Apollo 13

“He called me back and said ‘I’d like you to play the role of Fred Haise,’ and my wife and I danced all over the house.”
– Bill Paxton

This isn’t just a movie, it’s a piece of history. True story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon flight, and filmed with loving attention to detail by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 packs more thrills and chills and nail-biting edge-of-your-seat action into its 140 minutes than any half-dozen of your usual action or horror movies put together. The year was 1970: two successful moon landings had been made, and a third was already beginning to seem routine when, two days away from Earth, an oxygen tank exploded, taking out several vital systems and seriously jeopardizing the mission’s chances of returning safely home. Skillfully interweaving the stories of the dedicated crew at Mission Control and the terrified families waiting at home along with the trials of the three astronauts fighting to survive in their crippled ship, the movie careens headlong from crisis to crisis from the moment the fateful words are spoken: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Apollo 13 is one of my very favorite movies; it gets my blood stirring every time. Having Bill Paxton in it is just icing on the cake. Bill gives a stand-out performance as lunar module pilot Fred Haise, adding his own touches of trademark humor to the part. This is one of his sweetie-pie roles; he’s charming, playful, dedicated, and definitely has the Right Stuff.

No skin, no sex, but this time around you won’t miss it. As one of the three stranded astronauts, he gets plenty of high-voltage screen time. He gets to push his accent in this one, as Southerner Fred Haise (although Haise is from Mississipi, and his Southern drawl is not really the same as Bill’s Texas twang), and poor baby gets space sick at the beginning of the flight, then comes down with a fever after the accident, getting sicker and sicker and leading to some nice moments with Tom Hanks as mission commander Jim Lovell. Get the DVD version if you can and watch the documentary on the making of Apollo 13, which includes interviews with Bill and the other actors, crew and advisors, and also some really cute footage of him flying through the KC-135 training aircraft (used to simulate weightlessness) with a big old silly grin on his face.

I give this one about a million stars.

Dead or Alive?


“Well, it was luck. I was at NASA with Tom Hanks towards the end of the long shoot of Apollo 13, and he’d just passed on the script, so he suggested I look into it. Of course, I said, ‘Yeah right, Tom, as if they’re going to let me do a script you’ve rejected. Dream on pal!’ But I did go along to talk to director Jan De Bont, just after he’d finished up on Speed, and I was the first actor he’d spoken to. And he wanted me, and we were up and rocking.”
– Bill Paxton

You’d have to have been living under a rock through most of the late 90’s not to know about the scene with the flying cow. Twister is a special effects movie in a big way, and it does its job spectacularly. There are some astonishing sequences of buildings, vehicles, and machinery, plus the aforementioned cow, being flung about by monster winds. The actual plot, about a storm chaser being drawn back into the business by his almost-ex-wife, provides clever banter and some nice emotional resonance, but what you’re really here for is to watch nature run rampant and go “Whoa! How’d they do that?”

Bill plays Bill Harding, tornado chaser extraordinaire. He’s a good guy and a gentleman, trying to do the right thing by his soon-to-be-ex and his current fiancé and his former team and his own need for the thrill of the chase. Sweet and earnest and a bit bemused, he faces his romantic entanglements as squarely as he faces the forces of nature, and manages to come out on top.

Oh yeah. Tight jeans and cowboy boots and strategically placed scrapes and smudges. Bill’s a hottie in this one, and a nice guy to boot. Some might say that he tends to get roles in special effects movies (twisters, giant apes, avalanches) because a top-tier actor isn’t needed when the FX are the draw. Those of us who know better prefer to think it’s really because Bill’s one of the few who can hold his own against an F-5 tornado.

 Three and a half stars. Lots of Bill, lots of things whirling and crashing, and, you know, the flying cow.

Dead or Alive?

The Evening Star

“He’s a guy who likes older women. It’s not a rare occurrence really. Back in my days on the loose, I had an affair with an older woman. It was role reversal. It was great. She did all the planning for us and was in complete control of the affair. It felt really good, so I can understand where my character is coming from. If I weren’t very married, I certainly could fall in love with Shirley. She is so full of life and vitality.”
– Bill Paxton

I’ll admit right up front, I don’t care for chick flicks. And this is a chick flick. Still, I think I can tell a good chick flick from a bad one, and this is a bad one. This sequel to 1983’s Terms of Endearment picks up a generation later, with Shirley Maclaine’s Aurora Greenway coming to terms with her age and the bad job she did raising her grandchildren. The movie strains to be clever and insightful, but mainly ends up being shrill and heavy-handed. And I’m sorry, I just can’t get behind the spiteful vandalism of a Ferrari. I mean, a Ferrari!

Bill plays Jerry Bruckner, a therapist Aurora visits about her depression, fires, and then begins an oddball affair with. He’s a hapless sort of fellow, clearly out of his league with a formidable woman like Aurora, and a bit dumb for a therapist, if you ask me. His main purpose seems to be to stand around looking confused and pretty, which he does very well.

Pretty boytoy Bill. Watch him lounge on the couch in his underwear. See him curl up on Shirley Maclaine’s shoulder. Is it worth sitting through this excruciating dud? Well, at least once.

One and a half stars, only because Bill’s pretty. And he wears cowboy boots.

Dead or Alive?


“But unless you’ve been put in situations of incredible temptation, or you’ve been on the deck of a sinking ship, you want to believe you’ll do the right thing, but you can’t know. I guess I have this fear that I would be kicking and clawing my way to the lifeboat.”
– Bill Paxton

You know the story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, ship hits a big iceberg and sinks.

It had truly been my intention to go my entire life without ever seeing this movie, until the Bill Obsession struck, and of course, since Bill was in it, I had to go rent it. And it’s a good movie, no doubt of that. I expect it was my reaction to the Big Titanic Hype Machine that turned me off. That, and the fact that romances aren’t generally my thing, even if they do have lots of things crashing and exploding and sinking in them.

Bill plays Brock Lovett, captain of the modern-day expedition to recover relics from the wreck of the Titanic, in the story that bookends the main story of the voyage itself. It’s a nice role, but not a very meaty one, mostly showcasing his pretty blue eyes this time around. (I don’t know if it was the lighting, or the reddish hair, or what, but those baby-blues really stand out.)

Bill’s cute in this one, with the bleached hair, suntan, and earring. The nautical look suits him. Other than that, well, there’s just not a whole lot to his role. Screen time is maybe ten minutes altogether—which isn’t bad, except for the fact that the whole movie is, like, a day and a half long.

I give this one two and a half stars. Nice Bill stuff, but you have to sit through an awful lot of Leonardo di Caprio to get to it.

Dead or Alive?

Mighty Joe Young

“I was having dinner with Rex [Reed]. I had received an offer for another big action movie at the same time Disney contacted me for Mighty Joe. I asked Rex which movie he thought I should take. He said: ‘Paxton, while you still have some looks left, do the monkey movie. It’s a lead. The other film is just a supporting role. You’ll get enough of those sooner than you’d like.’ ”
– Bill Paxton

Mighty Joe Young is Disney’s remake of the 1949 RKO Pictures classic. This time around, the story of a giant ape in the big city has been updated with a social conscience, some spectacular African scenery, and impressive special effects, including the animatronic Mighty Joe himself. And this time, Joe is brought to a California nature preserve in order to protect him from poachers who threaten him in his African home. But even in Hollywood, Joe is not safe from the poachers, nor is Hollywood safe from Joe.

Bill plays Gregg O’Hara, the naturalist who brings Joe and his protector-companion, Jill Young, to California. He’s a likeable guy, sweet-natured and enthusiastic, and determined to do right by Joe and Jill and pretty much everybody that crosses his path. Plain and simple, he’s a good guy.

Okay, it’s a Disney movie, and as such, it’s bound to be wholesome and heart-warming and not terribly complicated. Not generally my favorite cup of tea, but Mighty Joe Young manages for the most part to be sweet without being cloying, funny without being silly. And if it crosses the line every now and then, I’m willing to overlook it for the sake of all the things that work.

Well, Bill sure is a cutie. Charmingly scruffy in the Africa scenes, yummy in a white tux, he’s earnest and wide-eyed and fluffy as a Disney bunny. My only complaint is that whoever dressed him in the California scenes passed up a perfectly good opportunity to put him in jeans and cowboy boots. Not that the white slacks aren’t attractive, but besides being awfully un-Bill-like, it’s hard to figure this particular character coming in from months in the jungle and dressing up like a Miami Vice refugee.

Still, there’s a lot to like—lots of screen time, a few bruises, an almost kiss, some gorilla hand-holding, all amid some spectacular scenery. Watch and enjoy.

Three stars, for a cute Bill, a pretty good movie, and a real big gorilla.

Dead or Alive?


“I’m the Obi-Wan of the movie. Matthew is the hero.”
– Bill Paxton

It’s World War II, and a German U-boat carrying an Enigma code machine has been disabled by a destroyer in the Atlantic. Using a disguised German submarine, a Naval crew sets out to find the U-boat and capture the Enigma machine before the Germans get there. But when things go wrong, the young executive officer finds himself in charge of a desperate mission to survive.

I love submarine stories. The tension, the claustrophobia, of being sealed in a vessel surrounded by an alien and hostile environment—gets me every time. And this one is no exception. The action is non-stop and thrilling, with great special effects. Loved those depth charges! The ‘ping’ of the sonar! The hush of silent running! I was so there.

Bill plays Captain Dahlgren, skipper of the crew until his submarine is taken out of the action. He’s your basic all-around military good guy, making the tough decisions and taking the consequences. I would have liked to see him have a bigger role, but it was a good one.

Bill’s very butch in this one. Straightforward, decisive, by the book. Not a flashy role, but a solid one. And I do love a man in uniform…

Four stars, for a great action movie. Go see it!

Dead or Alive?

Vertical Limit

“They [action movies like Vertical Limit] appeal to me. I think it’s filmmaking on the cutting edge. It’s Hollywood filmmaking on the cutting edge in terms of these kinds of movies. In this picture, I’m working with state-of-the-art crew and effects teams and a great director, Martin Campbell. These kinds of movies, you just have to surrender yourself to the long haul and be very patient, but know that if you keep your eye on the prize at the end of the tunnel, that when this thing comes together, it’s going to be something to behold.”
– Bill Paxton

When a mountain climbing team is trapped in a fissure on K2 after an avalanche, the brother of one of the climbers mounts a desperate mission to save them. The rescuers must fight against the weather, unstable nitro, and the vertical limit—the altitude at which there is no longer enough oxygen for long-term survival. Not to mention old grudges between the leader of the rescue team and one of the trapped climbers.

Bill plays Elliot Vaughn, the Texas billionaire whose determination to get to the top of the mountain (as part of a publicity stunt for his new airline) leads his team into danger. He’s used to getting his own way with everyone and everything, and that clearly includes mountains and storms as well as the people he associates with. He’s a survivor, and his willingness to do whatever it takes makes him enemies. Is he a bad guy, or just a pragmatist? One of the questions the movies raises, but never really answers.

I really wanted to like this movie. It had all the elements—action, adventure, explosions, death-defying thrills, with the added attraction of Bill and one of my other then-favorite actors, Nick Lea. But it didn’t quite all hang together. The set pieces were repetitive and went on too long, and the pacing was choppy. Still, there were some thrills and chills and some interesting character bits. It just felt more like a lot of pieces of a movie strung together than a whole movie.

It did raise some interesting questions about the ethics of life-and-death situations. Do you sacrifice one life to save another? Do you risk six lives to save three? When do you abandon hope and cut your losses? Not much attempt was made to really explore these questions, but they were there to be considered, beneath the wind and snow.

I wouldn’t exactly call Bill’s character a villain, but he’s not particularly likeable, either. And he’s pretty well covered up by the beard and the snow and the heavy mountain-climbing gear throughout the movie, so there’s not much in the way of physical attractions to the role. Hey, I’m shallow. If he’s going to be a bad guy (or even a not-good guy), he ought to at least be pretty.

Two stars, for effort.

Dead or Alive?


“I come from the crews—I started out on crews… I was a set dresser, fluff boy…”
– Bill Paxton

Bill’s directorial debut is a gothic horror movie about a serial killer known as God’s Hand. Told in flashback by a man claiming to be the killer’s brother, it’s the story of a kind, hard-working widower raising two sons, who believes he has been visited by an angel of God and given the task of destroying demons in preparation for the coming Apocalypse. The younger son believes in Dad’s story, but the older of the two boys thinks, quite understandably, that Dad’s gone nuts, especially when he starts kidnapping folks and taking an axe to them out in the shed.

Creepy and unsettling, with its hypnotically ticking soundtrack and shadowy visuals, the movie doesn’t shriek or spatter you with gore; it just sneaks up on you quietly until it has you by the throat and won’t let go. Bill is wonderful as Dad, an earnest man who truly believes he’s doing God’s work. He makes you wonder what it would be like to be visited by an angel and told you must do terrible things.

He’s got the screen time, he’s got the axe, he’s got the seventies sideburns. “Are you afraid?” Hell, yes.

Three stars, for a chilling and thought-provoking ride.

Dead or Alive?