"It’s a strange thing, the whims of fate and destiny," reflected Bill Paxton during his 2001 appearance at Ebertfest. When he passed away on Saturday, I was immediately flooded with fond memories of the man when Roger and I met him all those years ago. He was so grateful that we had selected Sam Raimi's 1998 crime drama, "A Simple Plan," in which he starred opposite an Oscar-nominated Billy Bob Thornton, to be screened at the third installment of our annual festival. Roger awarded the film four stars and hailed it as one of the best films he had ever seen in his introduction prior to the screening.
During their conversation that followed, Paxton spoke candidly about how personal the film was for him, and how Thornton's character reminded him of his own handicapped brother. He also reminisced about how James Cameron had taken him to a screening of Raimi's "Evil Dead II," and marveled at how the picture had invented a new genre for itself.
Joining the actor onstage was Brian Tyler, who was working on Paxton's feature directorial debut, "Frailty," a film that also received four stars from Roger upon its U.S. release in 2002. Paxton noted how "A Simple Plan" and "Frailty" were both regional noir films, a genre he held close to his heart. Not only was he a talented actor, he was also kind and gracious to our audience. It was wonderful to see Paxton light up when members of the audience recalled their favorite roles in his career, including Private Hudson in Cameron's "Aliens," thus prompting Paxton to deliver his immortal line, "Game over, man!"
The conversation begins at the 17-minute mark in the video embedded below, yet Roger's introduction is also well worth a look. It includes appearances by "American Movie" star Mark Borchardt as well as ace projectionists Steve Krause and James Bond. Krause refers to the 70 mm screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" that memorably opened the festival that year, featuring the unforgettable HAL 9000, whose birthday is celebrated each year by Urbana-Champaign's technology and arts festival, Cyberfest.
By the way, in addition to scoring that year's Ebertfest selection, "Panic," Tyler has also provided the scores for this year's upcoming releases, "Power Rangers" and "The Fate of the Furious." Bill will be seen in "The Circle," directed by Ebertfest favorite James Ponsoldt, when it is released this April.
The 20th anniversary of Cyberfest will occur on Monday, March 13th, while Ebertfest 2017 runs from Wednesday, April 19th through Sunday, April 23rd at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois.