#283. Ewan McGregor

When does an actor become recognizable? Is it when they are cast in a series of films beloved by their respective fandoms? Is it when they have an award-winning performance? Is it when they have appeared in enough films that they just “become known”? It seems that the convergence of two or more of these factors are what usually thrust an actor across the threshold of being an “unknown” to being a recognizable name in Hollywood. Whatever the specific reason, Ewan McGregor is a recognizable actor today. Maybe it was from his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy? Maybe it was from being in an Oscar-nominated film or two? Maybe it was from the long list of acting credits to his name. This week’s two films highlight some of the roles that made Ewan McGregor a recognizable actor.

Moulin Rouge!Moulin Rouge!
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

In the world of film, sometimes acting isn’t enough. The most versatile actors can sing and dance, but these skills can likely be taught so that an actor can fill the role they were meant to play. For Ewan McGregor, he clearly has a recognizable voice, as shown by a few animated films that utilized his voice acting talent. Robots (2005) and Valiant (2005) put McGregor in the lead role for their respective films, but this was at least four years after he truly proved his vocal prowess. There have been quite a few films (and even films about these types of films) where an actor or actress has their singing voice dubbed over (West Side Story (1961) being a prime example of this). In Moulin Rouge! (2001), it is clear that the actors are using their own voices to sing. McGregor’s distinctive voice would definitely present a challenge to be dubbed over, that much is certain.

A cross between love at first sight and a case of mistaken identities, Christian (Ewan McGregor) finds himself smitten with Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star of the Moulin Rouge. The confusion came when Christian was at the dance hall to pitch an idea for his theatre friends and Satine thought that he was the mysterious Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh). Unfortunately, once the air was cleared, the damage was already done. Christian and Satine fall in love, but now the financial future of the Moulin Rouge is in jeopardy, seeing as the Duke wants Satine for himself if he is to provide his patronage to the dance hall. On the surface, Satine agrees to this, but only on the condition that Christian’s play is performed. But what Christian and the Duke don’t know is that Satine is dying from tuberculosis, a condition made worse by her singing in the play.

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

Years before Ewan McGregor did his best Alec Guinness impression in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace(1999), he showed that he had the physical dedication to his roles in Trainspotting (1996). Obviously the type of body training needed for action films like Star Wars and The Island (2005) is different than losing a lot of weight to play a heroin addict, but the commitment is still the same. And while Trainspotting definitely had its trippy moments, much like Big Fish (2003) would later in McGregor’s career; it was still delightfully dark with its comedy. We’ve seen McGregor come back to the dark comedy with I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009), but I, for one, am curious if this year’s Trainspotting 2 (2017) will continue the unique look at drugs that its predecessor did twenty years ago.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is just one of a group of heroin addicts who have become friends. Of his own volition, he decides to go off of heroin, but does so via opium in an incident that takes place in “the worst toilet in Scotland”. Once the withdrawal ends, he hooks up with a girl who happened to be underage, thus pushing him back into heroin. In this daze, Renton and his friends end up killing the infant daughter of Allison (Susan Vidler) through sheer neglect. While the rest of the crew gets in trouble for shoplifting, Renton is pardoned with the caveat that he has to get clean. Unfortunately, this causes him to overdose and his family locks him in his childhood room to endure the withdrawal symptoms, including hallucinations. Now that he’s on the road to recovery, the gang wants to get back together for one last drug deal that could net them a lot of money. Renton obliges, but ends up having the last laugh.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 excellent Ewan McGregor performances

Bacon #: 2 (Valiant / John Cleese -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)


#255. George Clooney

Some actors are easily recognizable. From their face to their physique, many famous actors can be immediately identifiable by these visual characteristics. Similarly, some actors have unique and recognizable voices that are often heard in voiceovers and other audible media. The double threat of an actor comes when their look and their voice are both easily recognizable. When an audience no longer sees an actor and asks, “Isn’t that, so-and-so?” and instead exclaims, “It’s him!” an actor has truly made it in Hollywood. Granted, it might take some time for an actor to make a name for himself, but if he has good looks and a recognizable voice, it’s likely he’ll make it in Hollywood quite quickly. George Clooney is definitely a recognizable actor in today’s Hollywood. This week’s two films focus on some of his acting efforts.

The Perfect StormThe Perfect Storm
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours

Like many other actors, George Clooney started his acting on the small screen of Television. In the mid to late-1990’s, he starred in ER while at the same time getting his feet wet acting on the big screen. While most of his early roles were in films that were critically panned or just plain goofy, when the new millennium hit, Clooney had a lot of success in the film industry. With films by the Coen Brothers (O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Intolerable Cruelty (2003)) and Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Solaris (2002), Ocean’s Twelve (2004), The Good German (2006), and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)) featuring George Clooney, he quickly found that his success was now well ingrained in American culture. This being said, the one film that started him on this string of successful roles was that of The Perfect Storm (2000).

Because of the unprofitable catch of fish for the Andrea Gail, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) needs to go out for one more expedition before the season ends in order to break even. Since he cannot fish with his boat alone, he has to convince his crew to join him on a last-ditch effort in a generally dangerous time of year. Despite some of his regulars not feeling comfortable about the trip, he manages to find a full crew and sets out. At first, they come up with nothing, but as they continue to head further out, they hit the motherlode. Unfortunately, a storm has built behind them and it’s up to Billy to guide the ship safely back to Massachusetts. Taking the full brunt of the storm, the crew cannot catch a break as water floods their boat, winds rip off communication equipment, and waves threaten to capsize them.

The DescendantsThe Descendants
Year: 2011
Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

As an actor, George Clooney has been nominated for an Oscar a number of times, but these accolades didn’t start arriving until 2005 when he was nominated (and won) for his supporting role in Syriana. By this time in his career, he was also starting to direct films, as is usually the case from actors who find they are multi-talented. In fact, he has received just as many Oscar nominations and wins through his non-acting roles as he has for his acting ones. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) saw Clooney nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, while The Ides of March (2011) garnered him another nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He won his non-acting Oscar for Argo, the Best Picture of 2012. Of course, Michael Clayton (2007), Up in the Air (2009), and The Descendants (2011) garnered him his three nominations for Best Actor, none of which resulted in a win.

While Matt King (George Clooney) is good with his money, the rest of his family has not developed the same skill. Consequently, because he is the sole person responsible of their family trust of 25,000 acres of land on Kauai, all of his cousins are pressuring him to sell the land to developers because of a rule that limits the amount of time they have to make a decision on the property. Meanwhile, with two difficult daughters and a comatose wife, Matt learns that his wife was having an affair with a man who is incidentally linked to the possible sale of the family land. Partly because he does not want to give the adulterous man the huge commission that would result from this, he makes the decision to keep the land and figure out a solution to the rule against perpetuities. The cousins are irate, but Matt feels this is the right decision. Concurrently, he also comes to terms with his wife’s situation and allows her to die peacefully.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great George Clooney performances

Bacon #: 2 (Spy Kids / Teri Hatcher -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)

#200. September 11th

While the 20th Century might have officially ended on January 1st, 2000, I think that, culturally, it actually ended on September 11th, 2001. The tragic events that took place across America that day truly thrust us into a new world and a new age of caution and terror. While many of the children today weren’t even born when the 9/11 attacks happened, the history books will inform them of the day’s importance. Of course, it was only going to be a matter of time before films would be made about September 11th. The challenge then becomes: how do we approach this with tact and sensitivity? A lot of people lost their lives during that fateful day, so their tragedy should not be seen in any sort of humorous or irreverent light. This week’s two films look at the horrors and effects of September 11th, both at home and abroad.

Zero Dark ThirtyZero Dark Thirty
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 157 minutes / 2.61 hours

After the dust had settled, then-President George W. Bush proclaimed a “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan to track down the terrorists responsible for the devastating attacks on United States soil. Many films have been made about this war resulting from 9/11, all to varying forms of success. From some comedies that loosely use the war as a setting (including The A-Team (2010) and The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)) to serious dramas that have won major awards (like The Hurt Locker (2008)), the Iraq War has been used as a backdrop similar to many films that came before it using the wars of their time. However, the most important battles on the war on terror were not necessarily fought by soldiers, but by analysts. Films like Fair Game (2010) tried to convey this, but none have been able to match Zero Dark Thirty.

The true end to the war on terror occurred nearly ten years after the September 11th attacks. While subsequent wars on terror may have emerged, the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team Six on May 2, 2011, marked the end of the pursuit of the terrorist leader responsible for 9/11. Of course, the only reason why the Navy Seals were able to find bin Laden was due to the relentless efforts of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA intelligence analyst who started working to find Osama in 2003. After many years of little to no progress, with many lives and careers ruined, Maya finally hits pay dirt. A series of connections leads her to find where bin Laden is hiding, which prompts her leadership to organize a raid on the complex. Highly trained soldiers with advanced equipment descend on the humble abode to finally end the decade-long pursuit.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours

Even though closure on the September 11th attacks wouldn’t come for many more years, there have been many films made about that day. From movies about the people on the planes (United 93 (2006)), to the people on the ground in New York (World Trade Center (2006)), there have been few films that have dealt with the families of those who died during the attacks. Since everything happened so suddenly, many struggled to cope with the loss. Those who perhaps had the hardest time dealing with the death of a loved one were the children whose parents were in the World Trade Center when it fell. Fortunately, as we’ve seen time and again in tragedy after tragedy, the community steps up to lift itself past the hurt and forward toward healing. Released on the same year as the final scenes of Zero Dark Thirty, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close reminds us of the strength of community.

Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a socially awkward boy of nine years old who is coaxed out of his shell by his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks). To do so, Thomas sets up scavenger hunts throughout New York City which require his son to interact with many, diverse people. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed when the World Trade Center falls on September 11th. A year later, Oskar meets a silent old man (Max von Sydow) who does not talk due to a similar trauma during World War II when his parents died. After having found a mysterious key in his father’s closet days before, Oskar and the old man set out to find what the key goes to. As Oskar conquers some of his fears, he starts to realize that the old man is his grandfather and plays back Thomas’ final answering machine messages. Finally, Oskar finds what the key goes to, and is somewhat disappointed until he learns of his mother’s (Sandra Bullock) involvement in setting up the search.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 sides of September 11th