Weird Science

“It’s one of those roles that I knew I had nailed to the barn door even while we were shooting it. I remember I wanted to get that haircut for the movie, and Michael Germain, who was the hairdresser and was a friend of mine from a movie called Streets of Fire that I had done about a year or two before, was afraid to cut my hair that short. He was worried that he was gonna get in trouble with John Hughes and Joel Silver, who produced movie. And I said, ‘No, please. I just want to show up on the set.’ The first shot I ever shot in that movie was the scene where I pull up in, I don’t know, it’s like a Bronco, it’s all camouflage, and I get out and I’ve got my shotgun in one hand, and like this one duck in the other hand, and I’m kind of seeing the cars in the driveway. And I said, ‘Let me just show up on the set. I don’t even want them to see it.’ So, the hairdresser was this guy from the ’50s and he kept it a little long on the sides and it just looked like an aircraft carrier on top. When I walked onto the set in that outfit they were just completely floored. And when they saw the dailies, they went, ‘Man, don’t change a thing.'”
– Bill Paxton

Probably the silliest of John Hughes’ 80s teen comedies, this story of a couple of high school nerds who conjure up the woman of their dreams with a computer and a Barbie doll exemplifies the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

One of the minor pleasures of watching this movie again, fifteen years later, is marveling over the antique computer equipment the boys use. Five and a quarter inch floppies! An acoustical coupler for the modem! (If I remember correctly, acoustical couplers were incapable of handling modem speeds greater than 2400 baud. Which, in those days, we thought was screaming.) And Anthony Michael Hall—most recently spotted playing Bill Gates—was always my favorite of the Brat Packers. He’s looking remarkably fresh and newly-minted here.

As for Bill, he plays Chet Donnelly, the Big Brother From Hell. He’s loud, he’s overbearing, he’s a petty martinet bent on running roughshod over everything in his path. There’s a sort of innocence in his cheerful savagery, as if he simply doesn’t understand why the universe should not be his toy. One of Bill’s classic roles, he’s a commanding presence from the moment he first appears standing regally at the top of the stairs in his underwear. His part isn’t huge, but it’s probably as much as the movie could handle without exploding.

Chet! Chet! Chet! Throw that towel down!

Two stars for the movie, and three stars for Bill’s butt.

Dead or Alive?


“An androgynous boy wanders around the beaches, and these middle-aged men keep coming on to him. And every time they touch him, he turns around and blows them away with a .44 Magnum. I was eighteen years old, I was from Texas, and everything had to blow up real good or it wasn’t a movie.”
– Bill Paxton, on Death Wish in Venice, a super 8 film he made with a friend in high school

Arnold Schwartzenegger stars as a retired commando who’s forced to do one last job when his daughter is kidnapped…

I saw this movie back when it first came out, and two things about it stuck in my mind. One was the scene where Arnold lands his float plane off the beach of a small island, then strips down to his shorts, apparently for the express purpose of showing off his rippling muscles as he rows to shore, where he puts his clothes back on and proceeds to kill another 150 guys or so.

The other thing that stuck in my mind was the body count. This movie was made at the height of action movie excess, and I don’t think it was ever topped in sheer number of dead guys. The first body hits the ground before the opening credits end, and they keep flying every which way until the final credits roll.

As a Bill movie, it’s pretty insignificant. Bill plays a Coast Guard officer who’s trying to order Arnold’s plane out of a restricted area, and while he looks very pretty in his white uniform, his entire role doesn’t last more than a minute or two.

Minimal screen time, very minor role – the only thing to recommend it to Bill fans is the Man in Uniform effect.

Two stars – it’s mostly standard action movie fare, but has its flashes of humor. And if you like Arnold Schwartzenegger, he’s very buff and studly here.

Dead or Alive?


“That one was so weird to make because, as we shot at Pinewood Studios in England, we’d show up on set and blast the crap out of these roaring Aliens all day, shooting them left and right, explosions, the works and then at the stroke of ten and four an old lady would push this tea trolley around, and all the Marines and all the guys playing the Aliens would take their costumes off and have cups of tea and scones.”
– Bill Paxton

“I was the scared, hysterical Marine in ‘Aliens,’ and I thought I had pushed the part too far. I came back home after that and just slid into this well of depression. I decided that I wasn’t going to be an actor anymore.”
– Bill Paxton

Sequel to Ridley Scott’s terrifying and claustrophobic Alien, Aliens brings back Ripley, sole survivor of the first film (except for Jones, the cat), teams her up with a squad of badass Marines and a sleazy Company man, and sends her back to face the aliens one more time. This time there are more aliens, more battles, more firepower, more of everything. It’s relentless roller-coaster of a film that doesn’t let up until the closing credits roll.

I loved this movie even before I saw it. I had loved Alien, and the idea of a sequel by the maker of The Terminator had me jumping for joy. Nor was I in the least disappointed—this is one of the few films I’ve ever seen that not only lived up to its hype, but left it lying in the dust. And it was the first film that really brought Bill Paxton to my attention. He is a firecracker as the irrepressible Pvt. Hudson, by turns swaggering, complaining, and cowering in fear, tossing out one-liners like precision grenades, exemplifying one of Bill’s great strengths as an actor: his willingness to throw himself headlong into a role, and to take it to its logical limits. He is the Ultimate Badass.

His first appearance in the film is in his boxer shorts, as he and the other Colonial Marines awake from their freezer units on the Sulaco. (And the first words out of good ol’ Hudson’s mouth are to complain about how cold the floor is.) Bill has some great fake tattoos in this movie—first time I noticed them, I was hoping they were real, but no such luck. If you like a man in uniform, Hudson’s got the camo, the body armor, the high-tech weaponry dripping off him, the injuries and grime of battle.

I love Hudson. Sure, he can be a pain in the butt, but he does it with such exuberance that it’s hard to be really annoyed with him. I wish he had more screen time (and he does get a few extra scenes in the 25th Anniversary Special Edition of the movie), but he does have a substantial role, and makes his presence felt in every scene he is in.

I give this one, oh, a dozen stars. And I think I’ll go watch it again right now. “Game over, man!”

Dead or Alive?

Near Dark

“A lot of people want to tell me I’m the affable all-American guy, but I came up doing character parts.”
– Bill Paxton

Small town boy meets the girl of his dreams. But isn’t there something a little bit strange about Mae? Especially when she insists she has to be home by dawn, then bites Caleb on the neck. Pretty soon he’s scooped up by Mae’s homicidal little family, who allow that Caleb can be one of them, if only he learns how to kill.

Not your usual vampire movie, these undead killers wander the heartland in pickup trucks and trailers with the windows blacked out with tinfoil, trashing bars and chewing people up like popcorn. As Severen, the craziest and most bloodthirsty of the savage clan, Bill pulls out all the stops. He laughs hard, drinks hard, plays hard, and kills hard. He’s rude and crude and nasty as hell. He acts like being a vampire is the most fun he ever had.

Holy smoke! Bill is hotter than a pistol in this one. You got your leather, cowboy boots, spurs, guns, cowboy drawl, neck-biting, blood-sucking, exploding into flames… Totally outrageous, totally delicious.

Five stars. Okay, six. ‘Cause Severen is mad, bad, and oh, so sexy. “Fucking daylight!”

Dead or Alive?

Next of Kin

“Like every other young dreamer, I was crushed. You don’t just arrive in Hollywood and become an actor, but after a few years I did get into the business.”
– Bill Paxton

A Chicago cop from the hills of Appalachia is caught between his duty to the law and his family’s code of vengeance when one of his brothers is killed by the mob. It’s a fast-paced and fascinating look at a clash of cultures, as the war between Truman Gates’ backwoods clan and the Chicago crime family plays out.

Bill plays Gerald Gates, a cigarette delivery truck driver who hates the big city and would rather be back home. Gerald is a straightforward guy; guileless and good-natured and more than a little stubborn. He seems like the kind of guy you could hang out with. Kick back and have a couple of beers. Watch the game. Drive down to the beach in the middle of the night playing the radio in the truck real loud. Cut up toy soldiers and glue them back together in strange ways to make them into mutants… Oops, no, that was the guys I went to college with. Think maybe there was a Gerald or two among ’em.

Bill sure makes a cute li’l hillbilly! Oh my, what those shirts with the sleeves ripped off do to me… If I could have a Bill clone to take home with me, I think I’d choose one of these. He’s a cutie pie. Too bad he doesn’t last very long. Bill’s got all of two scenes in this movie, but they are good ones, and he gets pretty badly beat up, if you like that sort of thing.

Three stars – it’s a good movie, and Bill’s part is short but sweet.

Dead or Alive?

The Dark Backward

“So blatantly amoral. Almost like that you can’t get mad at the guy, really in a way you kinda go ‘Well yeah, I can understand this guy, he’s a simple guy.’ I thought of him as a human cockroach. Getting into anything! He didn’t care—ya know—skinny or fat or if she was dead in a garbage dump! He could still get off on it!”
– Bill Paxton

This weird, surreal little film is set in a grimy industrial alternate universe. where all the streets are trash-filled alleys and Blump’s billboards fill the skyline. Marty Malt (Judd Nelson) is a garbageman whose dreams of becoming a stand-up comic are stalled until he spontaneously grows a third arm out of his back. A horrified girlfriend, a wacked-out doctor, lots of encouragement/harassment from his best friend, and a sleazy talent agent later, Marty’s on his way to stardom. But the best-laid plans….

You’ve got your garbage-eating. You’ve got your corpse-kissing. You’ve got a Valkyrie and her Human Xylophone. Not to mention your three-armed comic. If you can keep from losing your lunch, it’s a strangely absorbing absurdist play on ambition and acceptance.

Bill plays Marty’s friend Gus, an accordion-playing garbageman with a taste for, well, just about anything. Hyper and clueless, Gus runs roughshod over everyone with energetic glee. Alternately charming and repulsive, he’s a wild child with no inhibitions and no moral restraint. Watch him dancing down the alley, playing his accordion and chortling madly. And don’t get in his way.

Bill is absolutely great in this. He is also completely disgusting. You’d almost rather he kept his clothes on, except that he’s slightly less filthy beneath his orange garbageman’s coverall. Save the popcorn for a less stomach-churning movie and enjoy a stops-out performance.

Three stars, just for being so incredibly weird.

Dead or Alive?


“I’ve kind of had a Forrest Gump career. I’ve been at the right place at the wrong time.”
– Bill Paxton

Things I learned from watching Monolith:

  1. People can outrun cars.
  2. It takes about the same amount of time to climb twenty flights of stairs as it does to ride up those same twenty flights in an elevator.
  3. People can survive bomb explosions and fires by jumping into swimming pools.

Movie physics aside, Monolith is a fairly predictable scifi thriller, filled with government conspiracies, alien body snatchers, and lots of explosions and car chases. Vaguely reminiscent of the (much better) The Hidden, with touches of The X-Files and pretty much every buddy cop movie to come down the pike, Monolith is just earnest and offbeat enough to have its own modest appeal.

Bill is Tucker, the Embittered Loner Cop, who naturally finds himself reluctantly partnered with the Feisty Female Cop. They trade insults, gradually come to trust each other, and, well, you know the rest. Tucker’s your basic rough-around-the-edges good guy, occasionally irritating but with a big heart.

Courtesy of a gratuitous, but much appreciated, shower scene. Bill’s in scruffy, leather-n-denim, good-ol’-boy mode here, complete with some nice fake scars and tattoos. He gets plenty of eminently watchable screen time, some good lines, a few bruises, and of course, the nude scene. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking role, but as always, he’s fun to watch.

Any movie with naked Bill gets at least two stars. Wet naked Bill gets two and a half.

Dead or Alive?

Indian Summer

“I’ve got three nipples. Three. No one knows about that, but no one’s ever asked me before. I guess it’s about time I got it off my chest.”
– Bill Paxton

It’s a reunion movie: a group of thirtysomethings are invited back to the summer camp they all attended as children for one last week before the camp closes. Friendships are rekindled, old secrets come out, couples break up and come together, amid much reminiscing and replaying of the pleasures of youth.

Quiet and sweet, this movie seems more intent on evoking a mood of time and place than developing any compelling plot elements. And it works just fine that way; it’s a little mental summer vacation. Bill plays Jack Belston, the only kid who was ever kicked out of Camp Tamakwa, the wild child no one ever expected to see again. There are hints of a rough past, but no details, and his “secret,” when it finally comes out, isn’t particularly shocking. So just sit back and relax and watch him run and play and act like a kid.

Bill is a total knockout babe in this one, and I’m still trying to figure out just how he did it. Is it the long hair? The skimpy bathing suits and sleeveless tee-shirts? Natural sunlight? Not that he’s not good-looking, but he doesn’t usually make me wonder what Planet of the Studmuffins he’s from. He can do Cute. He can definitely do Sexy. But how often does he do “Just Shut Up and Stand There, I’m Not Done Looking At You Yet”? And this is one of the sweetie-pie roles, too. He’s all diffident and giggly and schoolboy-ish. No outright nude scene, but lots o’ skin, and charming little romance.

Eight stars, just for Bill being so stunningly gorgeous.

Dead or Alive?

Boxing Helena

“There’s nothing sexual about being on a set with seventy people watching you, you know… I mean, I’m an exhibitionist—more of an introverted extrovert—but it doesn’t raise the flag, as it were…”
– Bill Paxton

The twisted little tale of a neurotic surgeon so obsessed with a beautiful woman that he would do anything—including commit mayhem—to keep her with him, this film by Jennifer Chambers Lynch (David Lynch’s daughter) spawned lawsuits and bad press and was almost universally reviled even before it came out.

So sue me, I like this movie. I don’t know that I would say it was a good movie, but it is fascinatingly weird and compelling in a train-wreck sort of way, and any movie with “Nessun Dorna” in it can’t be all bad. As for Bill, his role as Ray O’Malley, Helena’s obnoxious boyfriend, isn’t large, but it certainly is showy. O’Malley’s something of a Neanderthal, but he doesn’t come off too badly considering that Helena’s a stone bitch and Dr. Nick is certifiable. The black leather pants don’t hurt, either.

Naked Bill. Love scene with Sherilynn Fenn. Black leather and sunglasses and tight see-through tee-shirt. Smokey sex-kitty voice. Forget the cheesy dialogue and bizarre plot, just sit back with a glass of cognac and watch Bill turn up the heat.

Three stars, mostly for naked leatherboy Bill.

Dead or Alive?

True Lies

“I had to beg for my life and say I had a little penis. That line would have scared off a lot of lesser men, but I relished it.”
– Bill Paxton

Arnold Schwartzenegger is Harry Tasker, a secret agent whose wife thinks he’s a boring computer salesman. Tasker’s wife, Helen, longs for a little excitement, and ends up getting more than she bargained for when she stumbles into one of her husband’s cases.

I had high hopes for this film when I first saw it, but it never quite came together for me. The action scenes were great, but the comedy aspects made me cringe. I hated the way poor Helen Tasker was treated, and I really hated what they did to Bill. Not that I don’t enjoy some good character torture, but I can’t quite get behind kidnapping and assault played for laughs.

Bill plays Simon, a sleazy used car salesman who’s attempting to romance Tasker’s wife. Simon spins outrageous tales and sets up elaborate scenarios to get women into bed with him, apparently with only limited success. He’s not a particularly nice guy, but he’s too pathetic to be really bad. He mostly makes me want to shake him and tell him things would work out much better for him if he just didn’t try so hard. Shall we all say it together: “Size doesn’t matter!”

They’ve done their best to make him scuzzy in this one, but even so he manages to look awfully cute at times. What is it about that mustache? I don’t generally like them, but on Bill it only makes him look like more of a little boy. Screen time is fairly substantial for a supporting role, and we do get to see him in his underwear.

One and a half stars, for the bit with the Harrier jet, and for Bill’s willingness to completely humiliate himself on screen.

Dead or Alive?