#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

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#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.

TrainspottingTrainspotting
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)

#243. Scotland

England’s neighbor to the north, Scotland has a rich and varied culture that is ripe for film settings. With rural rolling hills filled with lakes and fog, the natural beauty of the area lends itself to many mysterious myths and legends. From the Loch Ness Monster to kilts and bagpipes, much of Scotland is usually defined by these simple tropes. Most films don’t use Scotland in its modern context, mainly because a tartan-clothed land filled with broadswords and caber tosses is much more interesting thematically (despite the prevalence of haggis as well). Of course, with its rural tendencies and outdoor eye-candy, even the modern Scottish films manage to hearken back to the country’s humble origins. This week’s two films highlight the picturesque setting of Scotland in both a live-action and animated format.

HighlanderHighlander
Year: 1986
Rating: R
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

Simply put, the eponymous Scottish Highlanders are simply people who live in the Highlands of Scotland. This northern area of the country is filled with much of Scotland’s mountains and lakes (including Loch Ness) and is almost in direct opposition to the more populated Lowlands. In the Lowlands, you’re likely to find drug addicts in Edinburgh (like in Trainspotting (1996)), whereas in the Highlands, you’re likely to find the country estate of a famous MI-6 agent (like in Skyfall (2012)). What’s somewhat ironic about the best-known film about the Highlands, Highlander (1986) is that, despite its modern setting, half of the film takes place in mediaeval times. It is in these mediaeval times that we see the origins of the titular Highlander and learn of his eternal struggle that has culminated in the events that unfold in New York City.

Minding his own business one evening, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is attacked by a man who claims to be immortal. Fortunately, MacLeod is also immortal and is able to subdue his assailant by decapitating him. This death results in Connor receiving the stored energy of the formerly immortal man. While the police manage to arrest him, they can’t prove he did anything wrong and proceed to release him. However, Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) notices that the weapons used in this scuffle are centuries old and takes it upon herself to get close to MacLeod (who is currently using the pseudonym Russell Nash). She eventually learns that this struggle between immortals has been happening for centuries, back when Connor lived as a Highlander. Now only he and The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) remain: both vying for the power to become mortal.

BraveBrave
Year: 2012
Rating: PG
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

For many of the same reasons people enjoy Renaissance Festivals, feudal Scotland is a popular setting for some award-winning films. Not only is one of William Shakespeare’s best plays, Macbeth, set in Scotland, but the Best Picture-winning Braveheart (1995) even goes so far as to tell the tale of the Scottish rebel and hero, William Wallace. Portrayed by Mel Gibson, Wallace takes a stand against the injustice that has befallen his country at the hands of English royalty. More than a decade later, Pixar would take the essence of this rebellion and implant it within a teenaged girl named Merida. Much like William Wallace, Merida is sick and tired of the status quo, and is not going to accept her fate without a fight. Winning the Best Animated Picture Oscar for 2012, Brave shows us that even a girl from Scotland can be a Disney Princess.

Merida Dunbroch (Kelly Macdonald) is not your average princess. Encouraged by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), with the gift of a bow and arrows, Merida embraces her tomboyish tendency as she grows toward womanhood. Partly due to the independence the weapon has given her, she resists the chiding of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants Merida to act like a proper lady. Unfortunately, her parents remain united in marrying her off to the winner of the Highland Games. By using a loophole, she claims her own hand in marriage, which upsets her mother. In a twist of fate propelled by the will-o’-the-wisp, Merida curses her mother and now has to proceed to undo the curse while also attempting to hold the various clans together, all of whom are on the cusp of an all-consuming war.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Scottish settings