Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bil Paxton 1955-2017

Bill Paxton, the Texas-born actor who has been working steadily since the 1980s with many of his best known roles in James Cameron films, has died at the age of 61 from complications during surgery.

It's remarkable how many well-known projects Paxton worked on in his career. His first big breaks included small roles in Stripes and Terminator, his first work with James Cameron. He moved on to the nasty older brother in Weird Science and first major role in a Cameron film as Private Hudson in Aliens. His career is a steady progression up the cast list, from a bit part in Commando, to a featured role in Predator 2 to starring in Twister. He was also seen in movies with great ensemble casts like Tombstone, Apollo 13 and Titanic. Possibly my favorite film of his after Tombstone is Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, co-starring Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thornton, about three acquaintances finding millions of dollars in lost cash. This century, a lot of his best work has been on TV, including his starring role in HBO's Big Love, a recurring character on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Training Day, a new series that just started showing on Amazon Prime.

This one came as a surprise to me, in part because Paxton is my age and also because he was still working so consistently. Thinking back on his work, I remember his character for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. calling Ruth Negga's character "Flowers". I also remember the interaction between him and the bodybuilder Vasquez in Aliens.

Hudson:, Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man.
Vasquez: No. Have you?

Best wishes to the family and friends of Bill Paxton, from a fan. He is never to be forgotten.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is on a roll. Now in his fifties, he is sometimes still described as a "cult favorite", which is to say he is not as well known as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King or George R.R. Martin. Some adaptations of his earlier works will debut this year, an indie movie version of How To Talk to Girls at Parties and a TV mini-series of American Gods on the Starz network. On Twitter, he was surprised his latest effort Norse Mythology opened at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list this week. I bought my copy last week and I have already finished the slender volume, not even 300 pages with a large font. If you prefer audiobooks, he is his own narrator on this one and he has a lovely voice. Here is my review.

In the introduction, Gaiman admits his first taste of the Norse myths was in the Marvel Comics version, where Thor is the star and Loki is but one of many villains, with Odin usually in the background. His re-telling of the original stories, mixing together the two main sources of the myths, the Poetic Vedda and the Prose Vedda, changes the billing among these three, giving Loki his rightful place as the character who drives the story in most of the sagas, though it is hard to ever say he is the hero. Of course Odin and Thor have a lot to do as well, but we also meet Thor's wife Sif, known for her lovely hair; Heimdall, the gatekeeper; Idunn, the goddess who owns the apples of immortality that give the gods their very long lives; Balder, the most beautiful and beloved of the gods; and the giants, monsters and ancient gods that will come to destroy all nine worlds in the End Times known as Ragnarok.

It is good to read these stories in winter, because the cold and the storms are a near constant companion in these tales from people who lived so far north. Gaiman writes at a fine pace for stories of adventure and magic, and adds his own magic of humor and compassion even for the monsters and villains.

If you love Neil Gaiman, you should certainly read (or listen to) Norse Mythology. If you do not know him but the topic sounds interesting, this would be a fine introduction.