Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
Predator II: A Bill Paxton Tribute
Recently, one of my favorite actors died and when I spent some time thinking of all the entertaining roles he left me, I wanted to share my feelings about it with fellow movie lovers. I first noticed Bill Paxton in a theater one block from my office, where I went eight times in a week and a half to watch Aliens over and over. Paxton wasn’t the reason I kept going, but his was one of my favorite characters. Private Hudson embodied many of the roles Paxton would later inhabit, men who whined and bitched and seemed like total losers until an event caused them to suddenly turn into something totally different.
To honor an actor who everyone says was a really nice guy, and one of my steady favorites, I decided to finally watch one of his early films that had seemed so dorky when I saw its trailer decades ago that I never got around to seeing it. Predator II is the sequel to a Schwarzenegger muscle fest with a surprisingly good idea for a monster who tears it up in a Central American jungle. The first moments of the sequel are spent flying over a jungle, we think, until we crest a hill and see the REAL jungle looming: Los Angeles in the near future year of 1997. Swooping down using the creature POV imaging from the first film, we finally settle on top of a massive shoot out on an LA street. Thousands of rounds are flying at the police, who sporadically pop up over a cruiser to throw a single piece of lead back and catch a chestfull themselves. Behind them – like, RIGHT behind them – talking heads yammer for the news studios and spectators watch the action. None of them are ventilated by the bad guys’ AKs, which made me assume the film was opening on the fake filming of an action sequence, because LA. Then Danny Glover shows up and whups some bad guy butt and I discovered they were totally serious.
Predator II is unusual for a 1990 movie because the lead action hero is Danny Glover, starring between Lethal Weapon I and II. One of the hero cops is played my Maria Conchita Alonzo, also a big name then after The Running Man and Moscow on the Hudson. The trio is rounded out with Rubén Blades, currently featured in Fear the Walking Dead. You can tell they’re bad ass from the way they duck and weave and wave their ridiculously large guns around. The big hair, pastel suits and lurid color schemes gives it a very 80s look, only with more diversity than thirty other movies of the era. There are a lot of outright thefts of contemporary films, from tons of disintegrating glass walls (a la Die Hard) to the strobe-y action sequence and an underwhelming platoon invading an alien maze (a la Aliens). It’s a better film than I had thought, kinda silly but fun to watch. I was really impressed with the art department while watching a scene in the grungiest alley I’d ever seen in a Hollywood film, until I read this blurb:
The filming of the alley scene was very troublesome for the filmmakers due to it being filmed in a very rough neighborhood. The alley was littered with garbage, most of which was used in the film, and plagued with large rats. Local residents angered by the noise created by the film crew would throw bottles and paper bags filled with feces from windows at the crew in the alley below. Worst of all, the film crew found a dead body hidden amongst the garbage. [imdb.com]
Bill Paxton comes in during the second act, playing the jokey doofus we remember from Aliens only four years previous. When everything goes way south in the frenzied, strobe-lit subway sequence, he seems like a guy scared enough to muss his undies but stands his ground heroically, just like Private Hudson. This turned out to be his biggest strength as an actor, I think. Over the course of his career he continued to show us a guy who we know is going to turn tail and run screaming and then demonstrate what real, deep down courage is. He was such a strong actor that we totally believed both halves of the personality. He was also great at debasing himself utterly, portraying a giant turd in Weird Science and a character in True Lies who begs for his life by admitting he has a small penis.
Paxton had a knack for working in films that shouldn’t have been as good as they turned out, like Predator II. He was a set builder on Battle Beyond the Stars, Roger Corman’s biggest budget movie, and the beginning of the James Cameron/Gale Ann Hurd era. His turn as Clyde the bartender on Streets of Fire is vintage Paxton, going from being cold cocked by tiny Amy Madigan to leading the charge at the beginning of one of THE best fights scenes ever. Only a couple of years later, model builder turned director Cameron cast his buddy from Battle in The Terminator as a spiky blue haired punk for one of many memorable death scenes.
His career is full of great characters in wonderful films, like a vicious vampire in Near Dark, a heroic astronaut in Apollo 13, and a kick butt meteorologist in Twister. One of the scariest films I ever saw was Frailty, which Paxton starred in and directed. Toward the end of his career he appeared more in television shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Training Day.
A lot of people dismissed Bill Paxton as a supporting role character actor, but if you look more closely at his body of work you will see that he adeptly sold every character with an easy to underestimate range of ability. I’m sorry he has left us so early, but I’m very happy that there are many great movies to remember him by.
- Bill Paxton cause of death revealed
- Bill Paxton – IMDB
- Bill Paxton – Wikipedia
- Bill Paxton – Biography.com
- Bill Paxton – TV and Movie Guide
Predator 2 – Official® Trailer [HD]
Conan Remembers Bill Paxton – CONAN on TBS
CFR: In Addition: When I heard that Bill Paxton had died, my first thought was his line from Aliens “Game over, man. Game over.” Thank you Bill for your wonderful acting and directing – Frailty was OMG good. Thank you for inspiring Ming-Na Wen to write that you were a wonderful person. In fact everyone on Marvel: Agents of SHIELD thought you were great.
I miss you already.
Bill Paxton Tribute – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D