The Boyfriend of the Week

July 5, 2007

I am such a sucker.

I mean, really, I am exactly the kind of person these sorts of promotions were made for. EXACTLY. These kinds of promotions are made for suckers, and I have the word "SUCKER" tattooed right on my forehead, so it was clearly meant to be. Don't believe me? Check out this photo. See? Would I lie to you guys?

You know how a couple of months ago, I canceled my cable subscription and subscribed to Dish Network instead? Those of you who are members of the BotW Yahoo group (see above) were starting to get irked, because I essentially quit watching movies altogether for the first few months I had Dish -- I was having waaaaay too much fun DVR'ing all kinds of stuff at all kinds of hours and watching it instead. I kept sending you the email letting you know the new Boyfriend was up, with a note that said, "Um, no movie reviews THIS time either. Sorry!" If it's any consolation, by the way, every time I wrote that sentence to you guys, I was picturing myself standing on a soap box in front of an angry crowd who then booed and began pelting me with tomatoes. I felt your pain, seriously.

But you see, it wasn't just reruns of Magnum PI and Murder She Wrote that were getting me in trouble (though, them too). You see, as part of their Promotion for Suckers (TM), Dish Network gave us three months of HBO for free on top of all the rest of it. And not only did I time it so perfectly that the last season of The Sopranos started up the very next week, but I also quickly discovered HBO shows a lot of stuff I actually wanted to see. Older movies (most of which I'd already seen but was happy to watch again), documentaries, stuff like that.

So, I was psyched about the promotion. It was going to be perfect -- I could watch the last Sopranos season and whatever else seemed interesting, and then as soon as the promotion was over, I'd cancel HBO and go back to renting lots of stuff from Netflix instead. Life would go back to normal . . . Only, I hit a snag.

The snag was that ads for season two of Big Love starting showing up after each Sopranos episode, and since I watched season one last year on DVD and loved it, I knew I'd be watching season two eventually as well. Ads also started showing up for a new David Milch (of Deadwood fame) series called John from Cincinnati that I really wanted to see too. And, well, I started to think, hell, if I'm going to rent Big Love and John anyway, maybe I should just keep HBO for a couple more months and save myself the trouble.

I dithered, and then, well, I caved. Thus making me EXACTLY the type of person these "free HBO with subscription to Dish!" promotions were made for: A SUCKER. I have a feeling that as soon as these two series are over, something ELSE will start up that I really want to see as well, and out will come Mr. Rationalizations, and the next thing I know, I'll be paying for HBO out of my social security check when I'm 90. Somehow, even knowing this makes me a sucker doesn't seem to help. It's like knowing that I really, really shouldn't have had that third margarita Saturday night. Resistance is futile. I have been ass-simulated.

That said, this suckerness indirectly benefits you guys, as it has directly led to my finally getting around to doing a Boyfriend write-up on Bill Paxton. I've loved Bill Paxton as an actor for years and years and years. But, oddly enough, it wasn't until he started playing a polygamist member of a bizarre Mormon-like religious cult (on Big Love) that I began to develop a serious crush on him. I have no idea what this says about me, but I'm sure my father is not impressed.

Part of my problem with Bill, I will confess, has always been his character in the old John Hughes movie Weird Science (co-starring another ex-Boyfriend, Anthony Michael Hall). In that movie, Bill played big brother to a teenager who, along with his dorky pal, had created the perfect woman (played, as you might remember, by Kelly LeBrock, who most recently showed up on Celebrity Fit Club, something I confess I found extremely satisfying. Yes, it's true, I am a horrible person. At least I have the guts to admit it, people!).

In Weird Science, Bill's character was not only a complete bully and jerk, but he also eventually turns into a really slimy monster at the end of the movie -- a really slimy monster who still looks very, very much like Bill Paxton somehow. And so you see, that's one of the primary things that's made it hard for me to find him all that attractive over the last couple of decades. I'd think "Bill Paxton" and I'd see "really slimy monster." And then I'd see Kelly LeBrock. It was bad all around.

Since then, I've seen Bill in tons of great films, but I still never really managed to shake off that old slimy monster thing. This finally changed with Big Love, though, and after watching season one on DVD last year, I've been smitten ever since. The show is fascinating -- I love how just when it makes me start to think polygamy is no big deal, it reminds me why it's actually a little more complicated than it may look on the surface (more on this later). And I love watching Bill's sweet character (coincidentally also named Bill) play husband to three extremely complicated women. It's well-written, brilliantly acted, and it really makes you think.

The show is about the Henrickson family, members of a Mormon-like religious group that allows for multiple wives. They live in small town Utah, of course, and the husband, the aforementioned Bill, owns a chain of hardware stores. Most of the drama has to do with his head-butting up against the leader of the religious group, who also happens to be one of his fathers-in law and is pretty much a total bastard all the way around. But the rest of the show focuses on the family dynamics, and it's those parts that have really given me an odd perspective. I used to think polygamy was a pretty bad idea, but then, most of my experience with it comes from TV shows and movies featuring jackass guys leading two lives, lying to both women, and finally getting caught in a horrific scene that ends with somebody dead (usually).

On Big Love, though, Bill is only legally married to one of the women (Barb, the "first wife"). The other two (Nicki and Margene) are wives through church ceremony only. Bill has three houses all right next to each other, which share a big backyard, and each wife has her own house and her own children. Each wife seems to be pretty happy about the arrangement, and the kids are all well-adjusted (the older ones are not interested in being polygamists themselves, but they seem okay with their parents doing it for the most part). And my question is this: if he's only legally married to one of them, then what's the big deal about polygamy? How is it different from just having what is, essentially, an open marriage, something that wouldn't be MY cup of tea personally, but which I'm all for other people doing if that's what it takes for them to be happy.

So, first of all, I'm not sure I agree with the illegality of this type of situation. And second of all, I also don't really have a moral issue with it either. Granted, in some polygamist sects, the women are treated like cattle (or worse) -- anybody who has read Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith about the extremist cults that branched off of Mormonism knows what I'm talking about. Those relationships and religious beliefs are scary, twisted, and bad for the women involved in them. In the case of the Henrickson's, though, if all three women are happy about the set-up, and everybody is prospering, WHY is this an issue, exactly?

That said, just as I was starting to think all the hoopla about polygamy was stupid, the show kind of subtly changed things up. Because, you see, as it turns out, it's not three women in love with one man, all of whom also love each other and think this arrangement is bliss on a stick. It's been revealed to us that first wife Barb has never really been convinced polygamy is for her. She agreed to do it for Bill -- out of love for him and respect for her beliefs. But it was NOT what she actually wanted. And now this season, it's also been revealed that Nicki didn't marry Bill for love at all, but because she felt it was her "duty" as a woman in the religious group who respected "the principle" of plural marriage. (This isn't a major plot point, by the way, so I'm not spoiling anything, I don't think.)

Now, instead of it being three women all in love with one man and with each other, it's one woman who only begrudgingly let this happen, another woman who did it out of a sense of duty, and a third, Margene, who's really too young to know what the hell she was doing to begin with.

Hmmm. Things become more complex.

In any case, this is a fascinating show that offers a whole new perspective on life and families that you're unlikely to find anywhere else on television. And, Bill Paxton is just really, really wonderful in it. His character is complex and dynamic. He stands up for what he believes is right, he loves all his wives and his children very much, and he cares about his friends, family, employees, business, and community. In essence, he's a big ol' sweetheart, and this is the role that has really made me realize how much I actually truly adore him as an actor. I can't think of anybody else who would've fit that role as well as Paxton. Not every man can do "emotionally complex," but Paxton is an ace at it. AND he's an ace at playing slimy monsters, too. The man is a chameleon, ladies!

I can definitely understand why many wouldn't be interested in seeing the concept of polygamy semi-normalized on television, though, so for those of you not likely to rush right out to rent the DVDs, here are a few other Paxton films I've loved. Everything from sci-fi, to vampires, to disasters, to dramas, to comedies. See what I mean about chameleons?

1. Frailty (2001) -- drama/borderline horror?

Why I'm starting this list off with the totally freaky and disturbing one, I have no idea. If I didn't lose you with the whole "three wives" thing, I'll probably lose you with the "crazy guy kills people he thinks are demons" one. You might want to skip ahead to the kid movie about the giant gorilla, seriously (number 4 below).

This movie opens with a young man, Fenton Meeks, played by Matthew McConaughey, walking into a police office and announcing he has just discovered his brother Adam is a serial killer. The cop sits him down and asks him to 'splain himself, and the movie unfolds as a series of flashbacks to the young man's childhood. His father, played by Paxton, was raising Fenton and Adam on his own, in a tiny little shack in a small town in the South. Things were going along pretty well until Dad went a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. At first, the change is subtle. Dad starts telling the boys he's been talking to God, and that God has a few things he'd like him to take care of. The boys aren't sure what to think, but, according to Fenton, he began to realize that Dad had started kill innocent people he thought God was telling him were demons. Adam, too young to know any better, began to believe what his father was telling him too, and, according to Fenton, when their father died, Adam began started taking over the family killin' biz.

What I love about this movie is, in a nutshell, Bill Paxton. He plays a good father who desperately wants to raise them right, but who is just not okay anymore. He's conflicted about his actions, tortured by them, but honestly believes he's doing what God wants him to do and that it must be done to save not only the world, but these two little boys for whom he would do anything. This is a complicated character -- this is a character of nuance. And Paxton, holy crap, he just kills it in this one.

Also, the twist totally took me by surprise, which almost never happens (just ask my husband, who won't watch Netflix movies with me anymore because I spend so much time yelling at the television set ten minutes in about how dumb the ending is -- long before I've even SEEN the ending). And that alone makes this one worth the price of admission. Toss into the mix some really solid acting and a great script, and what you have is one truly terrific film.

2. Vertical Limit (2000) -- disaster

Oh, you knew I'd have to put this one up here, loving, as I so do, all disaster movies. This is a pretty entertaining one about a group of mountain climbers who arrogantly attempt to scale a peak they had no business scaling. They fall into a crevasse and get stuck there. ANOTHER group of mountain climbers then has to then scale the same mountain in order to rescue them. And that second group? Just for fun? Is packing leaky explosive devices that burst into flame whenever they are exposed to sunlight. Bring on the earth-shattering kaBOOM!, as Marvin the Martian would say.

Oh, don't ask me. I don't remember why they brought the explosives. All I remember is that Bill plays a big jerk in this one who attempts to sacrifice his teammates for his own sake. And he ends up getting his what-fer from an extremely handsome Chris O'Donnell, who, I might add, looks absolutely smashing in ski parkas. It also stars the great Scott Glenn, and the charming Robin Tunney. Solid cheesy avalanche-ridden fun all around.

3. A Simple Plan (1998) -- suspense/thriller

This thriller, directed by Sam Raimi of the Spiderman franchise, is about two brothers, Hank (Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), out hunting one day with their buddy Lou (Brent Briscoe) when the three of them stumble across the wreckage of a crashed plane. In the plane, they find four million dollars in cash -- clearly stolen. At first, they argue over what to do, but ultimately, the temptation is too great and they pack the money into their car, drive to Hank's house, and hide it. The plan seems simple, hence the title of the film: Hank will hold onto the money and just wait and see what happens when the plane is discovered by someone else. If things stay quiet, they'll eventually divvy it all up and retire young. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long before everybody starts going back on the plan, wanting their money now instead of later, and distrust begins to grow like an activated sea monkey. It's kind of predictable, but this is a very well-acted film, and it'll keep you in suspense even after you figure out exactly how it's going to end. Paxton in particular is great as Hank, the one sound mind in the group, struggling with his brother Jacob, who is developmentally disabled and just doesn't understand why they can't use the money NOW to save the family farm. It's a complicated relationship, and worth a rental just to see Paxton and Thornton (who I also love) play it all so well.

4. Mighty Joe Young (1998) -- kid's movie

Okay, okay, tease me if you want. But you know what? I kinda loved this stupid movie. It opens with a group of poachers in Africa killing a mass of gorillas. When a white conservationalist family tries to intercede, the poachers shoot them, killing the mother of a little girl, as well as the mother of a baby gorilla (though, at least the baby gorilla manages to bite several fingers off of one of the bad guys before they get away). Fast-forward about 15 years, and the little girl has magically grown up into. . . Charlize Theron!, while the baby gorilla has magically grown up into. . . King Kong! Well, a giant gorilla with a penchant for blondes, anyway. You do the math.

Growing up motherless together, the two have formed a strong bond, and have lived happy lives in the African jungle together. Cue cheerful music.

Then, cut to suspenseful pounding piano music! Poachers begin to return to the land after hearing about the presence of a giant gorilla whose oversized hands would make fanTAStic dental office ashtrays in Florida! To save Joe, Charlize reluctantly agrees to let an American conservationist, played by Paxton, take him to an animal reserve in the U.S. Everything seems to be going well, until the evil poacher tracks Joe down, wanting to get revenge for the loss of his fingers.

The next thing you know, there's a giant gorilla running around loose in Los Angeles, and I ain't talkin' 'bout no Arnold Schwartzenegger, neither.

It's supremely silly, but I kinda just loved it. I highly recommend watching it with kids, as they will not only love it as well, but you will look less like a total dork for watching it yourself. Paxton is SO sweet in this, though, and also rather fetching as a khaki-wearing animal conservationist. How sexy is that? And I'll be damned if I wasn't bawling like a baby by the end. These giant gorilla stories, I tell ya -- can they never end happily? Must they always end in bittersweet tragedy? Just one time, ONE TIME, I'd like to see the gorilla retire to a villa in France and live off the fat of the land. Do I need to write this movie myself, or what? Jeez.

5. Traveller (1997) -- drama/con

I wish I'd had time to watch this one again before doing this write-up, because I've only seen it once and I totally loved it. It's about a clan of grifters ("travellers," like on the new FX series The Riches) who spend most of their time in rural North Carolina. When a young man, Pat (Mark Wahlberg), who had left the clan years back, returns wanting to rejoin the group, he is at first rejected. But soon, his cousin Bokky (Paxton) agrees to take him on as an apprentice. Soon Pat is relearning the game (lots of great cons in this flick!), while Bokky falls in love and begins to realize he'll never be able to settle down as long as he's a traveller, and that it might be time for him to leave the family himself. It's a really entertaining indie film, offering a truly fascinating look inside the lives of this enigmatic group. And Paxton is, once again, truly great as the very complex, very conflicted Bokky. Also Julianna Marguiles -- I have a powerful girl crush on her. Thumbs way up all around!

6. Twister (1996) -- disaster, again, shut up

Okay, yeah, it's another disaster movie. Get over it. I love this one! Plus, Philip Seymour Hoffman! That means it's actually a FILM, not just a flick, cuz Phil don't do no flicks, y'all. The man is a SERIOUS AC-TOR. This movie is just fun fun fun -- I could watch that scene with the cow flying around all day long, I swear. If you've somehow gotten to the year 2007 without seeing Twister, you are doing yourself a major injustice. One of the few injustices left in the U.S.A. that you actually have the power to undo at this point, what with the Supreme Court being such a huge disaster area at the moment. So, do your country a favor -- rent Twister. Consider it a civic duty.

I can't believe I just said that.

7. Near Dark (1987) -- vampires! Blood! Gore! Lance Henrickson!

This is one of the best vampire movies I've ever seen, and I'm not just saying that because it stars a very young Adrian Pasdar (finally a household name after his role as Nathan Petrelli on the hit series Heroes). Though, considering the fact said very young Adrian Pasdar does take his shirt off in this movie, I might be lying when I say that's not the major draw for me. Ahem.

In any case, this is not a movie for the faint-hearted. It's about a young man (Pasdar) who is out one night when he picks up a young woman who literally charms the pants right off him. As they are macking in his truck, she kisses him. REALLY HARD. Drawing blood. He thinks, "Kinky!" and when dawn comes and she takes off, he figures he's just gotten lucky -- free milk, no cow to have to wrangle.

Until he starts to feel weird. Pretty soon he realizes that was no woman he was making out with -- it was a vampire, one of a band of violent creatures of the night who roam the earth in a series of stolen cars (hey, it was the 80's, what did you want them to do, fly around like bats? When they could just boost an old Buick? Get real). That kiss was no mere kiss, either, as it turns out. He begins to fall in love with the girl, making things even more complex, as his choices start to come down to either finding a cure so he can go back to being normal, or joining their roving band of bloodsuckers, where he'll get the girl, but LOSE HIS SOUL. Mua ha ha ha!

Watch out for the bar scene -- gruesome. Great flick!

Okay, I better stop there and just make the rest Honorable Mentions, or else we'll be here all day: U571 (2000, about a group of American submariners who take over a German U-Boat and its enigma device and then have to figure out how to get home without being blown up via mistaken identity), Indian Summer (1993, a cheesy Big Chill knock-off about a group of friends who went their separate way after growing up, but decide to return to the summer camp where they all met as kids for one last summer together -- best part of this movie is Sam Raimi as the deckhand. I love that man), Aliens (1986, by far the best of the three, in my opinion), and, of course, Weird Science (1985, not my favorite John Hughes movie, but it'll do in a pinch). Oh, and also The Lords of Discipline (1983), but it's been so long since I've seen that that I can't even remember who he was in it (it's a great movie, though, based on the novel by Pat Conroy and about a group of boys at a military prep school).

By the way, Bill was also in Tombstone (1993), my favorite Western of all time, but I didn't bother mentioning it in the primary list because he's my least favorite actor in that film -- the one role I've seen him in where he just didn't seem to fit right.

Up next for Bill is, we hope, a third season of Big Love. He's also slated to star in a film called The Second Coming based on a Walker Percy novel (not a great sign, in my opinion, as his The Moviegoer was a book I was forced to read in graduate school and which everybody in my class thought was brilliant and I thought was crap -- ah, the memories!). Nevertheless, it's directed by Donal Logue, who I have a major crush on, and is described as a romantic comedy about a suicidal widower (Paxton) who falls for an escapee from a mental institution. And what could be more fun than a movie about crazy people, I ask you?

I'm prepared to love it. Despite the fact I still think The Moviegoer was pretentious shite. Why must I be so difficult? Why can't I just get along? I have no idea, but thanks for hanging out with me anyway.

MacGyver Factor Score: 96.289%. Points off for the whole "really slimy monster" thing, because even though I SAY I'm finally over it now that he's become SO addictively swoon-worthy on Big Love, it's really a big lie. I still can't see his face without seeing the slimy monster version of his face. And this will probably haunt me until the end of time.

Boyfriend-Related Links

Bill's IMDb page
HBO's Big Love page
The Unofficial Bill Paxton Homepage (fan site)
Bill Paxton, Senior Fellow in Computational Astrophysics (couldn't resist)

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