Category: Movies

PITB Reviews: The Platform

Movie: The Platform (2020)
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Genre: Horror, social commentary
Medium: Netflix

The premise of The Platform is simple: A man wakes up in a concrete prison cell. The center of the cell is dominated by rectangular gaps in the floor and ceiling, and when our protagonist warily steps closer he can see levels of identical cells above and below him. The cells extend as far as the eye can see in both directions, each populated by two prisoners.

Every day, a platform is lowered level-by-level, laden with a massive feast: Meats, wine, cheese, bread, cake, soup, pie, fish, escargot, paella, salads, grapes, apples and other fresh fruit, vegetables, juice. Every kind of food you can imagine, cooked and prepared to perfection by professional chefs.

Goreng, our protagonist, is greeted by his cell mate, a kindly old man named Trimagasi who sits down next to the edge of the hole in the floor in anticipation of the platform’s arrival. When it descends to their level he pigs out, shoveling as much food as he can into his mouth before a buzzer sounds and the platform descends another level.

Goreng looks on, digusted: The food is scattered all over the platform, much of it half-eaten. Clearly, these are someone’s disgusting leftovers.

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Trimagasi, top, pigs out while Goreng picks at food scraps.

Trimagasi urges Goreng to eat, and explains that they are very fortunate indeed: At level 48 there’s still enough food leftover from the prisoners on the 47 levels above that they won’t starve this month. At the end of every month, he says, each pair of cellmates are put to sleep with gas and wake up on a new level that is chosen at random by the people operating the cruel social experiment.

Trimagasi tells Goreng he once spent a month on level 132, where not a scrap of food is left by the time the platform descends. Goreng asks the old man how he survived, and Trimagasi demures.

We also learn that Goreng voluntarily entered in exchange for a real-world opportunity promised to him after he spends six months inside. Trimagasi was sent there as punishment: Infuriated by a TV commercial for a self-sharpening knife called the Samurai Plus after he’d just purchased a knife sharpening kit, Trimagasi threw his TV out of his window and unintentionally killed an illegal immigrant who was riding a bicycle below. He’s approaching the end of his two-year sentence in what the authorities call the VSC, short for Vertical Self-management Center.

Each prisoner is allowed to take one item with them inside: Goreng takes a copy of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, harboring romantic notions of finally reading the book with his time in the prison. Trimagasi, who loves to use the word “obviously,” told Goreng his choice of item was obvious: His prized Samurai Plus, which he cradles lovingly as he boasts about how it can cut concrete without dulling.

Goreng puts two and two together, realizing how Trimagasi survived on level 132.

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Going down: Just a portion of the feast as it exists on the platform before it’s consumed, defiled and excreted, level by level.

The Platform is a blunt allegory for human civilization, specifically the enormous wealth disparities of modern societies. The occupants of level 1 are the Jeff Bezoses and Walton families of the world, people with unimaginable, multigenerational wealth pigging out on life’s resources without thinking of the starving street children of India, the homeless of cities like New York and San Francisco, the families in North Korea eating tree bark.

Some reviewers think it’s a critique of capitalism, but I think it’s more universal than that: The kleptocrats of countries like Mexico, Russia and Brazil, the monarchies and emirates of the Middle East, and the party bigwigs of communist countries like China pig out on their own respective first levels while the people 130 “levels” down starve just the same.

The rest of us? We’re in the 30s, 40s and 50s, happily scarfing down the scraps from above, the ad revenue the Zuckerbergs and Pichais allow us by their forbearance, the slightly comfortable salaries allowed by corporate shareholders, the house and garage we might enjoy if we’re fortunate enough to run a successful small business in an industry that hasn’t been pillaged by the multinationals yet.

Some people might find the movie heavy-handed, but I don’t see it that way. As uncomfortable as it is to watch at times, reality is much, much worse. The fact that some of the movie’s scenes are difficult to watch is testament to how lucky we are to be born in circumstances where that kind of suffering isn’t part of our experience, let alone our daily lives. Show The Platform to one of the handful of people to ever escape a North Korean hard labor camp, for instance, and they probably won’t even blink.

It also shows how our betters divide and conquer to keep the rest of us distracted and themselves secure. The idea that most people who receive social services are lazy bums is a popular one in some quarters, encouraging people not to have empathy for the less well off, but to loathe them. Likewise, the people occupying the higher floors of The Platform’s prison don’t feel sorry for those beneath them. In one scene, two cellmates tell a man they’ll help him ascend to their floor, then literally shit on him as he’s just within reach, cackling with delight as he falls.

I didn’t take it as a call for socialism either. The movie makes it pretty clear that neither asking people to moderate their consumption, nor trying to enforce sharing works out for the people who try those methods. Indeed when socialism has worked in real world circumstances, it’s been part of a hybrid model that still uses capitalism as its economic engine.

Mostly, The Platform exists to make people think. While Jeff Bezos goes to sleep tonight in his $50 million compound estate, dreaming of his next vanity flight to low Earth orbit or the next hypercar he’s going to buy, there’s someone shivering on a park bench with 15 cents in their pocket, stomach grumbling, knowing the people who pass them by every day don’t even see them as human.

PITB Reviews: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Movie: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Director: Will Sharpe
Genre: Biopic, drama
Medium: Amazon Original (streaming and in theaters)

Louis Wain was an artist in the employ of The Illustrated London News, one of the most popular newspapers in Victorian England, when advances in photography and printing made it possible for newspapers to regularly include photographs in their pages.

Demoted from staff illustrator to contributor, Wain’s professional skills seemed destined for obsolescence when he and his wife, Emily, returned to their cottage one rainy afternoon in 1886 and heard the distressed mews of a kitten. They found an adorable tuxedo cat soaked and shivering in their garden, brought him inside and were instantly smitten.

They named the baby Peter, and in the months that followed Wain made the growing kitten the subject of most of his idle drawings, sketching him in various situations and with increasingly anthropomorphic features. Wain’s cat sketches were only intended for his wife, but when Sir William Ingram, editor at The Illustrated News, saw the whimsical cat drawings he commissioned Wain to fill two pages with cats as a special feature for the paper’s Christmas edition.

Wain’s cats were a huge hit with readers, marking the beginning of a second, much more successful career as a pet portraitist and one of Victorian England’s most beloved artists. Wain gave his cats human expressions, had them do human things, and put them in contemporary clothing to the delight of newspaper readers and, later, book publishers who sold many thousands of copies of illustrated books featuring nothing but Wain’s anthropomorphic cats.

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A pair of young female cats play with cat dolls.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain weaves a narrative from its subject’s professional life and his lesser-known private life. A polymath, philosopher, amateur boxer and author of some particular ideas about cats and electricity, Wain (played by the always-excellent Benedict Cumberbatch) was an eccentric and not particularly happy with his life until his family hired Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) as governess — a home teacher — for Wain’s younger sisters.

Despite the fact that Emily was a decade his senior and such relationships were looked down upon in Victorian England, Wain and Emily married, made it clear they didn’t care what others thought about them, and learned to enjoy life in each other’s company. With the addition of little Peter, the Wains were a happy family.

Louis Wain did not, however, have an easy life. Three years into their blissful marriage, Emily was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Her illness, the subsequent mental deterioration of one of Wain’s younger sisters, and Wain’s own eventual struggles with mental illness cast long shadows over his outlook and his work.

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Wain’s cat drawings were so popular, they were sold in stand-alone books in addition to filling the pages of widely-read publications in Victorian England.

Today, psychologists, art critics and scholars of the man’s career still debate whether — and to what degree — his mental state was reflected in his artwork as his cats took on increasingly psychedelic and abstract qualities. What began as simple kitten sketches morphed into whimsical scenes of expressive cats and eventually trippy images that wouldn’t have looked out of place as album art in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Did Wain truly suffer from severe mental illness, or was he a casualty of a society that banished its “undesirables” to asylums and “lunatic houses”? Was Wain on the autism spectrum? Did the increasingly psychedelic bent of his drawings stem from medications he was given at a time when mental illness was poorly understood and poorly treated?

It depends on what you see in the illustrations. For a man so revered by the public, Wain was remarkably casual about his output — a quality Cumberbatch displays admirably throughout the film — and he didn’t bother to date his drawings. He was prolific, completing many hundreds of cat images throughout his career, in addition to the journalistic images and livestock renderings of his early career, when he was a newspaperman.

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Wain’s cat illustrations took on more psychedelic qualities as the years passed.

What is absolutely clear is that Wain saw something in cats that others didn’t see until he showed it to them with his pencils. He was credited with a major shift in attitude toward cats and the normalization of keeping cats as pets rather than as mousers. Although cats enjoyed companion animal status in various other cultures earlier in human history, the idea of keeping a feline as a pet was novel in Victorian England.

The shift in public attitude was treated humorously — as much of the subject matter is — by the film, with a bewildered Wain accepting the presidency of the Cat Society of England at a fete in his honor, then explaining his theory that tabby markings were the result of electricity flowing through fur.

The subject of electricity comes up again and again in the film, bringing to mind Tesla and another famous British eccentric, Alan Turing, who was also played by Cumberbatch in the 2014 biopic The Imitation Game. Not coincidentally, both movies show that service to crown and country mattered little when British eccentrics were deemed too odd to tolerate. Like Wain, Turing — a war hero who famously cracked the legendary German Enigma cryptography machine — found himself on the wrong side of the UK’s mental institutions when he was convicted of indecency in 1952 after admitting to police, during an interview in an unrelated investigation, that he’d once had a relationship with another man.

Turing was subsequently placed on synthetic estrogen and drugs prescribed to “cure” his mental condition, which had the opposite effect: Turing, a shadow of his former self, his genius blunted by chemicals, committed suicide by eating an apple he’d laced with cyanide in 1954.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain finds humor in both the light and dark moments of its subject’s life, and it’s a credit to the film’s writers, director and actors that lighthearted moments don’t spoil the more serious narrative themes. For his part, Wain was a man who endured a lot of suffering in his life, and if there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that no matter what life throws at us, spending time with cats makes things more bearable.

Youtuber Puts His Cat In Godzilla VS King Kong Trailer

Godzilla. Mothra. Ghidorah. King Kong.

Wayne.

Only one of those kaiju — Japanese for “strange beast,” aka the giant monsters of the kaiju genre of film — is so powerful he wades through the city nonchalantly, completely indifferent to the carnage around him.

Godzilla vs King Kong won’t hit theaters (or home video) until March 31, but you can watch Godzilla vs King Kong vs Wayne the Cat right now:

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: