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Tag Archive: Bill Paxton


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the high points from a scientific standpoint this year was the discovery in August of the USS Indianapolis on the floor of the Pacific Ocean by undersea adventurer and billionaire Paul Allen, more than 70 years after it was sunk during World War II, and thirty-two years after undersea explorer Robert Ballard first discovered the location of the wreckage of the most well-known maritime disaster, the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  In 1995, 2001, and 2005, director James Cameron, well-known already for Aliens, the first two Terminator movies, and True Lies, would take knowledge he learned filming The Abyss to pursue a lifelong dream of undersea explorer in Ballard’s and Jacques Cousteau’s footsteps.  Ultimately Cameron would make thirty dives on the site of the wrecked RMS Titanic, more than anyone, first for footage that would be used for his film Titanic (which would win 11 Academy Awards), and later for pure scientific knowledge and exploration.  Cameron documented his expeditions in his book Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions, now available in a paperback edition from Insight Editions.

One of the low points of the year was the death of beloved actor Bill Paxton.  What many people may not know is the role Paxton (known for dozens of films including Edge of Tomorrow, True Lies, Aliens, and Tombstone) played in the exploration of the real Titanic after starring in Cameron’s film Titanic.   He accompanied Cameron on four deep-sea dives, documenting his experiences and serving as narrator on one of Cameron’s documentaries, the 2003 film Ghosts of the Abyss.  In his foreword to Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions, Paxton notes his reservations of traveling to the ocean floor.  “At the time, because I had young children at home, I felt it was more risk than I should be taking,” he said.  He spoke highly of Cameron, “He is someone who values his friendships and has a deep appreciation of just how brief our time on earth is–and he’s determined to make the most of it.”  The feeling was mutual.  Of Paxton, Cameron wrote, “Bill has become the pitch-perfect explorer.  He acquired the clipped tone of a test pilot when he played Fred Haise in Apollo 13, and of course he played  treasure hunter Brock Lovett in the Titanic movie, but if he’s playing a part now, it’s merged so perfectly with reality that there is no difference.  He’s now a real explorer, and this is a real mission, two and a half miles down.”  Indeed, half the fun of Exploring the Deep is following Paxton via his words and photographs in his adventure, adding his own insights and bits of humor along the way.

James Cameron and Bill Paxton exploring the remains of the Titanic two and a half miles down on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in Exploring the Deep: The Titanic Expeditions.

But it’s the knowledge learned by Cameron one hundred years after the Titanic sank that makes the book compelling and thrilling and even chilling at times.  Cameron, along with the other leading experts in Titanic history–Dan Lynch, Ken Marschall, and Parks Stephenson–lay out each expedition step by step, including development of the technological tools created by Cameron to be able to film the ship and eventually more easily maneuver the rooms inside the ship’s remains, something no one else had yet done.  The book includes a detailed log written by Cameron for the fifth dive in September 2001, including recollections of his historical research as he observed actual locations on the ship tied to known events and passengers, some famous, some members of the crew.  He uses photographs of the Titanic’s sister ship, the RMS Olympic, to highlight identical artifacts inside the ship.  Many artifacts surprisingly are still intact, like mirrors, windows, glassware, and dishes–and equipment in the Marconi Wireless Telegraph rooms, which were instrumental in saving the 706 survivors.  Where possible he includes rare photographs taken the day of or just before the Titanic went to sea on its maiden and only voyage, and otherwise he incorporates for reference Ken Marschall’s detailed paintings, Parks Stephenson’s computer-generated simulations, and his own recreations used in his film Titanic–all with an eye toward conveying to readers what Titanic looked like in 1912.

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Is this a stand-up fight or another bug hunt?

Would Aliens–that epic sci-fi war movie sequel to the groundbreaking sci-fi horror tale Alien–have been half as great without the performance of Bill Paxton as Colonial Marine Private Hudson?  Tens of thousands of fans came out to celebrate Paxton and his performance in the film when news spread of his passing this February.  Always willing to recite a line from one of his movies for fans, you have to think he would have loved a read like Aliens: Bug Hunt, a new anthology from Titan Books.  Aliens: Bug Hunt hones in on the gritty band of spacefaring soldiers as 19 authors share 15 new short stories of the Alien universe.

The new release, just after the Aliens 30th anniversary and nicely timed to this month’s theatrical release of Alien: Covenant, provides stories before and after Aliens, some sci-fi, some horror, action and drama, or a mix of each.  One story tells the tale of Corporal Hicks before the events in Aliens, and a personal mission to locate the cause of his wife’s death.  Another story details an operation of the Marines in an encounter with a hostile alien menace unrelated to the Xenomorphs.  One story provides insight into the synthetic Bishop and how he came to be the determined and decisive crew member we met in the series.

The anthology was edited by Jonathan Maberry with new works by Maberry and a “usual suspects” list of tie-in book writers and more.  Dan Abnett, Rachel Caine, Larry Correia, Keith R.A. DeCandido, David Farland, Matt Forbeck, Ray Garton, Christopher Golden, Heather Graham, Brian Keene, Paul Kuppenberg, Tim Lebbon, Marina J. Lostetter, James A. Moore, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, Mike Resnick, and Scott Sigler contributed stories.

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When you think of the Alien franchise, what iconic images come to mind?  Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in a giant power loader suit or going face-to-face with a Xenomorph?  The first facehugger?  Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez realizing they were facing something hopeless?  Queen of sci-fi Veronica Cartwright’s scream at the first terrifying chest burst?  Ridley holding Jonesy finally sighing with relief that they survived the alien onslaught?  Dozens of these and other iconic images are packed into a new adult coloring book, Alien: The Coloring Book, coming this May from Titan Books.

The adult coloring book business is gaining steam with publishers taking extra efforts to see that the artwork inside meets the standard of the franchise.  Alien: The Coloring Book has pulled together artwork that resembles the actors and key scenes from the movie, but also does so in a visually interesting manner and conforms to the whole point of these books: to give fans a chance to color their favorite scenes (in or outside the lines).

Creating scenes from all of the Alien movies featuring heroine Ellen Ripley are artists Leandro Casco, Wellington Diaz, Vinz El Tabanas, Salvador Navarro, Guilherme Raffide, Rubine, Vincenzo Zerov Salvo, Adriano Vicente, and Daniel Wichinson.  Eighty pages provide Xenomorphs, chestbursters, Xenomorph eggs, your favorite characters, spacesuits, ships, Ridley Scott’s futuristic sets and H.R. Giger-inspired designs.  One of the fun illustrations features Lance Henriksen’s cyborg Bishop playing mumbletypeg with the hand of Private Hudson (played by the late Bill Paxton).

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the-circle-gillan-watson

The Circle is no doubt another in a long line of topical dramas starring the great Tom Hanks.  Everyone loves Tom Hanks, the actor, yet his roles have become predictable.  If you’re making a movie and you want to bring instant sympathy, respectability, or authority–especially if the source material doesn’t have much of its own character development–Hanks is your guy.  He reportedly brings in $10 million to $20 million per film, and double or triple that if he negotiates profit sharing deals, which may explain why he’s not in many special effects-heavy films.  Where his performance is always reliable, it’s the films themselves–the stories and settings–that have often let us down once we crossed into the 21st century.  What will be his next Philadelphia or Forrest Gump?  His next Splash or Big?  These days he’s the go-to guy for biopics (Charlie Wilson’s War, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Sully), historical teleplays and documentaries (Band of Brothers, The Pacific), and novel adaptations, especially the never-ending Robert Langdon series (The DaVinci Code, etc.).  The Circle fits in as a novel adaptation, this time an adaptation of a novel about the horrors of our modern technological age written by Dave Eggers and directed and co-scripted by James Ponsoldt.

circle-movie-poster

But Hanks isn’t the real draw for this film, it’s the mega-sized co-lead actors who all hail from the biggest genre franchises that really make this a movie we might want to check out in the theater this April and not wait for the home release.  The star is Emma Watson, Hermione of the Harry Potter franchise whose other big 2017 film–Beauty and the Beast–with Watson in the lead role as Belle, will be released only six weeks prior to The Circle.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens and this year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi star John Boyega (ex-Stormtrooper Finn) has next billing.  Oddly enough someone just as popular in the U.S., the U.K., and Asia should have next billing in the trailers, yet she’s seen but not listed in the title credits.  That’s the popular Doctor Who companion Amy Pond and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy, Karen Gillan.  That’s some pretty popular acting names and pop culture street cred for a flick outside the sci-fi and fantasy realm.  But that’s not all.  The Circle also features beloved comedian and nerd crusader Patton Oswalt, fan fave Bill Paxton (Aliens, Apollo 13, Edge of Tomorrow, Training Day), and familiar face Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Monk). 

the-circle

The plot follows a new worker (Watson) at a trendy tech company (think Google), where this fictional company and its outlandish benefits encompass and suffocate the workers’ private lives.  Here’s a new trailer for The Circle, followed by an earlier version of the trailer:

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training-day

Director Antoine Fuqua, who is pretty much an ace in the hole with great movies like Shooter, The Equalizer, and last year’s The Magnificent Seven, brings another one of his hit movies to television this month.  This time Fuqua is in the executive producer role along with Jerry Bruckheimer for Training Day, a sequel series to the film, airing Thursday nights at 9 p.m. Central on CBS, starring Bill Paxton (Aliens, Apollo 13, Edge of Tomorrow, Twister, Weird Science) and newcomer Justin Cornwell, with Julie Benz (Angel) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Without a Trace).  The series is directed by Danny Cannon (Gotham, CSI, Eleventh Hour).

Training Day was the 2001 surprise hit that garnered Denzel Washington an Oscar and Ethan Hawke one of his four Oscar nominations.  It’s known for its gritty realism and its view of urban street life with a rookie (Hawke) in his first day in a new role with a veteran cop of questionable motives and actions (Washington).  The series is far less gritty, fitting the modern police procedural framework with more humor and bordering a bit on the melodramatic.

For the series, which aired its first episode last night, we’re brought 15 years after the events in the movie with young do-gooder detective Kyle Craig, played by Cornwell, tasked by the squad’s deputy chief (Jean-Baptiste) to track the actions of an alleged crooked cop, Detective Frank Rourke, played by Paxton.  Training Day’s first episode reveals this is just the latest in decades of L.A.P.D. shows going back to Dragnet.  It’s plenty fun simply to watch an hour of Bill Paxton spouting those quirky words of wisdom his characters are known for.  Episode one even throws in a Western stand-off complete with some background music straight out of an old Western TV show.

training-day-series-a

The plot of the series is swappable for any police procedural.  The hook with the series is the title, which fit the movie better since the entire movie took place in one day, but Training Day could easily be a follow-up to Martin Scorcese’s Departed, another film about a rookie trying to get the goods on a bad cop.  The change-up is in the title–who is training whom?  The TV series updated the movie’s 1979 Monte Carlo with an even earlier muscle car for the series taking place so many years later–you can envision a series 40 years from now still using 1970s cars as their street rides.  Ultimately it will be enough for Paxton fans to see him driving around in that car in a seedy L.A. doing his shtick every week.

Here is a behind the scenes look and a preview for CBS’s Training Day:

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ripley-and-newt

Aliens is a film like no other, a rare sequel that is arguably as good or better than the original.  It’s horror, but even more so than the original Alien, it is a science fiction classic in its own right.  Aliens was ahead of its time, a successful blockbuster from James Cameron, who quickly put together a story treatment and sold the studio on his vision of the follow-on to Ridley Scott’s unique and acclaimed original.  Last month here at borg.com we reviewed Aliens–The Set Photography, a new book chronicling the creative work behind Aliens released for the film’s 30th anniversary.  Action-packed with top-notch acting from Sigourney Weaver and a great supporting cast, plus some of Stan Winston’s best creature work, Aliens rightfully is getting the 30th anniversary treatment this month in Blu-ray.

Aliens is one of about a dozen science fiction or horror films to earn Academy Awards.  It won two, for visual effects and sound editing.  It was also nominated for art direction, sound, film editing and original score.  Better yet, Sigourney Weaver earned her much deserved first nomination for best actress.  Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is among science fiction’s best performances, and Weaver the core of what made the franchise and this film successful.  The anniversary release includes two previously released versions, the 1986 original theatrical version and the 1991 extended edition.  If you missed the extended edition, it’s well worth your time.  Ripley gets more screen-time, and more character development, including the dichotomy between the death of Ripley’s daughter mirroring the Alien queen’s protection of her offspring–it’s great fun to see a character you think you know in scenes not included in the original version you saw in the theater.

aliens-30th-anniversary-edition-release

The extended edition commentary track is as good as you’ll find on any disc.  Where most releases these days include the director or producer and one or two cast members, the commentary accompanying the extended edition includes a treasure trove of content and insights into the film.  You’ll hear details on movie making from director James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, the late, great, alien effects creator Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, and actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn.

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Aliens Set Photography book Titan

Review by C.J. Bunce

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s sci-fi film classic Aliens, writer Simon Ward has assembled a photograph-dense book full of never before released images from the movie stage.  Aliens: The Set Photography fills each of 144 pages with views of cast members, camera crews, and special effects artists as they created the follow-on to Ridley Scott’s horror classic, 1979’s Alien.  Less of a space drama and more of an action-packed rollercoaster ride than the original, Aliens won two special effects Oscars and earned Weaver a nomination for Best Actress as well as nods for set and art decoration, sound, film editing, and James Horner’s musical score.

Simon Ward also authored the behind the scenes look at the Independence Day films reviewed here at borg.com last month.  We discussed the creation of this book at Kansas City Comic Con this weekend with film co-star Carrie Henn, who played Newt, the only survivor discovered by Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the marines.

Paxton Aliens

Henn told us that this book had been in the works for a few years.  She provided the foreword and much of the commentary for what amounts to a photo scrapbook of behind-the-scenes stills.  She also provides some surprisingly thorough recollections of stage direction from director Cameron and mentoring from Sigourney Weaver, who appeared as a larger-than-life heroine to the nine-year-old actress.  Her comments are also full of humorous anecdotes and reflect the care taken by the filmmakers to make certain the little girl wasn’t terrified by Stan Winston’s alien creations.

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emily-blunt-edge-of-tomorrow

What a busy year!  We took in more content this year than ever before, reading more books, watching more TV series, and reviewing more movies.  Wading through all that Hollywood had to offer, we try to hone in on the genre films and TV series we think are worth our time.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual “Best of the Best” list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on movies.  Come back for more of our picks tomorrow.  If you missed any of these films this year, check them out when they arrive on video or digital release.

Edge of Tomorrow Omaha Beach scene

Edge of TomorrowBest Film of the Year, Best Science Fiction Fix, Best Action Fix, Best Actress (Emily Blunt), Best Supporting Actor (Bill Paxton).  The benefit of Blu-rays/DVDs is the ability to go back and verify whether a movie was as good as you remembered it in the theater.  Of all the top genre films of the year, including Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past, it was Edge of Tomorrow that became an addictive re-watch, to see all those great, funny scenes, like Tom Cruise’s demoted soldier rolling under the jeep, and Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski destroying all those aliens.  Rita was the best character we saw this year–anywhere–and Blunt provided the best performance.  Superb sci-fi components?  Check.  Superb action sequences?  Check.  With top-notch acting by Blunt and Bill Paxton.  This will be the movie of 2014 that we one day will re-watch just like we re-watch Aliens and Predator today.

Guardians in prison

Guardians of the GalaxyBest Superhero Fix, Best Actor Runner-up (Dave Bautista), Best Supporting Actress (Zoe Saldana), Best Villain (Lee Pace), Best Soundtrack, Best Rock Album.  It was the perfect blend of B-level superheroes and a space fantasy like we hadn’t seen since the original Star Wars.  A surprisingly fun ride.  Guardians introduced the world to Dave Bautista, who will likely get more and more popular in 2015 and beyond.  His serious but comedic Drax may have been the best part of a great cast of new characters.  Zoe Saldana created her best genre role so far and Lee Pace’s Ronan was a perfect comic book villain.  And those tunes on Starlord’s Walkman!  What was more fun this year than Rocket and Groot?

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Rita Vrataski Emily Blunt

When we first heard that Hiroshi Sakurazaka‘s novel All You Need is Kill was being adapted for the big screen we knew this was going to be a winner.  Then the studio changed its name to Edge of Tomorrow and revised a fair amount of the characters and story arcs and we weren’t so sure.  By the time it hit the video stores the marketing folks realized Edge of Tomorrow as a title was responsible for some of the deficiencies at the box office, and so they elevated the status of their tagline Live. Die. Repeat. in big letters on the video boxes making it nearly impossible to remember the title.  So here’s some good advice:  Forget about the marketing screw-ups.  Ignore it if you don’t like Tom Cruise’s personal life.  And just watch this movie.

Although the outcome of Emily Blunt’s branded “Full Metal Bitch” Rita Vrataski is different from Sakurazaka’s novel, Rita is the finest example of kick-ass female that has hit the movie screen.  Everyone should be watching Rita and getting inspired to take tai chi or tae kwan do.  I’ve compared Rita to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley and stand by that comparison.  And it’s worth noting it takes a real person to do all these physical acts of prowess to bring these characters to the screen, which should add Emily Blunt to role models like Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver.

Edge of Tomorrow scene

Military men and women and anyone who likes World War II movies will appreciate the entire future military command setting in Edge of Tomorrow.  Bill Paxton’s Master Sergeant Farell is perfection, in a camp with Richard Jaeckel’s Sgt. Bowren in The Dirty Dozen or Warren Oates’ Sgt. Hulka in Stripes.  The D-Day-inspired battle scenes even rival the great work done by Steven Spielberg in the Omaha Beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan.

Rarely does good science fiction also manage to pull off laugh-out-loud humor.  Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) took a production that began without a full shooting script and pieced together something gritty and complete, offset with some of the funniest stuff put on film this year.  Cruise’s character Cage tries repeatedly to escape and find Rita early in the film and is repeatedly killed–including an incredible scene involving him rolling under a jeep.  Cruise is a great actor and entirely believable as his character grows–really selling his performance convincingly here as he does with most of his films.

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Washington Wahlberg 2 Guns

It would be pretty difficult to screw up a movie with Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Edward James Olmos, and Bill Paxton.  How often do any of these guys make a bad movie?  So it’s no surprise the 2013 action film 2 Guns is everything you’d want it to be.  It’s now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

2 Guns is an adaptation of the Steven Grant crime series of the same name from BOOM! Studios.  Although it’s billed as an “action comedy,” it should fall in the same genre as Die Hard.  Sure, there are some good, funny lines throughout, but like Bruce Willis’s humor, Washington and Wahlberg’s great banter is not what most would call “comedy”.  It’s a classic action flick.  But the label doesn’t really matter.  2 Guns simply delivers the goods.  

2 Guns movie poster

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