#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

#143. Leonardo DiCaprio

As was shown in a post from a little more than a year ago, Leonardo DiCaprio has been acting for a very long time. So long, that we’ve seen him grow up on the big screen. While many groaned at the sight of his name attached to a movie (especially after Titanic), now we almost expect his name to be linked to a great performance. I think that part of this was due to the Directors who hired him (or maybe he chose them instead). In fact, just looking at a short list of Directors he’s worked with reads like a “who’s who” of the Hollywood elite. Directors like Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Baz Luhrmann pepper the list. He’s even managed to collaborate on multiple Martin Scorsese films. This week’s two films look at DiCaprio’s ever developing career.

Django UnchainedDjango Unchained
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 165 minutes / 2.75 hours

One of the other Directors Leonardo DiCaprio has worked with is Quentin Tarantino. This does not necessarily mean that DiCaprio has not worked on an extremely violent movie. As I mentioned earlier in this post, he has worked on many occasions with Martin Scorsese. Two of these films were Gangs of New York (2002) and The Departed (2006). Even though DiCaprio has played the hero in many films, one of the few in which he plays the villain is Django Unchained. As such, no longer constrained to play the “good guy”, he seemed to have a lot of fun really getting into the passion of his character. With his boyish charm having evolved into the cleverness of manhood, DiCaprio no longer has to rely merely on his looks to get by, but rather on his superior acting talent honed over the years.

In Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays southern plantation owner Calvin J. Candie. Aside from his love for speaking limited French and eating sweets (hence the name (and delicious pun) of his plantation: Candyland), Candie is very proud of his collection of Mandingos: slaves who are pitted against each other in fights to the death. One day, he’s approached by a Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a man interested in purchasing one of his Mandingos. Schultz has brought along a freed slave by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx), who is a self-proclaimed expert in Mandingos. However, Candie’s head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) thinks the two men are there for something other than Mandingos. Eventually the truth comes out and Broomhilda, one of Candie’s female slaves, is sold to Dr. Schultz. And yet, this powder-keg of tension eventually comes to a head, with most people ending up dead.

Catch Me if You CanCatch Me if You Can
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

I would be amiss if I did not mention, in this long list of great Directors, that DiCaprio has also worked with Steven Spielberg. And yet, in Catch Me if You Can, he plays another villain of sorts: the anti-hero. While we would like to root for the side of law enforcement, there’s just something about the chase that makes us root for the criminal. Even though the term “anti-hero” can be loosely applied in many applications, I tend to look at it as someone who is usually on the wrong side of the morals and laws we’ve all come to conform to, but who lives their life in such a way as to almost have a freedom from these constraints. And yet, the freedom they express is in order to fulfill a deep need that was not satisfied in the more traditional means, thus causing the anti-hero to attempt to fill the void with what essentially boils down to crime.

Set in the mid 1960’s, Catch Me if You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager who has run away from home after his parents’ financial troubles lead to their divorce. Having earlier posed as a substitute French teacher, Frank has found that confidence is all he needs to get by in the world. Unfortunately, as he runs out of money while living on his own, he turns that confidence into cash when he poses as a pilot for Pan Am. After almost $3 million in fraud is committed, Frank is soon chased by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI agent who narrowly misses catching Frank upon their first face-to-face meeting. And if being a pilot wasn’t enough, Frank soon becomes a doctor and a lawyer, which gets him a girl, Brenda (Amy Adams). Unfortunately, he has to leave Brenda when Carl gets too close again. Will Frank disappear for good, or will Carl follow the clues to find him?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 DiCaprio “villains”

Bacon #: 2 (J. Edgar / Clint Eastwood (directed) -> Mystic River (directed/ Kevin Bacon)