Top 10 performances of Bill Paxton

About a year or so ago I saw Bill Paxton in Nightcrawler, a rather excellent film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It got me thinking that Paxton is a funny actor, in that he’s been around a long time (since the start of the ’80s), turns up fairly frequently, often delivering performances which elevate a scene or the entire thing – yet he’s not really got the plaudits he perhaps deserves.

And he’s 60 now (if you can believe it) which, given his body of work, means he’s approaching legend status in my book. Add to that his distinctive Texan drawl that’s perhaps only matched by Matthew McConaughey and you’ve got someone that should really be given more roles. C’mon Hollywood, you can do it.

And on that note, it makes picking ten of his best a tall order (his filmography turns up some gems, ‘Punk Leader’ in The Terminator anyone?) but here are my choices, in random order:

Private Hudson, Aliens (1986)
Morgan Earp, Tombstone (1993)
Simon, True Lies (1994)
John Garrett, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2014)
Bill Harding, Twister (1996)
Master Sergeant Farell, Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Joe Loder, Nightcrawler (2014)
Fred Haise, Apollo 13 (1995)
Jerry Lambert, Predator 2 (1990)
Chet Donnelly, Weird Science (1985)

From his slimy and sleazy used car salesman seducing Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies to his gung-ho soldier immortalising lines like ‘Game over, man!’ and making them gold, Paxton has had a varied and compelling career. And in recent years he’s kept his output high, popping up as the bad guy in season 2 of Marvel’s blossoming Avengers spin-off, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the good guy opposite Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic baddie in Nightcrawler. That’s range.

So hurrah for Mr Paxton. Keep on acting, you’re a legend and we love you.

Game over? Never!

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Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: season 2 review

Continuing storylines from the first season of Marvel’s mildly successful Agents of SHIELD, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team had to rebuild SHIELD, following its demise due to the resurgence of Hydra.

As you’d expect, Coulson came back fighting. This season, however, Hydra haven’t occupied the limelight, everyone’s favourite super cute hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet) has, with the story focusing on her quest to understand her newly gained powers, following her exposure to alien Terrigen crystals at the end of season one.

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With season two, the show has begun to introduce the Inhumans and tie Marvel’s universe closer together. This is good but in TV it’s a fine balance. You don’t have the budget of film (despite being backed by Marvel) so you can’t go too big on spectacle; plus the most interesting thing has – and always will be – the human element, the interaction between the characters. Any special powers on display are fun, but they’re just there to dazzle. What we care about is the fate of the SHIELD team, Coulson and the gang.

Mostly this latest season has stayed focused on powers and with Hydra taking a back seat the season’s antagonist duties fell to Skye’s increasingly deranged father (Kyle Maclachlan) and (spoiler) the introduction of her scheming mother Jiaying (Dichen Lachman). So it becomes, in the words of Sly and the Family Stone, a family affair.

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To a lesser extent we also have disgraced Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) as a sort of plan B antagonist, largely sidelined for most of the season but pop ups here and there to cause a little mayhem. The rest of the gang are all still present and correct, but maybe a little tougher and a little wiser, in particular Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Gemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), whose ‘will they won’t they’ relationship becomes more fraught – and therefore more interesting – as the season goes on.

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Similarly another sub-plot involving Agent Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and her on-off fella, fellow Agent Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) is sweet enough but mostly just filler (except when Bobbi fights of course, that’s worth the price of each episode alone).

The trouble with the whole show is that it lives in the shadow of Marvel’s epic films, which I’ll argue we’re all becoming a little desensitised to, in terms of scale and spectacle. So it’s difficult for the team to face a credible foe over the sustained period of a season. They had an evil Hydra bloke who liked to experiment on people with powers but, by the time they finally caught up with him Coulson shot him straight away.

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Perhaps this is a good thing. Keep changing up the baddie to keep the SHIELD gang – and by extension the audience – on their toes. Sometimes though, you just want a really clever, credible bad guy or girl. The show might be building up to that in season three with the Inhumans, so I guess we’ll see.

Despite my slight misgivings I do like the show and its tone and like spending time with the characters. They’re bright, breezy, sassy and kick ass (from time to time). They’re all slowly developing and evolving as the threats they face change, which is good to see. As long as it stays focused on keeping things human (and inhuman) then season three should be a fun ride.