Monday, January 7, 2013

BIG LOVE Actor/Director Bill Paxton

Actor Bill Paxton is a Guest Programmer at 8pm Eastern tonight on TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  I really dig Paxton.  He was Chet, the mean macho meathead, in the John Hughes 1980s comedy, Weird Science.  Remember his moronic laugh?  He tries to score with a gorgeous female by using the line "First, I'd like to...butter your muffin."
There was a touch of a more evolved Chet about his character in one of my favorite scary science-fiction movies, Aliens.  That Oscar-nominated box office champ was -- like James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein -- a rare case in which a sequel was just as good, if not better, than the acclaimed original.  In Aliens, Paxton played the creature-fighting Marine in outer space with Sigourney Weaver who cries out, "Game over, man.  Game over!"
Based on a real-life major event in our American history, he went into space again -- this time as an astronaut with Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon in Apollo 13.
In another box office blockbuster, he was a weather scientist who held on tight to keep from being carried up into the Midwestern skies by a Twister.  Helen Hunt co-starred.
With solid acting in hit films like those and Titanic to Paxton's credit, none gave him the stardom he deserved.  Apollo 13 co-star Tom Hanks fixed that with his production company.  Seen here with the lead actors, Hanks and his PlayTone Company produced the HBO series, Big Love.  Paxton got the lead role of unusual family man Bill Henrickson.
Unusual because he's a white-collar polygamist.  He's got three wives he has to satisfy.  They all live near each other on the down-low from judgmental mainstream America.
This was the perfect part for Paxton.  It showcased his acting depth for millions of viewers on a weekly basis with mature material we weren't getting in some major motion pictures.  He was the complicated Mormon trying to stay grounded emotionally while balancing sister-wives, kids, dysfunctional parents, career and career rivals.  And Bill's convinced that he was chosen for a superior spiritual role within his religious community.
He was a fascinating TV character and Paxton did a fine job in the dramatic role.  He directed a movie that I highly recommend for father/son quality entertainment time.  When a friend and I saw the trailer for it at a movie theater in downtown Manhattan, we thought it was some goofy Disney movie coming out for children.  The way the trailer was edited and voiced over, The Greatest Game Ever Played seemed like it would be a turn-of-the-century version of Caddyshack for kids.  Totally wrong and misleading.  When Paxton's 2005 movie came out on DVD, a couple of buddies of mine told me how good it was and how they loved watching it with their young sons.  I rented it -- and I could see why.  Based on a true-life event and actual characters from sports history, Bill Paxton directed one deeply inspirational, warm, well-acted and wonderfully photographed movie about fairness on the playing field of life.  The Greatest Game Ever Played looks at the narrow-mindedness of class prejudice.  At the heart of it, too, is the story of a struggling working class father's love for his son and his respect for his son's dreams.  That initial summertime Disney advertisement did a disservice to Bill Paxton's fine film direction.
Shia LaBeouf plays the underdog.  He's Francis Ouimet, the young golfer who made history in the 1913 U.S. Open.  Francis was a poor kid from the Boston area.
His opponent was his sports idol.  Englishman Harry Vardon won the 1900 U.S. Open.
Vardon himself felt the sting of social bigotry as a youth in Britain.  He's played by Stephen Dillane, known to HBO viewers as Stannis Barantheon on Game of Thrones.
I'm an uncle and I'd love for my two young nephews to appreciate a movie like this.  Adolescent males in America need to get the golden messages this Disney film has.  Big thanks to Big Love star Bill Paxton for directing The Greatest Game Ever Played.  I wish I'd been hired to do the initial marketing campaign on it.  Paxton kicks off his Guest Programmer co-host stint with Robert Osborne on TCM by presenting Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits.  Can't wait to hear what he says about it.

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