Istanbul and the living attraction of this huge city. They are extremely friendly, come in all sorts of cuddly colors and sizes, and always respond with a greedy “meow.” Stray cats usually take the best seats at cafes and restaurants in Istanbul without anyone even bothering moving them. They maneuver around tables and customers, inside and out of the buildings in search of the most comfortable spot.

Caring for the city’s hundreds of thousands of cats is a community effort: People feed them, pet them, bring them to veterinarians when they’re injured, and even build little dwellings for them.

With that in mind, it makes sense that a cat in Istanbul would know to approach humans for help, and to go to a hospital. If the mom cat lives in the area, undoubtedly she’s seen the sick and injured walk through those doors many times.

“Money is not an issue to some people when it comes to cats,” Ozan, a pet shop employee, told Reuters. “They take in cats with broken legs, blind ones or ones with stomach problems and bring them to the clinic. When they see that they are healed, they let them live on the street again.”

In an article titled “Istanbul: The City of Cats,” Goran Tomasevic of Reuters describes the relationship between the city’s inhabitants and their feline friends:

They are so ubiquitous that no one bats an eye at a cat padding across the lobby of a high-rise office building, or when one curls up to sleep on a nearby barstool. Shop owners and locals often know their neighbourhood cats by name and will tell tales about them, as if chatting about a friend.

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A cat house next to water and food bowls on an Istanbul street. Credit: Reuters

A 2017 documentary, Kedi (Turkish for cat), explores the world of Istanbul’s street cats and the people who love them. Pictured at the top of this post is Kedi director Ceyda Torun, posing with cats in Istanbul.

You can watch a trailer for the documentary here:

My Thoughts On ‘Don’t F*ck With Cats’

I finally got around to watching Netflix’s Don’t F*ck With Cats, a documentary about the effort to track down a narcissistic killer whose victims included several kittens, an adult cat and finally a Chinese-Canadian engineering student.

If you’re not familiar with the three-part documentary, here’s the short version: A man uploaded sadistic videos of himself torturing and killing cats, prompting a group of online vigilantes to conduct their own investigation and offer the information to police, who promptly ignored all of it.

The cat killer taunted the horrified netizens for two years, vowing to continue taking life and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow each time he killed more kittens, until finally someone found the headless, limbless torso of his first human victim in a garbage dumpster in Ontario.

The murderer had arranged to meet another man he’d met on Craigslist, then filmed himself killing the incapacitated man just like he’d filmed himself killing kittens. The video appeared online shortly after the murder.

The police, who couldn’t be bothered when it was “just” cats, suddenly got really interested. The killer fled to Paris — where he became the subject of an international manhunt and media circus — then to Berlin. He stopped in an internet cafe to Google stories about himself,  but the cafe’s clerk recognized him and called the police. He was taken into custody without incident, then promptly extradited back to Canada for trial.

The police don’t exactly cover themselves in glory with this case. Not only did they fail to act on information from concerned tipsters, they were either unaware or uninterested in the statistical correlation between people who kill animals for pleasure “graduating” to human victims once killing animals loses its thrill.

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Jun Lin, 33, the victim of the cat killer.

They had a man in their jurisdiction torturing and killing cats, capturing the horrific deeds on camera and regularly uploading new videos. They failed to act.

The thing is, animal life has intrinsic value. We delude ourselves into believing that because the voiceless — human and animal — can’t express their suffering,  it doesn’t exist. The police should have acted when the killer’s victims were “just” cats for the sake of the cats, and not only because animal abusers often move on to harming human beings.

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It was also surprising to see how deferential and naïve the Canadian investigators seemed in comparison to their American counterparts. At various turns they failed to preserve evidence, missed important clues and underestimated the killer. In one scene an investigator casually mentions the discovery of a dead puppy in the same trash the human torso was found, failing to connect the dots despite the many warnings her agency had received.

When Canadian police finally got the killer into custody they handled him with kid gloves, allowing him to play the part of scared little boy who didn’t know what he was doing rather than what he was: A calculating 32-year-old man who clearly enjoyed inflicting suffering on people and animals, playing to his captive audience of several thousand people on Facebook as he led them on a scavenger hunt.

The killer routinely interrupted police interviews, shrugged off difficult questions by complaining that he was tired, and tried to buy time for himself to think by asking for things like warmer clothing, cigarettes and beverages.

In short, they allowed him to manipulate them as he had manipulated everyone else.

When the killer’s mother appears on camera, you can see the beginnings of his psychosis. She believes her son is a sweet little angel who was himself manipulated by a phantom, a person her son invented to excuse his deeds.

She also admits she knew about the cat videos and did nothing. In her view, people concerned about animal welfare are “crazy,” and those crazies shouldn’t have gotten so wound up over a few videos in which her son kills kittens while singing along to pop songs. Just a sweet little boy having fun.

Remembering Jun Lin

As for the killer himself, I’m not going to name him. His victim was Jun Lin, a 33-year-old engineering student who moved from China to Canada because, as his friend Benjamin Xu explained, the latter country is more accepting of gay men.

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Benjamin Xu/Credit: IMDB

Toward the end of the documentary, Xu mentioned something I’ve often thought about: Society’s obsession with “true crime” and how our morbid curiosity gives would-be murderers precisely what they want. If they can’t achieve fame, infamy is the next best thing.

We do a great disservice by immortalizing the killers and forgetting the victims. Everyone can name the two Columbine killers, but how many of us can name the victims?

“The really sad thing is, everybody is talking about [the killer] and nobody has ever remembered Jun,” Xu said. “That doesn’t seem fair at all to my friend. He doesn’t deserve that.”

The other stars of the show

Finally, there are the two “sleuths” at the center of the documentary, who spent two years of their lives ostensibly investigating the killer while giving him exactly what he wanted. Contrary to what the documentary’s title suggests, they weren’t cat lovers, just a couple of people motivated by the thrill of the hunt.

As their Facebook group about the murderer swelled to thousands of members he reveled in the attention, intentionally leaving clues for them in each subsequent video like a scavenger hunt, a fun little game for them to play as long as he remained the star of the show.

The documentary glosses over their mistakes, and there were some big ones: At one point they were so sure a South African man was the killer that they made his life a living hell, with an entire team of online vigilantes across the world harassing him from afar.

That man killed himself and was likely collateral damage in this fun little game the “sleuths” had going, but who has time for that when there are fresh clues and leads to track down? We got the wrong guy, LOL! Oops!

In the end it was someone else — quite likely the killer himself — who provided the alleged sleuths with the killer’s name once they’d exhausted their leads and the hunt became stale. He wanted them to continue the chase.

While the would-be detectives did manage to collect some information via their own efforts, it’s not accurate to say they solved the mystery.

On the other hand it’s fair to question whether the killer would have gone as far as he did if he didn’t have tens of thousands of people on Facebook hanging on his every video and utterance.

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Deanna Thompson, who has now appeared in two documentaries about the killer and has parlayed her role into a side business.

The documentary ends with one of the killer’s obsessives, a Las Vegas woman named Deanna Thompson, looking at the camera and admonishing the audience for being interested enough to watch the documentary, as if everyone shares in the guilt for the killer’s actions.

But what she’d like everyone to forget is that her actions egged him on while he was on the loose and actively taking life. Playing into his scheme is a much different thing than passively watching a documentary more than half a decade after his conviction. There’s a good argument to be made that the vigilantes should be embarrassed by their role in this story, rather than reveling in the attention they’re getting as a result.

Remember Jun Lin. Remember the poor cats. Forget about the killer and the people who helped him achieve the fame he so desperately craved.

 

Note: I realize refusing to name the killer on this blog is like putting a single grain of sand back in a bottle after the whole thing has been spilled, but hey, we have to start somewhere.

Unused Audio Commentary: The Big Lebowski

Unused Audio Commentary for The Big Lebowski, 20th anniversary Blu-ray special edition with 32 seconds of extra footage, featuring Buddy the Cat and his human, Big Buddy.

Big Buddy the Human: Hello and thanks for joining us on this special commentary track for one of the most beloved cult films of the past quarter century.

Little Buddy the Cat: The Big Lebowski!

Big Buddy: Yep. There’s a Big Lebowski and a Little Lebowski, just like I’m Big Buddy and you’re Little Buddy.

Little Buddy: Let me guess: The Little Lebowski is the more awesome of the two, and he’s the hero of the story?

Big Buddy: That’s correct. Although in this movie he’s referred to as “The Dude” by anyone who knows him, just like you’re “The Jerk” to anyone who knows you. Now we see the opening shots of a supermarket as the Dude shops for a pint of milk. This movie is set in the 1990s. George Bush is on the TV warning Saddam Hussein: “This aggression will not stand!”

Little Buddy: No, it will not!

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“This aggression will not stand!”

Big Buddy: I love this part. The Dude doesn’t even get his foot in the door of his home before these thugs grab him. They’re dunking his head in the toilet bowl.

Little Buddy: His litter box! Oh that’s nasty.

Big Buddy: They want money. They keep saying “Where’s the money, Lebowski?” as they dunk his face into the toilet. And now probably the most pivotal moment in the movie…the second thug pees on The Dude’s rug.

Little Buddy: Unbelievable! Who would do something like that? Who would pee on a rug? Certainly not I.

Big Buddy: Says the rug-pee-er.

Little Buddy: I am not!

Big Buddy: Please. Your kind are notorious for pissing all over rugs. It’s like a national pastime with you people.

Little Buddy: ‘You people’? ‘Your kind’? That’s so racialist!

Big Buddy: You’re a cat, you can’t be the victim of racism.

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The inciting incident: A thug pees on The Dude’s rug.

Little Buddy: We’re not here to talk about me peeing on rugs. We’re here to talk about thugs peeing on The Dude’s rug. Why does The Dude owe them money?

Big Buddy: He doesn’t. That’s the whole point. These thugs have the wrong Lebowski.

Little Buddy: So they peed on the wrong Lebowski’s rug? That rug really tied the room together! Please tell me The Dude gets a good rug to replace the one that’s been peed on.

Big Buddy: That’s the plot of this movie. One man’s relentless search for a perfect rug to tie the room together and replace the rug that’s been peed on.

Little Buddy: I like it already! What’s this?

Big Buddy: This is a bowling alley, where people play a game called bowling…

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The Dude, Donny and Walter at the bowling alley. As per usual, Donny is out of his element.

Little Buddy: Are they…?

Big Buddy: Yes.

Little Buddy: Hold on, hold on! You’re telling me humans play a game in which the object is to swipe things off a flat surface?!

Big Buddy: That’s correct.

Little Buddy: And you never thought to tell me this? You know how much I love swiping things off flat surfaces!

Big Buddy: I never really thought of it that way, but I suppose you would like…

Little Buddy: This is vital information! When can we go?!?

Big Buddy: Well how about we watch the movie first? I promise there’s a ton of bowling in it for you to get your vicarious thrills. Then we can talk about going bowling.

Little Buddy: Deal. This is gonna be so much fun!

Big Buddy: Okay. So we get this establishing shot of synchronized bowlers, and now we meet the rest of our heroes — The Dude’s friends, Walter and Donnie.

Little Buddy: Walter is upset about something. He doesn’t roll on Shabbos.

Big Buddy: No, he does not.

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Shomer Shabbos!

Big Buddy: So as The Dude tells them the story about the desecrated rug, it’s Walter’s idea to confront the Big Lebowski to get compensation. After all, those thugs were looking for him, not The Dude. The Dude takes Walter’s advice and goes to speak to The Big Lebowski.

Little Buddy: Who’s this guy?

Big Buddy: That’s Brandt, the Big Lebowski’s Butler.

Little Buddy: Ah. His servant, like you are for me.

Big Buddy: Not exactly. Brandt shows The Dude around, tells him about the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers, and introduces him to The Big Lebowski himself.

Little Buddy: This guy is the Big Lebowski?

Big Buddy: Yep.

Little Buddy: I was expecting a much bigger Lebowski.

Big Buddy: Well I suppose “The Slightly Larger Lebowski” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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The Slightly Larger Lebowski.

Little Buddy: The Big Lebowski doesn’t seem very receptive to The Dude’s argument.

Big Buddy: That’s putting it mildly. He thinks The Dude is a joint-smoking deadbeat.

Little Buddy: That’s because The Dude is a joint-smoking deadbeat. It looks like a wonderful life. Catnip, naps and food.

Big Buddy: How is that different from your daily existence?

Little Buddy: It’s not, which is why I love The Dude. Speaking of, where’s the nip?

Big Buddy: You want it now? Seriously?

Little Buddy: Gimme, gimme! I feel like I should be on The Dude’s wavelength when I watch this movie. Thanks, amigo!

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Buddy gets into the spirit — and The Dude’s mind state — with a nip break.

Big Buddy: Okay. So I like how The Dude isn’t dissuaded. The Big Lebowski is screaming at him, refusing to compensate him for his rug, and does that stop him? No! He just leaves and tells Brandt: “The old man told me to take any rug in the house.”

Little Buddy: Who’s this lady painting her toes?

Big Buddy: That’s Bunny Lebowski, the Big Lebowski’s trophy wife.

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Bunny Lebowski, a woman who charges outrageous fees to blow on people’s toes.

Little Buddy: She’s asking The Dude to blow on her toes, and he does, but she says he has to pay $1,000 if he wants her to blow his toes. That hardly seems fair.

Big Buddy: She’s not offering to blow on his toes, she’s…ah, nevermind. You wouldn’t understand.

Little Buddy: Why?

Big Buddy: Because you’re a cat.

Little Buddy: Racialist!

Big Buddy: A neutered cat.

Little Buddy: What’s noodured?

Big Buddy: Nevermind. The Dude tells Bunny he’s going to find an ATM, but now we’re back at the bowling alley with Walter and Donny.

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“I’ll go find an ATM…”

Little Buddy: Is that a dog in a carrier?

Big Buddy: Yes.

Little Buddy: That’s absurd! Who brings a dumb animal bowling? Especially a dumb animal who most certainly does not appreciate the finer things in life, like swiping objects off flat surfaces.

(ON SCREEN) WALTER: “What do you mean “brought it bowling”? I didn’t rent it shoes. I’m not buying it a fucking beer. He’s not gonna take your fucking turn, Dude.”

Little Buddy: See? The Dude and I think alike. Whoah! A gun! Walter has a gun! What’s he doing?

Big Buddy: He’s threatening Smokey, another bowler. He says Smokey was over the line when he bowled.

Little Buddy: Oh. Then why not just shoot him? Mark it zero!

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Walter, the only sane voice in the movie, prevents social order from breaking down by threatening to shoot a man over a bowling disagreement.

Big Buddy: Smokey marks it zero.

Little Buddy: Hell yeah.

Big Buddy: Walter and The Dude gotta bounce quick, one of the managers is calling the cops.

Little Buddy: *yawn* What for?

Big Buddy: For pulling a gun during a game of bowling, little guy! You can’t just do that to people. Oh, I love this part when they walk to the car and argue…

Big Buddy: Bud?

Big Buddy: Buddy, wake up!

Big Buddy: I knew it. Okay, that’s all for today, folks, Buddy is in a catnip coma and I don’t think he’s waking up any time soon. Join us next time for Part II of Unused Audio Commentary: The Big Lebowski! Thanks for rolling with us on Shabbos.

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