#284. Don’t Do Drugs

If there’s anything that the “war on drugs” has taught me, it’s that “drugs are bad.” While their educational approach may have worked to keep some people from drugs, it did little to curb the enthusiasm of people already hooked. What’s unfortunate about illicit substances is the glamorous lives that certain drug users come from (a la The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)). Obviously, those in the business of drugs (like in Blow (2001) or Scarface (1983)) are more likely to partake of their product, but certain criminal organizations, like the mafia, know the dangers of getting involved with drugs (like in Goodfellas (1990)) and do their best to abstain from them. Still, the allure of a chemical high appeals to the common masses, so it’s up to film to show the horrifying consequences of drug abuse. This week’s two films show us why we shouldn’t do drugs.

Year: 1996
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

The drug culture of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was perhaps epitomized by films like Easy Rider (1969). This, along with the comedic stylings of Cheech and Chong, showed that some drugs are practically harmless. The stoner comedies of today reinforce this fact, but don’t show any consequences of extended use. When harder drugs are used, the slippery slope truly comes into play. There’s a lot someone will do to keep up a habit, but when they realize that their life has become controlled by the controlled substance, they find it difficult to remove themselves from it (either by the company they keep or the sheer difficulty of going clean). Drugstore Cowboy (1989) is a good example of this, whereas Pulp Fiction (1995) brings us the reality of the overdose. Unfortunately, films like Limitless (2011) and Trainspotting (1997) show that a few choice benefits make the choice to do drugs worth it.

While there are certainly many terrifying moments in Trainspotting that should drive us away from doing drugs, it’s the dark-comedy nature of the film that somewhat lessens the impact of the consequences of illicit drug usage. Scenes like “the worst toilet in Scotland”, or the hallucinations of a dead baby crawling over the ceiling certainly do their part to drive the audience away from drugs, but the comradery of these four heroin addicts makes the experience seem welcoming and social. In reality, the risks of contracting HIV, being arrested for robbery (to fund an expensive drug addiction), and outright overdosing are very high and hold very severe consequences. After many attempts to get clean, the main character, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), finally has enough motivation to leave his drugs behind, along with most of his friends.

Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

Addiction is a powerful drug. By the time we realize we have a problem, it’s often too late to change things. The long road to recovery can only be completed with an admittance that we have a problem and a support system to help us reach the clean and happy ending. A common theme amongst the works of Philip K. Dick was that of drug use, which was most undoubtedly pulled from his own life experiences. A Scanner Darkly (2006) focused on drug users, law enforcement, and the companies that profit from said drugs, all tied together in a trippy package. What’s more startling is when the addiction is portrayed in a more realistic setting. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a friend or loved one continue to go back to the comfort of their addiction. Robert ZemeckisFlight (2012) drives this point home, but the true consequences of addiction were best portrayed in Requiem for a Dream (2000).

The world of a junkie is an interesting place. Time no longer holds any relevance as everything seems to be traveling in slow motion or unbearably fast. Requiem for a Dream follows four addicts on their downward spiral to ruin. The intriguing thing about addictions is that sometimes they aren’t to illegal substances. Even household activities like watching television are artistically represented in the same way that getting high on cocaine are. However, even if it seems like everything is working out well and nothing could go wrong, consequences lie just around the dark corner. Requiem for a Dream begins to get intense as the consequences rear their ugly heads. From prostitution to prison to hospitalization, the results of a life of addiction are painfully obvious at the end of this film. If ever there’s a film to get people to stop doing drugs, Requiem for a Dream is it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 cautionary tales


#162. Keanu Reeves

Typecasting can be difficult to overcome. If an actor succeeds at a role, studios might be tempted to continue casting them in that role. The true talent of a typecast actor is to be able to transition from one typecasting to another. For Keanu Reeves, this has been a key to some of his success. Early in his career, he was typecast as the airhead stoner teenager, but a role that is age-dependent like that cannot last forever. From here, Reeves transitioned to the action hero typecast, as seen in the success of the 1994 film, Speed. Next, Keanu Reeves landed in the sci-fi hero typecast, which he is mostly known for today. Films like The Matrix trilogy and Constantine (2005) have placed Reeves at the forefront of many science fiction roles. This week’s two films highlight two of Keanu Reeves’ typecast roles from two ends of his career.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

If you were to ask most people to name the role Keanu Reeves is best known for, it would probably be that of Thomas Anderson, also known as “Neo”. This defining role from The Matrix (1999) was repeated in its two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). As such, Reeves has been inseparably associated with these films, which themselves are well known for their special effects. Those films helped carry Reeves to another science fiction film heavy with visual effects. No, I don’t mean Constantine, but instead A Scanner Darkly (2006). The unique attribute of this film is that, after it was filmed, it was animated using a technique known as “interpolated rotoscope”. As such, while it appears animated, it holds a high level of detail usually associated with live-action films.

In a future overrun by a blue drug known as “Substance D”, detectives going undercover to find the source of the illicit substance wear “scramble suits” to hide their identity. One such detective is known as “Fred” (Keanu Reeves). When he’s not wearing the scramble suit, he lives in Anaheim, California under the name of Bob Arctor. Bob uses Substance D regularly with his roommates, which is part of his work as an undercover agent. Unfortunately, because the drug alters the user’s brain, when Fred starts monitoring Bob, he doesn’t realize that he’s watching himself. Eventually, Substance D controls Bob’s life and causes him to have a breakdown at work. The healing process begins soon afterward at New Path, a rehab center for users of Substance D. Bob is eventually transferred to a New Path farm where he finds a curious flower amongst the crops.

Bill and Ted’s Bogus JourneyBill and Ted's Bogus Journey
Year: 1991
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

The one role that formed Keanu Reeves’ first typecasting was that of Ted “Theodore” Logan. This character is half of the titular “Bill and Ted” franchise, rounded out with Alex Winter’s William “Bill” S. Preston, Esq. Both of these roles were characterized as airhead stoner teenagers, which made for curiously entertaining films dealing with time travel and the afterlife. In fact, not only did Bill and Ted have two films (with rumors of a third), but also an animated television series, of which Reeves and Winter did the voice acting, albeit only for one season. It’s fortunate for Keanu Reeves that he was able to move on to roles outside of this typecast, as Alex Winter has not had quite the same acting career after the Bill and Ted series as Reeves has. And yet, it will be curious to see if this series will become a trilogy, considering the amount of time that has passed since Bogus Journey.

After successfully passing their history assignment from the previous film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), the duo and their 15th-century fiancées sign up to compete in the San Dimas Battle of the Bands. While the medieval princesses play their instruments well, Bill and Ted do not. Unfortunately, in order to stop them from winning the contest and setting up a future full of peace and rock music, Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) goes back in time and kills the duo with evil robot versions of themselves. Now Bill and Ted must defeat Death (William Sadler) in order to escape from hell and reverse the damage their robot selves have done. Along the way back from the afterlife, the trio (which now includes Death) gathers some allies so they can confront Chuck and the evil robots. But even if they save the day, they still need to win the Battle of the Bands!

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Reeves roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Day the Earth Stood Still / John Rothman -> Picture Perfect / Kevin Bacon)

#161. Philip K. Dick

If there was one author who could spawn some of the greatest stories ever written, it would be Philip K. Dick. This prolific writer wrote almost 50 novels and nearly three times as many short stories in his 30 year career. Even though his life was cut short at 53 due to a stroke, his influence and stories have taken on a new life on the silver screen. In fact, only a few months after his death in 1982, the most celebrated of all film adaptations of his works was released: Blade Runner. This first adaptation (of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) paved the way for many other adaptations, even if some of them weren’t as critically acclaimed as Blade Runner. This week, we will examine two films adapted from the prolific works of Philip K. Dick, extending his legacy out decades past his untimely death.

Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

One of the many themes that we see through Dick’s writings is that of the mind. Even though we often consider our memories to be “truth”, we can usually be mistaken based off of many factors including our perception of a situation in hindsight. If our memories can be adjusted due to mere suggestion, what’s to say that memories can’t be removed or implanted? For instance, in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Dick writes about implanting memories of a lifestyle different from your own, dreary existence. This was adapted to Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Similarly, what if we have the ability to “remember” the future? What if knowing what will happen in the next two minutes could save your life? This is the plot of Next (2007), an adaptation loosely based on the short story, The Golden Man. Finally, the short story, Paycheck, seeks to regain erased memories.

The erased memories of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) aren’t helping him out in the slightest. After a three-year job that was supposed to net him an obscenely large paycheck, he instead receives a smattering of random items with a total value of under $5. To add insult to injury, the payroll office tells him that he signed away his fortune to replace it with those items a few weeks ago. Furthermore, the government wants to know what he was working on, which starts a game of cat-and-mouse as Michael evades the FBI and tries to retrace his steps to regain his memories. Along the way, the items he received as payment come in handy during key events, allowing him to continue to elude the federal agents and infiltrate the company where he worked for three years. Once he finds the machine he helped build, suddenly the items he gave himself make a lot more sense.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

A few more themes often seen in the works of Philip K. Dick involve the government controlling our lives, as well as the effects of drugs on society. The adaptation of Minority Report (2002), which was a short story of the same name, shows how criminals can be controlled by a triad of psychics who can predict when and where crimes will happen, thereby allowing law enforcement to intercept the criminals before they commit the crimes. Another short story, The Adjustment Team, was adapted as The Adjustment Bureau (2011). In this story, the government is in control of our lives, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that we live out our destinies according to their plans. However, perhaps the most harrowing example of governmental control is that of A Scanner Darkly, based on the novel of the same name.

I say that A Scanner Darkly is harrowing because it involves constant governmental surveillance of American citizens. Sound familiar? Not only is this another take on the surveillance society imagined in George Orwell’s 1984, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Americans makes it almost a prophetic story. Of course, the reasons for the increased surveillance are due to the prevalent spread and use of a hallucinogenic drug known as “Substance D”. Even undercover agents, like “Fred” (Keanu Reeves), have trouble keeping clean from the drug as they try to figure out where it’s coming from. In a bit of irony, “Fred” is tasked to watch the surveillance tapes of a suspected drug lord, Bob Arctor. The irony is that “Fred” and Bob are the same person, even if the drugs have caused him to think otherwise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous science fiction stories