Friday FabOoolousness – Fall, Football, and Friday Night Lights

I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again…  what says Friday night during the fall months better than high school football?

The sun sets; the temperatures cool; and the sounds of marching bands, spectator’s cheers, and the crackling of shoulder pads crashing into one another echo throughout the neighborhoods.  Ah, the memories…

In honor of Football Sweetheart‘s recent release and football season everywhere, grab the old letter jacket, microwave some popcorn, grill a few hot dogs, crack open a coke, and curl up on the sofa for a great movie that reminds us all of the good ol’ Friday nights in fall.

By now, everyone has heard of Friday Night Lights – whether it be the book by H.G. Bissinger published in 1990, the motion picture produced by Brian Grazer in 2004, or the television series starring Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton that aired from 2006 until 2011.  Some even know the “real” Friday night lights—high school football in West Texas.

For the purpose of this post, we’re going to focus on the film.  Friday Night Lights is a perfect Friday night flick for fall.

The time – 1988

The place – Odessa, Texas

The who – the Permian High School football players

The dream – to win the state championship

The obstacles – a coach that pushes his players too far, parents living vicariously through their teens’ lives, and societal pressure

Football out in the middle of nowhere… West Texas.

Two things come to mind when people outside the state of Texas think about West Texas—high school football and oil.  So, if everyone outside the state knows about the teenage pig-skin programs, what do the people inside the state think?  Football is life.  Win at all costs.

Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines… he gives one fabOoolous performance!

Friday Night Lights follows Coach Gary Gaines (Hollywood great, Billy Bob Thornton), star Permian running back James “Boobie” Miles (Derek Luke), back-up running back Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young), quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), and safety Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) on their quest for a Mojo football championship.  The season seems to be right on schedule, but things erupt when Boobie tears his ACL.

Coach Gaines is immediately under fire in the media and around town; a head football coach’s job is never safe in West Texas without wins.  And when a star player goes down, people panic.

Billingsley and his dad…

As if the pressure isn’t already mounting for the kids, Billingsley is also faced with managing his father’s (country music star, Tim McGraw) drinking and outbursts.  Like many other former football stars, his father continues to live in the past and is humiliated that his son is not performing up to his standards.

The season ends with a three-way tie in the district between Permian, their arch-rival Midland Lee Rebels, and Abilene Cooper.  With a flip of a coin, Permian and Lee move on (yes, they really flipped coins in the ’80s to break a three-way tie in conference when determining playoff spots).   Permian rolls through the playoffs and meets Dallas Carter in the state championship.

Watch the movie to find out what happens next….

The Permian Panthers…

Have you seen Friday Night Lights?  Have you read the book?  Did you enjoy the television series?  I’d love to hear from you!

If you liked Friday Night Lights, check out my YA Mystery novel, Football Sweetheart… now available on Kindle and Nook!  Being a part of the Midland Lee Football Program can be murder…

And for those die-hard FNL fans, rumor has it that another Friday Night Lights movie is in the works… either that, or Connie Britton is one heck of a jokester!

On a personal note, I was born and raised in Midland, Texas and I’m a proud Midland Lee Rebel.  My father graduated from the first ever senior class at Midland Lee, as did my brother before me in the ’80s, and now my oldest nephew is a sophomore.  My mother retired last year, but taught at Midland Lee for a long time (no years, I promise…you wouldn’t believe me if I told you), but not before graduating from Odessa Permian and participating on the Mojo Pep Squad.  But if you asked her today, she’s 100% a Rebel!

Friday Night Lights, while fictional, does not stray far from the truth, and I highly recommend it to anyone attempting to understand the severity of high school football in West Texas.  I was a student trainer in high school, and I remember a man who traveled in his trailer to watch the Midland Lee versus the Odessa Permian football game because he read Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream.  I grew up watching Lee play, lived the annual showdown with Permian, and was shocked that someone from thousands of miles away would drive just to watch high school kids play football.  To me, it was just another Friday night game…

But West Texas football is a big deal.  Maybe we’re crazy?  But, we’re proud.

Friday FabOoolousness – Cue the Chainsaw

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  Sticking with our usual ways, Catie reviews the original and I take on the remake.  This month we tackle a horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Usually, I include Catie’s Homeade Summary that applies to both films.  But this time, I tweaked it just a bit:

Five young adults, traveling the back, desolate roads of Texas, pick up a wandering and nearly comatose hitchhiker.  When the hitchhiker has a psychotic break and commits suicide, the group’s only option is to explore a nearby and deserted community searching for help, but instead stumble on a family of sadistic killers.

Before I begin, let me first mention that to this day, I have never watched the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre entirely.  Why?  Because the story spooks the bejeezus out of me.  First of all, I’m a Texan.  Secondly, the story claimed to be based on actual events.  Third, not only did my family live out in the country when I was a little girl, sort of anyway, so did both sets of my grandparents.  And what was the only way to get out to my grandparents’ properties?  We had to drive down desolate, two-lane Texas roads.  Oh, and the sound of a chainsaw?  You’re kidding me, right?  I will still run the other direction to this day—just ask my friends that I attend haunted houses with every year…

Anyway, despite all of my above fears about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’m usually not one to shy away from a good horror movie.  So, I saddled up and watched the 2003 remake.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I now know the TCM tale isn’t really a true story, even if it is based on bits and pieces of actual real-life sociopaths.

So that I don’t give too much away for those who have yet to see either the original or the remake, I’m going to stay away from a storyline synopsis here.  Regardless of whether or not readers have seen the films, I’m quite certain everyone knows the gist:  A man known as “Leatherface” uses a chainsaw to hunt and kill his victims, victims that are stranded out in the middle of nowhere and have no hope of rescue.

But what I do want to do is compare the 2003 film to Catie’s “Why is Chainsaw a Classic?” list.  How else can we determine whether or not the remake is worthy of our time?

Let’s start with the opening.  Catie mentioned that the original begins with a voice-over by John Larroquette that leads viewers to believe the events of the film are based on a true story.  Keeping with what I consider to be one of the best indicators of a well-made remake, the 2003 feature also uses a voice-over by the very same John Larroquette to open the film.  It’s always in the details… right?

So, obviously, the voice-over—check.  We covered that above…

The hitchhiker—check.  Seriously, who picks up a hitchhiker?  Call me crazy, but I actually speed past ‘em… maybe I’m not a nice person?  Or maybe I’ve just seen too many horror flicks!

The isolation—check.  What’s scarier than being stranded out in the middle of nowhere?  Not  much.

The eerie lack of dialogue from the killer—check.  It is always the silent ones we need to keep our eyes on, right?

The “help is not coming” factor—check.  This fits alongside the isolation factor.  Granted, today we have cell phones.  But this film is based in 1973, when if someone was stranded, they were stranded.  And just when you think you’ve found a gas station attendant or a sheriff to help, think again…

The cringe-worthy violence—check.  Cringe-worthy is definitely the proper terminology used to describe the violence in TCM.  What the viewer actually sees isn’t too horrible and gory; yet, what is left up to the viewer’s imagination is pretty disturbing.  Well, depending on where the viewer’s mind goes…

The music—no check.  Maybe a check?  I honestly have no idea.  I was so engrossed by the intense scenes and the sound of the chainsaw that I literally can’t remember if there was music in the film!  Someone help me: was there music?

The murder house luring its victims in like a spider web draws its prey—check.  Seriously, why not run the other way when you discover a graveyard of the previous victims’ cars?

The simple fact of knowing the killer is still out there—check.  Even if he only has one arm left, he still has that chainsaw, and he’s still roaming the desolate, two-lane roads of the Texas countryside.  Scary!

Comparing the remake to the original in the list above seems to indicate the 2003 film holds up.  But with most horror films, and not just in remakes, I look to the dialogue.  Is it quirky?  Does it make me laugh?  Is there the element of foreshadowing and does the dialogue itself state the obvious?  The answer to these questions is an absolute YES in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

“You’re all going to die.”
“He’s a bad man.”
“Something like this comes along, makes folks realize how crazy the world is out there.”
“Pig Sty.”  (I really loved this one, especially since the character was walking through a disgusting living room as huge pigs meandered about.)
“Deader than a doornail.”  (And here I thought only my family said this….)
“You’re so dead, you don’t even know it.”
“That wasn’t a good idea.”

As usual, Michael Bay’s production does not disappoint.  That’s right—Michael Bay.  Many associate his name with major motion picture action and drama masterpieces (Transformers, Bad Boys, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, etc…), but he also co-owns the production house responsible for so many of our favorite remakes:  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th (coming soon in our original versus remake series), and today’s feature, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Mr. Bay may be one of my favorite producers in Hollywood now simply for this reason.

And here we are, closing in on the end of the review, and I haven’t even mentioned the characters/actors in the 2003 movie.  Well, that’s because it honestly doesn’t matter… unless, you’re a man.  Men will love this movie.  Why?  Because most men will enjoy watching Jessica Biel run around, sweaty and wet, in a knotted-up-tank-top, showing off her big breasts, curvy waist, and great derrière.  Really.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.  And be sure to check out her blog post today, where she talks about Elmer Wayne Henley… one of the real-life killers used as inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

And why stop there?  Visit a few of her archives that also relate to our original versus remake series this month:  Leatherface’s House (we can actually go have dinner there in Kingsland, Texas… if you want) and Ed Gein: The Man Who Changed Horror, another of the real-life inspirations used for the movie.

And while it may not  be horror, remember to check out my YA Mystery novel, Football Sweetheart… now available on Kindle and Nook!

Now, I need to go watch another of the films in the franchise—The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Why?  Because Matt Bomer is in it!!  You know, Neal Caffrey from White Collar… or Ken from Magic Mike?  Oh, and don’t worry men; there’s some eye candy for you too (Jordana Brewster).

Friday FabOoolousness – “Vengeance is Mine”

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  Last month’s switch-up felt a bit uncomfortable, so we went back to our original ways—Catie reviews the original and I take on the remake.  This month we discuss Cape Fear.

Usually, I include Catie’s Homeade Summary that applies to both films.  But this time, I tweaked it just a bit to fit the 1991 release:

Sam Bowden is a small town attorney who has always relied on the legal system to dole out justice.

Max Cady  is a violent sociopath just released from prison after serving a fourteen year sentence for rape.

Cady blames Bowden for the years he lost in prison, and he’s ready to serve up some revenge.  He stalks the family, poisons the dog, and moves in on all of the women in Bowden’s life.   

But, in the eyes of the law, Bowden can’t prove Cady has done anything.  Cady has been careful to do everything but break the law.

Sam Bowden decides it’s time to make his own justice in order to stop Max Cady from destroying his family…and getting away with it.

Anytime a studio attempts to remake a classic, like it did the 1962 Cape Fear starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, they must hire the same caliber star-power.  Amblin Entertainment and Martin Scorsese did just that…

First, let’s talk about the character of Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte.  Sam is a lawyer in the small town of New Essex, North Carolina.  He’s married to Leigh (Jessica Lange) and they have a fifteen year old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis).    The Bowden family seems happy in their new home, despite Dani’s normal teenage rebellion that lands her in summer school.

Sam, on the other hand, is happy for a different reason—he has a budding relationship on the side with a woman from the District Attorney’s office.  I personally found it difficult to like the patriarch in this movie—he has misrepresented a client (Cady, but more on that below), even if it was years ago; he intends to cheat on his wife, even if he hasn’t consummated the affair just yet; and he’s as arrogant as all get out.

Now, let’s talk about the character of Max Cady, played by Robert De Niro.  As always, De Niro perfects his portrayal of the crazed and vengeful Cady, angry for spending years in prison when there was evidence that potentially might have lightened his sentence.  He uses his time in jail to learn to read and fight his own appeals… and to perfect his body art.

After his release, he focuses all of his new-found knowledge on seeking revenge against the public defender who cheated him out of a fair trial.  He travels to New Essex, hunts down Sam Bowden, and plays an evil game of cat and mouse while planning his ultimate vengeance—raping Bowden’s wife and daughter.

And let me just say, there is nothing quite as creepy as a muscled-up De Niro (rumors say he worked his way down to four percent body fat for this role), hanging upside-down on a workout bar, and smiling with his mischievous grin as he talks his way into Danielle’s school day…

Catie mentions the 1962 film was controversial for its time; I wouldn’t so much say the remake was controversial, but it was dark (literally and figuratively; at times the cinematography flashed from color to x-ray or night-vision-like images), inappropriate (theater scene between Cady and Danielle), and disgusting (the “cheek” scene, for those who have already seen the movie).

As with any film, or at least it should be true of every movie, the dialogue is strong—particularly with the element of foreshadowing.

Sam to his wife… “He’s not going to do anything.  He just got out of prison.  He doesn’t want to go right back.”
Cady to Sam… “You’re gonna learn about loss.”

And then there’s the occasional line that makes you laugh, or at least say, “Huh?”

“Debauchery—it’s a three syllable word.”

Um, no; it’s not.

Then there’s the music, and much like Psycho (last months’ review), the score is creepy…

While I can’t attest to whether or not the remake is better than the original—because I shamefully haven’t seen the older of the two—the film did feature three stars from the 1962 classic: Gregory Peck, the original Sam Bowden, plays Cady’s attorney in the remake; Robert Mitchum, the original Cady, plays a police officer ; and Martin Balsam, the original Police Chief, plays a judge .  It says a great deal when the originals will come back and play a small part in a new version of a very successful film from their past—doesn’t it?

Even though I can’t claim the remake is the better of the two, Scorsese’s film is worth seeing—even if it’s for the always enjoyable Robert De Niro and young Juliette Lewis.  I vaguely remember seeing the movie in the early ‘90s when it was a new release, but I couldn’t help  but smile at the teenage pop culture references used in the film when I watched it recently—like Danielle’s Swatch telephone, the Jane’s Addiction music video, and the music of Guns N’ Roses.

Cape Fear is a great psychological thriller.  I mean, what’s worse than fearing for your own life?  Watching those around you suffer for your own actions…

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of Cape Fear?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.  And be sure to check out her blog post today – Robert Mitchum’s Life of Crime

Friday FabOoolousness – Reuniting with our Pals from American Pie

Thirteen years ago we all met and fell in love with the quirky teenagers of American Pie.  In my early twenties at the time, I joined millions of other moviegoers and watched the group of young adults as they frantically fluttered about, preparing for their senior prom.  Would they all find a date?  Would any of them lose their virginity?  Would this night be a night to remember, forever?

American Pie was a huge box-office hit, and the success continued once the movie was available on DVD despite critics claims that the film was lewd and shallow.  Regardless, the American Pie film franchise has now grown to include four films starring our favorite characters and another four films following other groups of teenagers.

But for the sake of today’s post, we’re only focusing on the “real” American Pie favorites:

The original, American Pie;

The sequel, American Pie 2;

The official consummation, known as American Wedding;

And the most recent theatrical release, American Reunion.

One thing that I truly appreciate about the American Pie films is that the story follows a group of teenage boys; it’s not the usual girl drama of most YA films.  While there are female characters crucial to the storyline (Michelle, played by Alyson Hannigan; Heather, played by Mena Suvari; Vicky, played by Tara Reid; and Nadia, played by Shannon Elizabeth), the movie tells the tales of five male friends as they move throughout life: Jim Levenstein, played by Jason Biggs; Kevin Myers, played by Thomas Ian Nicholas; Chris “Oz” Ostreicher, played by Chris Klein; Paul Finch, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas; and Steve Stifler, played by Seann William Scott.

The boys/men of American Pie... in order from left to right: Kevin, Jim, Stifler, Oz, and Finch.

Another thing that I applaud is the fact that the franchise kept the original actors throughout; even when a particular star couldn’t return or wasn’t written into the sequel scripts, the casting remained the same.  We recently splurged and treated ourselves to a Sunday afternoon date at the AMC Cinema Suites where we sat back and enjoyed juicy hamburgers and parmesan fries while we witnessed the crew (the ENTIRE crew) come back together for their twelve year high school reunion.

The American Pie franchise keeps true to the comedic moments, with each movie featuring at least one outlandish and hilarious scene (usually featuring Jason Biggs).  In the original, Jim “makes love” to a warm apple pie after he’s told that’s what “third base” feels like.  In American Pie 2, Jim superglues a pornographic VHS tape to one hand, and his other hand to his you know what after he mistakes a bottle of lube with the super sticky adhesive.  Jim’s up to his old tricks in American Wedding when he decides to “manscape” before his nuptials to Michelle, and he disposes of the remnants a bit too close to a vent which of course blows the hair all over the wedding cake.  American Reunion doesn’t disappoint, but for those who haven’t made it to the movie theater these past two weeks to see it, we don’t want to give anything away.

How it all began...

Another great aspect of the American Pie films has to be the pranks.  For what seems to be true of most young boys, the American Pie movies are filled with boys playing pranks on one another.  For example, we have the famous scene of Finch blasting a massive bowel movement in the high school bathroom in the original, courtesy of Stifler (or the “Stifmeister” as he likes to be called); and we have the forever famous and ultimate payback when Finch has sex with Stifler’s mom (Jennifer Coolidge).

Stifler's Mom & Finch

Heck, our generation owes the American Pie franchise for introducing us to the word MILF — meaning Mom I’d Like to…Fondle (so that’s not the actual word, but you have to fill in the rest; sorry, we like to keep The Ooo Factor as clean as possible).

And speaking of parents, let’s not forget to mention Jim’s awkwardly awesome dad, Noah Levenstein, played by the great Eugene Levy.  Mr. Levenstein is actually the only character in all eight films credited to the American Pie franchise.

Jim and his beloved and quirky father, Mr. Levenstein

But back to what prompted us to write this post in the first place — American Reunion.  It’s too early to give a summation of the movie, but know this:  it does not disappoint.  My guy and I never go to the theater, but I was dying to see this film.  Instead of ignoring my constant pleading, my guy agreed to go with me (usually he asks that I attend “my movies” with my girlfriends).  And let me just say — he laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  While the credits were rolling, he actually said how fun it was.

Did American Reunion exceed our expectations?  No — but seriously, it did NOT disappoint either.  The story was very well done, and the fact that every single one of the major characters (and a few of the minor) shared the screen at one point or another deserves a standing ovation.

To quote a friend of mine, “everyone who saw the original American Pie in the theater, owes it to themselves to take a trip back to the movies to see American Reunion.”  I’m going to take it a step further and add that this rule applies to anyone who has seen any of the American Pie movies in the theater.  Actually, let’s go even further — this rule applies to everyone who has ever seen any of the American Pie movies — anyhow, anyway.

See? Even Mr. Levenstein gives it a "thumbs up!"

Have you seen American Reunion?  What are your thoughts on the entire American Pie franchise?  Which movie and/or character is your favorite and why?  I’d love to hear from you!

For another review of American Reunion, click over to my friend Jillian Dodd’s blog.  It seems she and I agree that it’s a must see!

Friday FabOoolousness – Knocking Down Straw Dogs

I love scary movies, including honest to goodness horror and slashers, as well as suspenseful, psychological thrillers.  That’s why when I saw the trailer for Straw Dogs (2011) last year, I felt chills run down my spine.  I would watch this movie.

It didn’t hurt that the trailer for the film was full of eye-candy: Alexander Skarsgard (Vampire Eric Northman from True Blood); James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies); and for the men, Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush).

Immediately, I reached out to my writing and movie friend, Catie Rhodes, who has introduced me to many great crime films – some even inspired by actual events.  But, I digress.

During our chat, Catie mentioned that Straw Dogs (2011) is a remake to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.  Once again, Catie was educating me on an older movie that I wasn’t familiar with (travesty, I know).

After renting Straw Dogs (2011) via my favorite vending machine (Redbox), I contacted Catie again.  Following a brief conversation, we decided to team up and provide a review of the original movie and the remake.

Hollywood always seems to remake movies, almost to the point to where we might think all originality is gone.  But I like to think that it is because there are so many great older films that the newer generations aren’t familiar with, and the remake introduces them to the story.

The general definition of the term straw dog means something that is made to only be knocked down, or when someone is referring to raping or pillaging someone.

In Catie’s post, she mentioned the Chinese tradition of using straw dogs (dolls) as sacrifices.  According to the Tao Te Ching, a straw dog was dressed up and honored at the altar only to be discarded in the streets at the end of the ceremony.

Honestly, all three of these explanations are applicable in the 2011 remake by Rod Lurie.

The movie follows David Sumner (Marsden) and his wife, Amy (Bosworth), as they return to her small hometown in Mississippi.  The young couple recently inherits her family home following her father’s death, and David feels the wide open space and the peace and quiet will be exactly what he needs to finish his current movie script.

They’re not in town long before David meets the town’s characters, including: Amy’s former classmate and ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner (Skarsgard); the previous high school football coach (Emmy winning and Academy Award nominated actor, James Woods) and his teenage daughter (Willa Holland, The O.C.);   Daniel Niles (Walton Goggins, Boyd Crowder from Justified) and his mentally handicapped brother, Jeremy (Dominic Purcell, Prison Break); and Charlie’s “boys” – Norman (Rhys Coiro, Entourage), Chris (Billy Lush, The Black Donnellys), and Bic (Drew Powell, Leverage).

Trying to win over the home crowd, David hires Charlie and his “boys” to fix the barn’s roof across from the couple’s new home.  The “boys” take advantage of the situation by showing up for work according to their own schedule and working only a few hours per day.  Matters intensify as the “boys” taunt David, making Amy feel she’s married to a coward, and they constantly gawk at Amy and her short shorts and braless breasts (although flashing her bare breasts while the “boys” are working doesn’t help the situation).

One thing leads to another, and before we know it the Sumner family pet is murdered, Amy is brutally attacked, and David snaps.

Everyone has a breaking point (the logline for the 2011 remake).

To what extent will Charlie's "Boys" follow the leader?

The closing scenes of Straw Dogs reminds me of one of my favorite all-time movies (Fear starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Peterson) when the “boys” and their coach viciously attack the impenetrable Sumner home from the outside, while the Sumners (particularly David) put up the fight of their lives protecting one another and distraught Jeremy, who sits in the corner rocking back and forth yelling over the commotion trying to ease himself.

Sounds like Fear, doesn’t it?

In her blog post reviewing the 1971 movie, Catie writes “the tension is like a character in the film.”  That’s also true of the 2011 version, but probably the largest similarity between the two Straw Dogs is the ambiguity of the stories – we don’t get a ton of answers.

We never know the story behind Amy and Charlie, other than it seems extremely awkward when she returns.  We never know who murders the Sumner pet; we only assume it’s one of the “boys” at Charlie’s orders.  We never know why the former football coach’s teenage daughter continuously bates poor Jeremy, knowing that her father will kill the poor boy the next time he catches Jeremy near her.

Mainly, we just never know many things behind the why.

But we do know that the so-called coward transforms into a hero at the end, and all the straw dogs are knocked down.

“He’s got some man in him after all.”

What do you think?  Have you seen the original 1971 Straw Dogs film or 2011 remake?  Were you satisfied or left wishing for a bit more? Is there a remake that you feel is actually better than the original?  I’d love to hear from you.

Be sure and click over to Catie’s review if you haven’t already!

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