#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.

TrainspottingTrainspotting
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

#008. Fractured Storylines

Occasionally a movie comes along that requires a second viewing. Occasionally, this is due to a fractured storyline. When the plot unfolds in a non-linear or non-forward fashion, there are many details that can be missed the first time the film is seen. With so many movies pandering to the thoughtless, it is refreshing to see some films that require the audience to pay attention. This week’s movies require the audience to piece the story together, even if it takes a few views to do so.

Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes / 2.56 hours

I feel that one of the strengths of a good movie is a solid understanding of continuity and connections. It’s very simple, very Newtonian: cause and effect. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but instead each action affects many other aspects of the film in ways that the characters don’t quite understand, but the audience is given full privy to. And yet, each piece of plot gives a depth to the characters that perhaps wasn’t understood at first glance. This is what makes re-watching films like Pulp Fiction enjoyable. When you can see that a certain character acts a certain way early on in the film because of something that was revealed later as a semi-flashback, it almost makes it so you’re watching a whole new film.

Pulp Fiction starts out with a conversation about robberies and gets interrupted to tell the story of two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) who were sent by Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) to pick up a mysterious briefcase. We then get to see Vincent (Travolta) take Mrs. Marsellus Wallace (Uma Thurman) out on a date. From the previous section of plot, we can see why Vincent is a little bit nervous about this, especially when Mrs. Wallace gets into trouble. We then move on to a story involving a boxer (Bruce Willis) and a gold watch. It’s through this storyline that we finally meet Marsellus Wallace, albeit not in any measure of pleasant circumstances. Just when you think you’ve figured out the flow of Pulp Fiction‘s plot, it jumps back to the end of the hitmen saga, when Jules (Jackson) comes to the realization that they were saved by a miracle. Of course, another act of God gets them in trouble, and eventually the audience finds themselves back in the diner that the whole film started with. Full circle. The diner scenes act as a set of bookends that ties the three plots together and makes one wonder what they missed on a first glance.

Memento
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

While Christopher Nolan is certainly a big name director after the successes of Inception and his reboot of the Batman franchise, his first few films tended to be very psychological. In fact, his very first film, Following, was a black and white shattered plot that becomes pieced together as the movie progresses. Memento took that idea and gave it more of a linear flow. The first time I watched Memento, my mind was blown. I almost had to sit down and watch it again, because now I knew what I was looking for in the strange progression of plot.

Memento tells the story of Leonard (Guy Pearce) who suffers from short term memory loss and is searching for his wife’s killer. In order to keep two storylines separate, one is presented in black and white, while the other remains in color. SPOILER ALERT: The black and white segments progress a forward plot where the segments in color give a plot told in reverse. Therefore, when the movie starts, the audience gets a view of both the beginning and ending of the plot and watch as it progresses toward a climactic middle. The method of breaking up the storylines, both forward and in reverse, gives a greater understanding of the main character’s memory loss condition, as the audience has seen what will happen, and not what has happened.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 non-traditional plot flows

#007. Quentin Tarantino

Some directors illicit an extreme response from their audience. Most people will take one side or another after seeing one of the director’s representative works. Rarely will anyone sit in the middle-ground. Quentin Tarantino is certainly the epitome of these types of directors. The basis of Tarantino’s style lies in three points:
1. Graphic Violence – the visceral blood and guts is pretty much the one defining factor of a Tarantino film (Kill Bill).
2. Dialogue – while there is usually a lot of obscenity, if you can back away from the swearing, you can see that there are some really interesting and realistic conversations going on (Inglorious Basterds).
3. Pop Culture – what’s somewhat ironic is that through his love of pop culture (and its inclusion in his movies, mostly through their soundtracks), Tarantino’s films have since become pop culture themselves (Pulp Fiction).
Now, most people will be put off by the first two points of Tarantino’s style, but there are some who can look past these things and see a masterful storyteller. This week’s movies are two of Quentin Tarantino’s best.

Inglorious Basterds
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 153 minutes / 2.55 hours

While I was familiar with many of Tarantino’s works (including Pulp Fiction, below) this was the first of his films that I had seen in theaters. What a first it was. Always the master of dialogue, and an artist of the visual aspect as well, Tarantino directed perhaps his best film to date (which is good, considering the travesty of Death Proof). And while Inglorious Basterds didn’t have quite as much of Tarantino’s trademark visceral violence or obscenity, it made up for it in sheer suspense. This film had probably one of the best antagonists I’ve seen in a long time (Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), and the suspense of his interrogations gripped me. I think that Tarantino saw what this film was and summed up his feelings about it during Brad Pitt’s final line, “I think this might just be my masterpiece.”

In my opinion, I agree with the “masterpiece” status. While Tarantino’s other films focus on the violence or the pop culture, Inglorious Basterds focuses on the dialogue. Even though it may look like a Nazi interrogating a French farmer, or a bunch of Americans trying to keep their cover, the back and forth of the conversation leads the audience on an escalating thrill ride, as the stakes get higher and any misspoken word could mean the difference between life and death. I saw this film in a completely empty theater, which gave it the feeling of a private screening (not bad for $1, either). When it was finished, I had become so immersed that I gave a one-person standing ovation.

Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes / 2.56 hours

Quite possibly Quentin Tarantino’s best film, Pulp Fiction takes multiple stories and intertwines them in a clever and interesting way. The multiple plots include two hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson & John Travolta) taking care of business, a boxer (Bruce Willis) running from a mob boss after he kills the man he was supposed to lose to, and a date between one of the hitmen (John Travolta) and his boss’ wife (Uma Thurman). Each of the storylines share similar characters, but are told in a non-linear fashion so that viewers will need to watch the movie again in order to put everything in order. Pulp Fiction won an Oscar for writing and sits comfortably at the bottom of AFI’s Top 100 list.

While Pulp Fiction does pull from Tarantino’s three strengths, its endearing qualities have made it a pop culture reference that even the casual movie watcher would recognize. The heart of this film asks the question, “What would you do when all hell breaks loose?” Three different plotlines show the audience that even if your day seems to be going pretty well, there’s always something that just comes in and screws it all up. We all have things we’d like to forget, and whether it’s an accident or a completely random series of events, there are some things that others don’t need to know about. The moral of Pulp Fiction seems to be: fix the problem and move on.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 works that you’ll either love or hate.

Bacon #: 2 (Inglorious Basterds / Michael Fassbender -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)