Tag: bill paxton

One False Move

One False Move (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach), and Fantasia (Cynda Williams) leave six dead bodies in Los Angeles with fifteen thousand dollars and several pounds of cocaine in their possession. Their plan is to drive to Star City, Arkansas and hide there until the cops are no longer hot on their tail. When Dixon (Bill Paxton), the chief of police, hears about those approaching to his territory, he is very eager to catch the criminals. He figures that since two cops from L.A. (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) will be waiting with him, he can prove to them that he has what it takes to make it as a cop in the city.

“One False Move,” written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, is a thriller that is willing to take risks by taking its story in unexpected directions. The set-up is familiar: a group of people on the run and the police who are after them. But what is atypical is the screenplay’s penetrating look on the personalities and motivations behind those executing the law and the ones who choose to transgress it. Take away the shootings, stabbings, and suspicions and the film works as a character-driven drama.

A recurring theme is people being unexpectedly smart. For instance, Pluto is a former convict, busted for stealing and the like, so it is easy to assume that he must not be very smart. On the contrary, he is a college graduate with an I.Q. of 150. He is quiet most of the time. When he speaks, he does so with authority. When he moves from one point to another, we watch a hungry wild animal. We feel him thinking, trying to stay one step ahead of the police as well as his partners—it is becoming increasingly obvious that Ray and Fantasia have too much baggage. Another surprise is Chief Dixon. Just because he is a man of the law in a small town, thick Southern accent and all, does not mean he cannot do the job as well as the polished men in suits who are supposedly on top of everything.

Interestingly, the middle section is almost two different films. The events in Arkansas offer plenty of light humor. The attention is on Chief Dixon and his unwavering enthusiasm. Though those around him start to get annoyed, he is blind their reactions because the possibility of the trio arriving is the most exciting point in his career by far. We get the impression that his eagerness will be his downfall. Meanwhile, the road trip across Texas holds a level of suspense. It is not because we want the crooks to get away. Our concern is toward the people they interact with like a clerk at a gas station or a cop who stops by for a chat. They are so on the edge, especially volatile Ray, that every little thing is perceived as a potential threat.

The disparate tones are weaved together so elegantly, the spinning gears of the screenplay are hardly noticeable—with the exception of dialogues toward the end that sound oddly expository. “One False Move,” directed by Carl Franklin, concludes with inevitable shooting and stabbing. One or two scenes after the fact might have helped with the flow. Still, the film offers enough unexpected turns that a few of its shortcomings can be forgiven.

The Colony

The Colony (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jeff Renfroe’s “The Colony” excels in establishing a bleak but convincing setting in which the entire planet is covered in ice and the remaining human survivors are forced to live underground till the next thaw. It could have been yet another action-focused sci-fi picture, but what allows it to stand out among the genre, despite its imperfections, is its willingness to take its time so were given a chance to imagine living in the reality of its characters through its eye for detail.

Notice how it gives us a tour of the outpost, also known as Colony 7. While lesser films would likely have relied solely on narration and it would be up to the audience to trust in the words of its central protagonist, this picture employs images alongside the words. Outside the outpost, we take notice of the extent of the ice, the height of the snow relative to the dilapidated buildings, the howling of the treacherous blizzard. Inside the outpost, we visit rooms and each one serves a specific function. For instance, one is dedicated to researching and growing plants. Another is a space full of rabbits. Characters discuss how none of the rabbits would mate—a critical challenge since food shortage looms. And then we visit another place where a woman (Charlotte Sullivan) uses satellite feeds to search for an area without ice.

As expected in survival stories, there are disagreements among members on how to continue living their lives as a small society. Briggs and Mason, played by Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, respectively, are two forces that collide. Through them, we learn a bit about their colony’s rules. For example, when a person catches the common cold or flu and he or she does not get any better, the sick individual gets a choice: to be shot point-blank or to take a long walk in the snow—the person is supposed to die either way. Mason disagrees greatly with the current rules, he considers mutiny.

The plot is driven by an investigation of Colony 5, an outpost many miles away, after Colony 7 receives a distress signal. Again, the film employs details of the landscape and landmarks, what characters wear and how they look after walking for miles on a frozen planet. It makes the walk interesting and efficient—there is never a dull moment when something new is presented constantly, whether it be about the state of the world, a character’s history or state of mind. We are enveloped in this universe and so it is easy for us to invest in the story.

Perhaps the picture’s Achille’s heel is the final act. It comes across rushed, cliché-ridden, showcasing numerous gaps of logic. Take note of what happens to the children who are lead underground during the attack, for instance. For a movie that employs deliberate pacing to establish a specific sense of place and time, the approach is thrown out the window for the sake of standard shootouts. Although the film is ultimately worth our time, I wished the final fifteen minutes remained loyal to its original strategy.


Nightcrawler (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Standing out almost immediately in “Nightcrawler,” written and directed by Dan Gilroy, is the way nighttime hovers like a thick gloom in downtown Los Angeles—beautiful, curious, eerie, and dangerous all rolled into one vivid dream of a filmmaker with a keen eye for not only what looks good on screen but also how certain images, framed just right, can allow the audience to feel or think a certain way. In this sense, the picture is an achievement in presentation and execution. It is made for people who crave looking closely at things, just like the main character played exceedingly well by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Louis Bloom comes across a traffic accident after being told that he is not a person worth hiring long-term because he is a thief. What catches his eye is not the accident itself but the man holding a camera at the scene, filming every bit of detail that might be considered profitable. Louis learns that such footages can be sold to news stations. The more intense or important a footage, the higher the pay. Louis hopes to cash in.

The film is about a man driven by an obsession. However, it does not mean that Louis can easily be classified as a Freak-of-the-Week just because we can almost always guess correctly which course of action he intends to take given a high-risk, high-yield opportunity. One might argue that he is driven by money while others might claim he craves fame. Some might say he has found a passion but the need to sustain it has gone to an extreme that we wonder if it is unhealthy. There is evidence supporting all of these hypotheses.

What is so interesting is how Gyllenhaal monitors his character’s responses like clockwork that it is almost Hitchcockian. Louis appears very calm most of the time that even the more intense events do not invoke a reaction out of him. I wondered if he had SPD—schizoid personality disorder—and, if so, to what extent the disorder has taken over throughout the course of the picture. Or maybe from the moment we meet him, the condition is already established and no true character arc is ever truly captured. When his character does react, it is more like watching an implosion—so quiet but deafening in its power.

One is likely to read statements that watching the film requires a lot of patience. I’m not entirely certain if such a disclaimer is accurate. While the writer-director is confident enough to take the time and allow the scenes to unfold, there is great entertainment in the escalation of tension.

Particularly suspenseful is when Louis creeps up the driveway of an affluent family, enters the mansion, then comes across a crime scene that is dangerous and disturbing. I caught myself shuffling in my seat because it felt like at any second, everything could go terribly wrong. Louis may be unlikable or downright detestable, his actions may be morally gray or lacking morals completely, but one thing is certain: I did not want him to get punished or, worse, “learn a lesson”—a tired avenue that has been traversed so many times, it’s worse than stale.

“Nightcrawler” is well-acted, paced in such a way that we cannot help but be curious at what is happening and what is going to happen, and photographed with a confidence that we feel we are experiencing the filmmaker’s vision raw. It takes a lot of risks with its character, subject, and scope but just about every decision feels right for the material. I am always on the lookout for movies that will or should be remembered decades from now. “Nightcrawler” may belong in one or both categories.

Weird Science

Weird Science (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) have absolutely no luck with the girls. A mixture of dweeb, wrongly-timed elevator eyes, and mouth-breathing make the girls look at them like they were from outer space. Gregarious guys like Ian (Robert Downey Jr.) and Max (Robert Rusler), on the other hand, cannot help but thrust the duo into more embarrassing situations. While watching “Frankenstein” during a sleepover, Gary has an idea: They will create the perfect woman to help them win over girls. Wyatt, adept at computers, agrees. By feeding the computer a series of magazine cutouts and information from the web, Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) is created.

Written and directed by John Hughes, although the basic premise of “Weird Science” is hackneyed–guys so willing to be in the company of the opposite sex that they will do almost anything to be in the “in” crowd–it manages to be quite interesting because it is not afraid to take risks. A bit of science fiction, like transforming a mean character into a Jubba the Hut look-alike and mutilated biker gang members, go a long way. Instead of allowing the film to be mired into a quicksand of typicalities, the oddities help to keep it afloat. It even reaches some creative highs at times.

Every other scene is hyperbolic and partnered with cheesy visual effects. However, its core, the need to belong and be accepted, is real. Wyatt and Gary are smart but they lack the confidence and self-esteem to go up to a girl and make conversation without coming off like a nervous wreck. The material is in touch with how it is like to be young and unsure.

Hall and Mitchell-Smith have a wonderful, sometimes homoerotic, brotherly chemistry. Their characters complement each other: Gary is more daring and goofy while Wyatt is more sensitive and reticent. While we expect Hall to be an excellent awkward geek–and he is–Mitchell-Smith is quite a nice surprise. He is able to bounce off Hall’s manic energy without having to depend on too many physical gags to get our attention.

I wished that Wyatt had more sensitive scenes with his older brother, Chet (Bill Paxton), currently on leave from the military. Chet tortures his brother endlessly for no reason and they eventually become exasperating. It is like hammering us over the head with the fact that Wyatt is unable to stand up for himself. We already aware of this fact from with the way he deals with bullies at school. The weakest aspect of the film is the lack of spark and originality in terms of Wyatt and Chet being brothers. It is unfortunate because Mitchell-Smith can simply stand on one spot and look solemn yet we cannot help but wonder what his character is thinking.

As for Lisa, she is beautiful and it is understandable why men and women are drawn to her. She is cheeky without being too robotic. The funniest scene is when she asks a cashier, approximately in her 70s, if she thinks wearing a black thong can help seduce a fifteen-year-old. The grandmother stares wide-eyed and unable to respond.

“Weird Science” is purposefully immature at times, with phallic symbols abound, but funkiness and sweetness permeate throughout.


Titanic (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew of treasure hunters found a safe under the wreckage of RMS Titanic, the supposedly unsinkable ship that perished, along with about 1,500 people, on April 15, 1912 while on its way to America. They expected the safe contain a diamond known as the Heart of the Ocean, but what they found instead was a drawing of a topless woman wearing the jewel of interest. Rose (Gloria Stuart) saw the drawing on television and called Lovett to inquire about the artifacts. Rose, as it turned out, was one of the survivors of the doomed voyage. Written and directed by James Cameron, “Titanic” was a great achievement because it was able to transport its audience to a time that was and allowed us to experience what could have happened on that ship as the ocean slowly, then quickly, swallowed it whole. One of the most engaging scenes, perhaps only about minute long, was when one of Lovett’s crew explained the physics in terms of how, after hitting an iceberg, the iron giant began to sink and why it broke the way it did. By giving us a picture using images on a computer, we had an idea of what to expect. Yet when it actually started to happen, the suspense and thrill reached an apogee and wouldn’t let go. The manner in which the picture switched from silence, to musicians playing joyful music in order to distract the passengers from reaching total panic, to the angelic hymns of the score made the images of people falling and jumping off the ship, out of fear and desperation, haunting and exhausting. It’s difficult to forget, once the ship was completely submerged, the sounds of people crying, screaming, splashing, and begging the lifeboats, most having plenty of space, to come back turn into complete silence. Cut to sea of corpses floating on freezing water. The heart of the picture was the romance between Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet). Jack won his tickets to Titanic on a last-minute poker game. Along with a friend (Danny Nucci), the two were ecstatic for the epic journey. Rose, on the other hand, was incredibly unhappy because she was to marry Cal (Billy Zane), a pompous, boring, and self-important son of a steel tycoon. While most people tend to blame the romance for being the picture’s Achilles’ heel, I thought DiCaprio and Winslet had a winsome chemistry, benefiting from classic stories of a young man and woman torn by a demarcation of class and disapproving authorities. The dinner scene when Jack was invited to sit with Rose’s rich and snobbish company was a turning point for the two lovers. Despite pointed comments by Rose’s fiancé and mother (Frances Fisher), Jack proved that was comfortable with who he was and what he could offer. Rose looked at him like he was the richest and most desirable man in the room, the way we perhaps tend to do when we’re convinced that a person is exactly right for us. The script needed less cornball lines but they weren’t egregious enough to distract from the collective experience. “Titanic” was very extravagant. From Rose’s stylish clothes to the intricate designs of the ships’ doors and spacious private rooms, one could argue that the lavishness was necessary, even required, in order to highlight the horrors of destruction and lives being taken.

Apollo 13

Apollo 13 (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) were supposed to make a trip to the moon. But when Mattingly’s blood work came back, it turned out that his blood had signs of the measles. Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) despite Lovell’s insistence to NASA executives that his team, who trained in the simulator together, should not be broken up. But that was the least of their problems. Prior to landing on the moon, due to bad wiring, an explosion affected the crew’s oxygen storage and other critical elements required for their survival. Without much power to spare, would the trio be able to make it back on Earth safely? Based on a true story and directed by Ron Howard, “Apollo 13” was an exciting adventure about success stemming from failure. From the moment Lovell, Haise and Swigert left Earth, I couldn’t look away from the screen. I enjoyed the fact that it may have been a film set in outer space but it was no science fiction. Howard was careful in showing us just enough special and visual effects to suspend us in awe. It was magical and I couldn’t help but wonder how amazing it would be if one day, all of us could easily take a trip to the moon. I do have to say that there were scenes that I wish could have ran longer. For instance, when Lovell’s wife (Kathleen Quinlan) confessed to her husband that she didn’t want to see his launch because it wasn’t his first time going into space anyway, the director cut the scene right before it captured her husband’s reaction. There was a split second when Hanks had tears in his eyes but he held himself back from saying something that could potentially cause anger between them. If the scene had an extra ten to fifteen seconds to assess the situation, it would have made a grand statement about the relationship between the astronaut and his wife. A similar awkward cut was made when the Lovell’s wife had to explain to her young son that his father had been in an accident in space. Howard should have spent more time with the child’s reaction. In doing so, the film would have had the opportunity to communicate with the child within each of us. Instead, much of the reactions were focused on the adults. I wouldn’t have minded as much if most of their reactions weren’t such hyperboles. As the astronauts became increasingly desperate, there was an increasing number of one- or two-second shots of the wives looking miserable. They distracted us from the astronauts’ plight. It didn’t need to try so hard to tell us that the situation was dire when we could see it for ourselves. Nevertheless, “Apollo 13” had a smörgåsbord of thrills and drama. When we catch ourselves holding our breath, that’s an indication the movie is doing something right.


Aliens (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Book of Eli” was about a man (Denzel Washington) whose goal was to protect a book and journey toward the west of post-apocalyptic America. Along the way, he met a friend named Solara (Mila Kunis) who was enslaved by a power-hungry leader (Gary Oldman) in desperate search for the very same book that the mysterious man held. The picture started off strong and it immediately looked great. I believed that I was really looking at a world so ravaged by starvation, desperation and a lack of ethical and moral conduct. It reminded me of John Hillcoat’s “The Road” in terms of its tone and sadness elicited by the gray environment. Unfortunately, the middle section felt interminable and it lacked a sense of isolation that the first twenty to thirty minutes had. It was painfully obvious that the film tried to establish a contrast between Washington and Oldman’s characters. For a movie about faith and retaining that faith against all odds, the easy answers came quick so the material ultimately lacked subtlety and I slowly lost interest over time. As for the action sequences, they came few and far between but only one stood out to me. I was impressed with the almost western-like stand-off in and out of the house of an old couple (Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon) who happened to be cannibals. I wished more action sequences were similar to that scene in terms of tension and delivering dynamic (sometimes awkward) camera angles. Furthermore, I craved more interactions between the protagonists and the couple who offered them human meat to eat as a meal. There was something very sinister during that part of the film but at the same time it felt darkly comic. It would have been nice if Washington and Kunis forced themselves to eat the human flesh just as they felt forced to drink the tea offered to them prior. At the end of the day “The Book of Eli,” directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, blended into other more recent post-apocalyptic movies with religion as an undercurrent instead of standing out via using similar works as templates to avoid making similar mistakes. I would have liked the movie a lot more if it offered us answers that were vague but surely make us think like haunting ending that Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” had. I just wanted to be challenged instead of spoon-fed.


Frailty (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bill Paxton directed this haunting thriller about a father (Bill Paxton) who supposedly began to receive messages from an angel to carry out God’s plan. That is, to kill seven people who disguised themselves as regular individuals. Paxton recruited his sons (Matt O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter) to carry out God’s bidding; one willingly followed his father’s footsteps and one chose to think for himself and went against his father’s wishes of murder. But all of that happened in the past. The first scene opened when Matthew McConaughey, as one of the brothers, confessed to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) who was in charge of the God’s Hand case that he knew the real identity of the murderer and where the bodies were buried. The most effective and chillling element about this movie was the lens we choose to see a story and therefore create varying perspectives and conclusions. Essentially, one could evaluate Paxton’s character as deeply mentally disturbed or he really did get messages from a higher power. The film’s tone was consistently sinister throughout and each scene had a payoff so it was nothing short of engaging. I also have to commend the acting, especially from the actors who played the kids, because if they weren’t very good, the story wouldn’t have held up as well because they were pretty much in every single frame. The one thing I loved about Paxton’s direction was that he didn’t use the all-too-typical formula of scaring kids or putting them into dangerous situations so we would care more about them. They were actually human beings who were capable of moral evaluations about the things they’ve done and the things they were about to do. This is a thinking person’s movie because there were a lot of unexplored untones that become more and more interesting the more one thinks about them. (Which I actively choose not to discuss because I refuse to give away the ending.) “Frailty” is a suspenseful, first-rate underrated thriller about a man who was suddenly broken or enlightened. Like a solid piece of literature, the interpretation is really up to us.

A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★

The first scene of this film involving a fox and a chicken coop serves as a template for what’s to come. I noticed right away that there are a handful animals that can be found in some scenes, but it’s only until half-way through when I realized their significance. Since this was based on a novel by Scott B. Smith, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the animals and their nature serve as a foreshadowing for the characters’ choices. What I love about this film is its ability to constantly ask the audiences how they feel about a situation after the characters face seemingly insurmountable challenges of lies and deceit. Just when I thought I figured out a group of characters twenty minutes into the picture, twists start piling up and my assumptions couldn’t have been any more wrong. Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton, and Brent Briscoe are very convincing as the three men who lead simple lives who happen to find over four million dollars in a plane crash. Thornton and Briscoe wanted to keep the money, but Paxton didn’t. However, despite his intelligence, harmless facade and ability to think his way out of sticky situations, it is arguable that he is the most immoral of them all. His wife, played by Bridget Fonda, isn’t any better because she sees the money as an escape–a way for her family to have better lives–and she is intent on following that path. This film is grim, tense and is able to offer a mirror on how the dark side of humanity can poison even the best of us. It’s also about decisions; how sometimes you only get one chance so you better think things through before jumping to a conclusion. Most of all, it’s about happiness. Sometimes, we forget that we’re happy as is when we’re faced with a chance to become more than we currently are. Having it all is a gamble so are you willing to risk everything to attain more? The moral implications of this film are challenging and insightful; it reminded me of a darker, more serious version of “Fargo.” I was also reminded of a quote uttered by Frances McDormand in the end of that film: “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well, I just don’t understand it.”