Posts Tagged ‘Bill Paxton

08
Mar
15

Nightcrawler (2014)

nightcrawlerAfter spending the last 10 years in the DC area, it was time for the Q’s to pick up and move down South. Naturally we had your normal set of concerns: will it be easy to navigate? How southern will it be? Will we make any friends? Will there be enough to do?  Honestly, though, what I was most concerned about was finding a good place to watch movies! As much as I dislike DC, it does have a lot of independent theaters and opportunities to do fun movie things; midnight movie showings, psychotronic society, etc. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, we quickly discovered our new area has quite a few offerings of its own; Monday night b-movie trash, old flicks showing three out of four Wednesdays every month for $5 a pop, and an accidentally-discovered second-run theater with even better ticket prices: $2.25! When I saw the last was playing Nightcrawler I figured why not give it a shot: I didn’t know anything about it except that Jake Gyllenhaal was in it and that people had said good things. I figured it was worth a gamble of $2.25. I was right!

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is out of work and desperate for money. His current cash flow comes from skulking the streets of Los Angeles collecting scrap metal for cash, but he’s not beyond beating up a security guard for his watch if he has to. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not a very lucrative career. Bloom doesn’t want to be this way; in fact he tries very hard to find a legitimate position, but no prospective employers are biting – not even when Bloom mentions his online business courses! Despite a rousing speech lauding his qualifications, Bloom is turned down for yet another job. But on his way home, Bloom fortuitously finds himself at the scene of a car crash. While rescue crews work to free the driver from the wreckage, Bloom is far more interested in the cameramen gunning for a front-row spot. After the crash is cleared away and the commotion has left the scene, he probes the main cameraman, Joe Loder, (Bill Paxton) about his field of work. Loder explains the equipment and philosophy of his profession:  race to record disaster scenes and sell their graphic footage to local news outfits. Impressed by Loder’s truck-full of equipment, he assumes it must be a lucrative career, and thus his new path is chosen.

The very next day, Bloom sets out to get some equipment of his own. He trades in a stolen bike for a camcorder and a police scanner, and soon he even hires an “intern” named Rick, a homeless youth, to help him navigate the streets of LA as he races to the scenes of disaster in hopes of getting there before his competition. It doesn’t take him long to learn the ropes, and in a short while he finds himself offering some hot footage to local morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Impressed with his work, she asks for more, advising he make it bloody, gory, minority-on-white crime in nice neighborhoods. Impressed with his check, Bloom is more than happy to oblige.

For a while, Romina and Bloom’s professional relationship is extremely lucrative for both of them. Romina is able to get her ratings up, and Bloom can afford to upgrade more than just his shitty camera equipment. Unfortunately, it’s only a short while in until Romina realizes what kind of guy she is dealing with. While she initially admired Bloom’s unflinching ambition, she comes to realize exactly how dangerous a man he is. Bloom is the personification of unfettered capitalism; morality and compassion are secondary to the bottom line. As you can imagine, the film takes some very disturbing turns, and I’m not about to ruin those for you by going on and on about the plot; I’ve probably said too much as it is.

As I mentioned before, I went into the theater not knowing at all what Nightcrawler was about. As the film wore on, I became increasingly excited about where it was going. The story is engrossing in and of itself, but it wouldn’t have been half the film it is without Gyllenhaal leading the way. His creepy intensity drives the entire film; I don’t doubt for a second Bloom’s ghoulish reverence for the health of his burgeoning company. Gyllenhaal has managed to play a character only Ayn Rand could love; a truly despicable human being.

I must say though, I’m left wondering what made Bloom the way he is. The movie is peppered with lines about how difficult it is to get anywhere in an economy like this. As has been well-documented these days, we live in a time of great income inequality, and Bloom, having just recently taken all those online business courses, must of course know the only folks who are successful are really fucking successful. He’s done his best to get by honestly, though perhaps he hasn’t exactly taken the smartest route, he is a man who wants to work. Why should making ends meet be so difficult for him? In the cut-throat, social-darwinistic world of business, it’s kill or be killed, and Bloom isn’t about to be killed. So who can blame him for not just wanting to survive, but to thrive?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not find Bloom’s character sympathetic in the least. What I do find sympathetic is his situation, and I think the film does a fantastic job of pitting our economic climate against an average Joe. Being educated and driven is clearly not enough to get by in today’s America; you must also be bloodthirsty and relentless. The story is shown to us almost matter-of-factly, like yes – of course these are the lengths a successful businessperson will go to in order to achieve greatness. What is highlighted for me the most is the idea that perhaps the most dangerous thing about steep income inequality is not need, but the desperation it breeds in those who don’t want to be left behind.

Nightcrawler is a difficult movie to watch (I got the Fremdscham more than a few times), but it is also riveting (yeah, I used that word, so what?) and rewarding. Though I must wonder what a true libertarian would think of it. Q had said he could envision Bloom being held up as a true hero of Modern Capitalism… but I think even he is a little too despicable for such people to laud. But hey, what do I know? I just watch movies.

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04
Jan
15

Frailty (2001)

frailtyposterFor a long time, I’d been hearing really good things about Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty. Naturally, I was skeptical: I’d only just recently admitted to myself that I like watching Paxton in action. Specifically, his turn in Near Dark delighted me to no end, and I finally had to come to terms with the fact that he is an enjoyable, if ridiculous, force on screen. After the endorsement of several folks, all of whom have opinions we normally respect, we decided to take a gamble. While I don’t necessarily regret it, I will say that a movie hasn’t inspired such passionate anger in me since that piece-of-shit Godzilla remake.

First things first: I can’t account for my disgust without revealing the film’s secrets. So, if you are stuck in the late 90’s/early aughts and still obsessed with plot twists, read no further. To the rest of you, it should already raise a red flag that the success of Frailty completely hinges upon its twist(ed) ending.

Now, let’s see if I can sum this shit up. Fenton Mieks (Matthew McConaughey) appears uninvited at his local FBI office. He’s looking for Agent Doyle (Powers Boothe), the detective searching for the “God’s Hand” serial killer. Fenton insists he knows, quite intimately, who the killer is. Doyle is skeptical, but with leads having run dry long ago, he has no choice but to hear him out. Long story short, when Fenton and his younger brother Adam were growing up, his widower dad (Bill Paxton) woke up in the middle of the night with a vision from God telling him it was his family’s job to kill sinners. The light of the lord bequeaths upon him a list of sinners by name and a few instruments with which to catch and kill them. Dad wastes no time getting the great cull started, and when he brings the first victim home, Fenton is horrified.  He is pretty sure his father has lost his shit completely. Young Adam is too little to know who’s right, and is more inclined to believe his father knows what he’s doing when he takes his hatchet to harlots and heretics.

We're a happy family, we're a happy family, we're a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

We’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, we’re a happy family, me, God and Daddy!

When Fenton decries his father’s actions and opts not to help murder people, dear old dad says the vision of God has told him that he should be next on the chopping block. But I guess he doesn’t quite have the strength of Abraham, and instead just has Fenton dig a giant hole in the ground that eventually will be his home for two or three weeks; just long enough until he sees the light of God, of course. Adam is allowed to give his brother one glass of water a day, but no food. I guess hunger can cause visions, right? So Fenton says he saw the light and is allowed out, and, you know, to eat and stuff, so that’s kind of nice. He still balks when his dad hands him the axe, though. Instead of whacking a sinner’s head off, he intentionally misses and sinks the blade into his father’s belly.

At this point Agent Doyle is  thinking ‘boy howdy, that’s quite a story, but them pieces don’t fit together.’ Fenton insists his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, carrying out the work started by daddy all those years ago. Doyle wants some sort of proof, and for whatever reason agrees to go to the plot of land where Fenton says all the bodies are buried. Finally, the two are alone and Fenton can reveal the truth: he’s not Fenton at all! He’s actually Adam! And his dad wasn’t crazy, he really did get a list of sinner’s names from the almighty lord and has carte blanche to murder

It's hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it's done to Paxton's forehead.

It’s hard to be called to duty by the lord himself. Really hard. Just look at what it’s done to Paxton’s forehead.

them all! Even more twisty, Agent Doyle is just such a sinner and his end is imminent! OH MY (literal) GOOOOOODD!

Seriously? Seriously. How is this movie not an endorsement for religious zealotry? What. The. Fuck. At first I was thinking to myself: oh, okay, I get it; this movie’s going to say something interesting about religious fanaticism! BUT THE EXACT OPPOSITE HAPPENED! I am pretty sure I seethed and fumed about the irresponsibility of such an ending for entire days after I’d watched this. Aren’t we taking the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing a little too fucking literally here? The worst part of it is, after watching the special features on the disc it seems painfully clear that Paxton and writer Brent Hanley don’t seem bothered by this shit in the slightest. It’s almost as if the implications of their supposedly masterful twist ending didn’t concern either of them; they only wanted to make the audience gasp. And, I guess the second worst part is, it fucking worked. How is it possible that normal people are not bothered by the meaning behind this creepy-ass, evangelical ending?

McConaughey plots his next move...

McConaughey plots his next move…

While its politics absolutely disgust me, the truth is the film is not a bad piece of work, technically speaking. Paxton seems to know what he’s doing behind the camera, even if he can’t entirely pull off the devout dad role. He’s not the only one who seems to have trouble with his acting; McConaughey is no prince in this either. He’s not terrible, but after just watching (and loving) True Detective it’s pretty clear to see just how much he’s grown as an actor. And speaking of True Detective, I couldn’t help but see a lot of similarities between the two. Not to throw gas into the plagiarism fire plaguing writer Nic Pizzolatto, but there is a bit here that makes me wonder. Aside from the obvious McConaughey link, both pieces of work take place, in large part, in an office of the law. Both pieces center around a man, played by McConaughey, retelling a story in which he may or may not be suspected of committing serious crimes. Both have a weird Southern Gothic spiritualism thing going on, but thankfully True Detective‘s ending, while perhaps ultimately disappointing, was benign.

Anyway, whatever. This movie sucks. It’s irresponsible, reprehensible, and lazy. And, despite what Paxton and Hanley would have you believe, murder is not okay.

23
Oct
14

Near Dark (1987)

As many of my horror-movie-hound compatriots likely do, I tend to haunt used media shops. I can spend a good hour or two scouring any used DVD section looking for stuff I’ve never heard of or stuff I’ve always wanted to see, but never had the chance to. I think I ran into Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, our selection for day 21 of 31 Days of Horror, two or three times before I finally decided we should own it. I’d seen it once before, and my first reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive; somehow as time passed it wasn’t positive enough to convince me the DVD was worth $11. But after seeing it so many times, hovering around that $11 mark, I decided to pick it up. I’m glad I did, but maybe not for the reasons you think.

Mae's mysterious eyes are hiding something...

Mae’s mysterious eyes are hiding something…

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is a small-town farm boy. He spends his night carousing around in his truck with his cowboy friends, but his tendency towards romance seems to separate him from the rest of the roughnecks. That’s at least how it seems to Mae (Jenny Wright), a vision under fluorescent lights suckin’ on a soft-serve, lookin’ all come-hither. It’s not long before Caleb woos her into his truck and the two spend the whole night together, Mae pointing out the dark sky in deep admiration. But the fun stops short when the sun starts to rise; Mae gets tense and demands Caleb take her home. He promises he will, but not until she gives him a kiss. She does, and of course it’s a kiss he won’t soon forget: a passionate nip on the neck that draws blood. After the tender love bite, Mae runs off, and Caleb seems mystified by her strange action. Things get worse when he tries to run home in the sunlight, smoking through the farm and alerting his father Loy (Tim Thomserson) and sister Sarah. “Caleb looks sick” she says curiously, right as a roughed-up Winnebago comes tearing through the farm, lifting Caleb into its cab.

Meet your new family!

Meet your new family!

What started off as a budding romance has now turned into a living nightmare; Caleb is now one of “them,” this rag-tag group of dirty, desperate thieves and murderers who hide from the sun. They consider themselves a “family.” Mom and Dad roles are played by Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) and Jesse (Lance Henriksen). Their two “sons” are both psychotic; Severen (Bill Paxton) a full-grown sociopath ready to toss Caleb out into the sun right then and there, and Homer, an ancient creature trapped in a young boy’s body with all the bitterness to prove it. Then there’s Mae, the newest addition to the family; someone Homer thought would be a good companion for himself. Homer is most disturbed by Mae’s wish to create her own companion, seeing it as a slight. In short, no one in this group is on Caleb’s side but Mae, and he has an awful lot to prove if he wants to survive with his new family. The only way to do that, surely, is to go out and kill. Will Caleb pass muster?

One of my favorite shots from Near Dark; our nighttime family from afar.

One of my favorite shots from Near Dark; our nighttime family from afar.

I have to say, there’s a lot about Near Dark I like. There are a lot of beautiful shots to feast your eyes upon; the American West provides an interesting setting for the creatures of the night. But probably my favorite aspect of the film is how Bigelow demystifies these animals. I spend a lot of time watching vampire movies wondering how they manage to afford “living;” surely the aristocratic vampire’s bank account would eventually run out after centuries of living; I mean, hello, inflation and everything, right?! But here it’s no secret where these monsters’ money comes from: their victims. Their existence is much more tenuous than Count Dracula’s; they don’t have the luxury of retreating into their castle’s cold, earthen basement for their daytime slumber, instead they have to book hotels before dawn and line the windows with aluminum foil to avoid going up in smoke. I really like this view of the vampire.

A bloody Bill Paxton beckons!

A bloody Bill Paxton beckons!

Additionally, there are some really great performances to behold here. Henriksen is, unsurprisingly, really fantastic at playing a veteran vampire. His expressions are usually cool and collected, but when he gets pissed, hot damn, he is pissed! This role was practically made for him. And now, as much as it might pain me to say it, I have to admit that Bill Paxton is so perfectly Bill Paxton that I think I actually shouted “I don’t hate Bill Paxton… I LOVE Bill Paxton” while watching this movie (this is the aforementioned reason I’m glad to have picked up this flick to add to my collection, lord help me). Seriously, this is a real revelation for someone who has refused to watch Frailty for the longest time because of his involvement in the film. Severen is a heartless, bloodthirsty killer way off his rocker. I can’t tell you how many bulgy-eyed stills I got of Paxton from this flick. He is so deliciously over-the-top I couldn’t help but laugh, and admit that the man’s got a certain charm. Unfortunately, our main characters are played by the weakest links. Either that, or the material they’re forced to work with doesn’t give them a lot of room to be interesting or have any fun.

A nighttime tryst like no other, Mae feeds Caleb under the oil derricks...

A nighttime tryst like no other, Mae feeds Caleb under the oil derricks…

And that sort of brings me to what I did not like about Near Dark: the treacly romance. Oh god, it is eyeroll-inducing. Mae and Caleb’s romance is sweet, sure, but Jiminy Crickets, Bigelow lays it on way too thick. I don’t think Wright and Pasdar’s chemistry was nearly enough to convince me that Caleb’s character would willingly give up his human family (the one he obviously loves) for these judgemental assholes Mae runs around with. And Mae’s constant reveries involving the moon and the stars make me want to barf. When we first started watching it I was ready to apologize to Q for suggesting we put the damn thing on. Luckily the movie more than makes up for these mawkish missteps, but be forewarned: it’s a little gushy.

What is so interesting, or maybe confusing, about Near Dark is its extremes. Those lovey-dovey scenes between Mae and Caleb are so tender and sweet, and ten minutes later we are violently jolted out of our romantic stupor as we witness Mae’s crew partake in one of the bloodiest bar brawls I’ve ever seen on film. I’m not exactly sure what Bigelow’s trying to say there, if

Lance Henriksen as Jesse, papa vamp.

Lance Henriksen as Jesse, papa vamp.

anything at all. Perhaps it is meant to highlight precisely why Mae sought out a new, tender-hearted companion: she can’t live off the violence alone, as the rest of her family seems to be able to do without issue. Either way, it is easy to see how Bigelow started with a film like Near Dark and ended up making Point Break: both are very serious about their content. Sure there are a few jokes here and there in both films, but neither are campy in the least. I think that works very well, somehow, for Point Break. After all these years of loving the shit out of that movie, I still haven’t exactly figured out why it works so well. But I think Near Dark loses a little something in all its seriousness. That being said, it is still a very good vampire flick. It is certainly one not to be missed by anyone who is a fan of the genre.

18
Sep
14

Streets of Fire (1984)

Do you like the 1950’s and the 1980’s and just can’t decide between the two? No problem, there’s a movie for that! Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire doesn’t feel the need to define its setting in space or time. It is, after all, a “rock and roll fable;” a tale of love and drama so unrealistic and over-the-top it just wouldn’t make sense to give it a familiar setting. We’re notified right off the bat we’re going to be spending the next 93-minutes in “a different place, a different time,” and certainly these Streets of Fire don’t look like any I’ve ever seen…

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous... Ellen Aim...

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous… Ellen Aim…

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a local singer whose star is about to sky-rocket; she’s got an amazing stage presence and she’s screwing her producer, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Everyone in town flocks to the club when she’s on the stage. What could go wrong? The Bombers, that’s what! Within the first five minutes of the film, Ellen takes the stage, rocks the crowd and is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). The thugs steal her away to “the Battery;” the part of town where nice folks like you and me just don’t go. Not only do they manage to take her without a problem, they leave havoc in their wake; it seems like The Bombers can just take whatever they want without consequence. Or can they?

Bombers come to town

Bombers come to town

Oh, hell no they can’t, says Reva Cody, as she pulls up a typewriter and pleads for her brother Tom (Michael Paré) to come home and kick ass. See, Tom and Ellen used to have a real hot and heavy relationship, but Ellen’s career-driven nature didn’t jive well with Tom’s bad-boy attitude, and the couple just had to call it quits. Upon his return, Tom is reluctant to scour the depths of the Battery to save a woman who left a nasty taste in his mouth, but Reva’s plaintive eyes and Billy Fish’s $10,000 endorsement help change his mind.

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Tom’s going to need help. A trunk-full of artillery is a good start, but he’s going to need a trusty second to get him through the worst of it. Good thing Tom has stumbled upon McCoy (Amy Madigan), a brash, no-nonsense female mechanic freshly home from the military herself, looking for a place to sleep and a job to do. McCoy’s proven herself quite the badass (though anyone can punch Bill Paxton in the face, amirite?), and trustworthy, too, so Tom brings her along. And whether or not he likes it, Billy Fish is coming, too! Can this unlikely trio really go into the depths of urban decay and save Ellen?

When doesn't Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

When doesn’t Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

This movie is an incredibly delightful way to spend an hour and a half. As I mentioned before, the setting is fantastic in the sense that the total package bears little resemblance to any reality you or I are familiar with. This is no secret; from the very beginning we are well informed that we shouldn’t be asking too many questions in regards to the plot’s plausibility. And although the setting is unfamiliar in total, elements are lifted from all your favorite twentieth-century eras. Each character seems to be set in their own space and time; most of the Bombers are reminiscent of the 1950’s (though I’m not sure who ever wore that pleather onesie Dafoe dons halfway through the flick; yowza! Does dude work in an abattoir?) while Ellen is definitely a woman of the 1980’s, basking in synth-pop and eyeshadow. Then there’s Tom, who seems to be set apart from all the other characters wearing clothes and driving vehicles reminiscent of those you’d find in the 1920’s. The end-result is a pleasantly disorienting cast of anachronisms that all somehow manage to work together.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

Personally, I think this is a genius way to keep the audience on board with the crazy plot that is about to unfold. There’s no need for the setting to be authentic or true to any one moment in time, because this is a story that just wouldn’t have happened. Like, ever. And maybe that’s why I like Streets of Fire more than other musicals like West Side Story or Grease; they’re so concerned with some measure of weird authenticity, and yet they’re fucking musicals. Like I’m supposed to believe these people just break out into song all the time, but god forbid the audience should question the authenticity of Maria’s clothes, or Rydell High’s school dance? Why is spontaneous song a more acceptable movie trope than Hill’s weird melange of historical trademarks? Now, I know, Streets of Fire is not a musical, but I still think it’s worth comparing it to one; not only is its drama similar to what you’d find in a musical, but the film itself is rooted heavily in music (songs by Ry Cooder, anyone?). I’m officially calling it the unmusical musical. But anyway, I digress…

You guys, it's a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

You guys, it’s a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

Clearly, I’m fixated on the weird setting in which Streets of Fire takes place, but fear not folks, there’s plenty of other weird stuff in store for you! The plot itself is bonkers; how is it so easy for this gang of greasers to waltz into a nightclub and kidnap the star of the show, and while she’s on stage no less? You know, like, in front of everyone? Is this a town full of wusses or what? And the thought of Billy Fish accompanying two badasses with nothing to lose into the sixth circle of hell for a woman who is really just eye candy to him, well that’s not really believable either. Weirder still are the relationships these people all have with one another, most notably Tom and Ellen’s. I’ve never met people that talk this way to each-other, which leads me to think Hill set this film not just in another place and time, but another solar system.streetsoffirelastkiss

I want to be clear about something, while I really like Streets of Fire, I don’t think I could go and say it’s actually a good movie. Worthwhile, yes. Entertaining, you betcha… but good? Not a chance in hell. But, I don’t think it wants to be good. There’s no Oscar bait here, and there’s a lot to be said for a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve while also trying to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest disappointment about the film for me is the fact that Diane Lane is pretty much wasted in this role. After having just recently watched Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for the first time and realizing how good Lane is at playing a put-out badass, I expected more out of her performance here. Unfortunately, she just isn’t given much to work with; she’s little more than a damsel in distress with a bad attitude. You can do better than that with Diane Lane! But anyway, I do recommend seeing Streets of Fire, just remember to let your mind go free and that anything can happen in Walter Hill’s world!




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