Bill Paxton passed away last Saturday. We lost a good one, a cool and relatable actor known for his roles in Twister, Titanic, and Big Love, on top of being a well-loved figure off camera, as well. As James Cameron put it, “The world is a lesser place for his passing,” and we couldn’t agree more.
For Gen-Xers, Paxton is remembered as Chet from Weird Science (1985), one of the best (with all due respect) douchebags in teen comedy history. He was also in Aliens (1986), where he uttered the immortal words, “Game over, man!” In other words, he was the guy who entertained you while he got crushed by a Terminator, or an alien, or by a Predator, but he was also the type of talent who viewers were always glad to see pop up in any movie.
There are only a handful of Bill Paxton films currently streaming on Netflix, but fortunately one of those movies is also a gem. For this week’s Netflix column, we wanted to pour one out for the late great, and we’ve also highlighted four other (Paxton-less) movies for good measure. RIP, Bill.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Starring: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe
Director: Bill Paxton
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Summary: The father of two young boys believes he’s on a mission from God.
Actor Bill Paxton only directed two feature films in his lifetime. The first was the spellbinding Frailty, a disturbing tale that unfolds in a series of flashbacks dating back to 1979. The frightening story is told by an unstable man played by Matthew McConaughey, who confesses to an FBI agent (Powers Boothe) that he knows the identity of an infamous serial killer who was never caught. He also begins talking about his deeply religious father (Paxton, doing double duty), who one night woke him and his brother up to reveal that an angel came to him in a dream with an important message.
To say more would be to the detriment of this engrossing depiction of life under a zealot whose beliefs have devastating effects on the people around him. Paxton impressively never falters from portraying his character as a loving dad who nevertheless must have his sanity questioned. He’s remarkable in convincing us that he’s had hard-to-believe holy visions, particularly in one early scene where we see the crazed look on his shadowy face, somehow making one of his wide-open eyes look bigger than the other.
As far as his work as director, Paxton expertly allows the dread to build throughout the entirety of the film. The small family is going through an ordeal together, and he makes us feel their tight bond slowly deteriorating. Frailty is an intense experience with a powerful pay-off. But be warned: Due to its severe subject matter, it may be too soon for some viewers to watch just after the actor’s passing.
I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore (2017)
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood
Director: Macon Blair
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Summary: A woman gets more than she bargained for when she investigates a burglary.
Who doesn’t hate it when a passerby doesn't curb his or her dog on your front lawn, or when someone cuts in front of you at the supermarket, oblivious to your existence? For Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), these shitty moments seem like daily occurrences for a character whose life is stuck in the doldrums. After her house is broken into and the cops blow her off, Ruth decides she’s had enough, and asks Tony (Elijah Wood)—a religious, heavy metal-loving neighbor—for help tracking down the culprit. The budding relationship between Ruth and Tony is the core of the film, with deadpan humor and brief moments of quiet clarity underscoring how lonely the characters were before meeting each other.
I Don’t Feel at Home, which snatched up the top award at Sundance this year, meanders at times, but actor-director Macon Blair (known for starring in Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin) conjures up a nuanced vibe that works, even if you can’t quite explain why. The film never gets too preachy, despite some biblical undertones, and we ultimately get to see the value of turning the other cheek and what goodness looks like in real and subdued manner.
Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America (2016)
Starring: Daryl Davis
Director: Matthew Ornstein
Summary: A look at the decades-long relationship between KKK members and a black musician, who hopes to change their racist beliefs.
Daryl Davis is an intriguing man. He’s a musician, actor, and author who grew up the son of a diplomat and went on to play rock and roll alongside legends like Chuck Berry.
But there’s another interesting side to Davis: Although he’s black, he’s formed long-lasting friendships with various white supremacists. The film documents his relationships with the group, and we see Davis attempt to educate his white friends about black history whenever possible. Some of his pals even leave the KKK. Still, Davis acknowledges that not every racist out there is gonna change.
Ultimately, his philosophy centers on the notion that it’s better to engage in face-to-face dialogue with those who oppose you, rather than preach to the choir of those who share your worldviews. Politics aside, this documentary demonstrates the importance of communication, even with enemies, and how at the end of the day we all need somebody to listen to us.
Starring: Johnny Simmons, Amy Landecker, Frankie Shaw, Beverly D'Angelo
Director: Robert Schwartzman
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Summary: An unlucky-in-love young pianist hooks up with a rich older woman.
In Dreamland, we witness the trials and tribulations of Monty (Johnny Simmons), a broke musician who barely makes a living teaching piano lessons at $25-a-pop. Strapped for cash and living in a run-down apartment with his unhappy girlfriend and her overbearing mother, our “hero” is eons away from achieving his dream of opening his own bar.
Things get even more complicated when Monty has a fling with an aggressive, middle-aged woman named Olivia (Amy Landecker), who stirs up conflicting emotions in him. The relationship brings into question just how ready Monty is for the real world.
It’s obvious that this is a personal film for director Robert Schwartzman (Jason’s brother), but Dreamland is by no means perfect. Impatient viewers will dismiss it as pretentious, though Schwartzman, who shows promise as a filmmaker, has a lot to say. He just might be unsure of the best way to get across his message. Still, those with a soft spot for artsy endeavors will get something out of the flick and we should all keep our eyes peeled for Schwartzman’s next effort.
Tokyo Tribe (2014)
Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Ryôhei Suzuki, Nana Seino, Yôsuke Kubozuka
Director: Sion Sono
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Action
Summary: Rival rapping Japanese gangs battle it out for territorial supremacy.
Imagine a hip-hop version of Westside Story blended with Blade Runner, The Warriors, and A Clockwork Orange, and you’re a little close to the insanity that is Tokyo Tribe. The 2014 film is an adults-only musical/sexploitation hybrid that takes place in a violent, perverse, and psychedelic universe where threats are delivered via rhymes.
If this all sounds like sensory overload, it’s because it is. This bizarro saga, which is based on a manga, swaps out dancing for kick-ass martial arts and takes the action to absurd, cartoonish extremes whenever it can. What could and should have been a total mess coalesces into a surprisingly entertaining extravaganza. Sure, some of the rapping is a bit cringe-worthy, but a lot of it is executed by a handful of Japanese pros.
It’s refreshing seeing director Sion Sono, the visionary who brought you Love Exposure (2008) and Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013), confidently throw caution to the wind and take risk after risk. Tokyo Tribe will alienate some, but if you’re searching for something different, you’re in the right place.