Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.
Jesse and Chester (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) wake up with no memory of their wild antics the night before: "Boy we were so wasted!" Walking out their front door they discover an empty space: "Dude where's my car?" So begins the odyssey that is piecing together the strange events of the night before and finding their vehicle so that they can a) retrieve the anniversary gifts they bought for their twin girlfriends b) make peace for destroying their house and quite possibly c) save the universe.
Clueless energetic and amiable Kutcher ("That '70s Show") and Scott ("American Pie " "Road Trip") are charismatic and fun as the dopey duo. They have some good onscreen chemistry work hard to keep their spirits high and are clearly having fun. Kutcher has a definite future on the big screen and if his choices remain consistent Scott might go down in film history as the only actor to have a stoned dog in almost every one of his movies. Also to liven things up there are some amusing cameos by Brent Spiner Andy Dick Kristy Swanson and a flock of ostriches.
Clearly students of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High " "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure " "The Big Lebowski " "Galaxy Quest " "Revenge of the Nerds " "Monty Python and the Holy Grail " "The Pink Panther " "Jurassic Park " "Men in Black " and "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman " screenwriter Philip Stark and director Danny Leiner manage to throw in one or two original ideas amid the good-natured fun and chaos. Honorable mention goes to Leiner for never actually showing our two heroes lighting up or dropping anything psychedelic during the course of the film.
Top Story: Teri Hatcher Splits From Hubby
Actress Teri Hatcher has filed for divorce from her husband of nearly nine years, actor Jon Tenney, Reuters reports. According to court papers, Hatcher, 38, cited irreconcilable differences for ending her marriage to Tenney, 41. The couple has agreed to share custody of their 5-year-old daughter, who will live with Hatcher. The actress is best known for her role as Lois Lane in the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1993 to 1997. Tenney's screen credits include You Can Count On Me, Fools Rush In, Beverly Hills Cop III and the short-lived CBS cop series Brooklyn South.
Aguilera Fit for Versace
Raunchy pop singer Christina Aguilera is set to become the new face of Italian label Versace. Donatella Versace told Reuters her new outfits were inspired by Aguilera's singing and dancing. (The Italian designer said exactly the same of Britney Spears, who was guest of honor at the spring/summer collection show) "I watch the videos of Christina and I always die," Versace said. Not only has Aguilera moved into Spears' front-row seat at Versace, she will also be co-headlining a summer concert tour, Justified and Stripped, with Spears' ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake.
Cher Victim of Wig Larceny
Cher's production company has reported that a wig valued at $8-10,000 was stolen from the singer's collection of faux tresses during a Feb. 25 concert stop in Richmond, Virginia. Cher took off the wig, described as a braided half-black and half-teal number, after singing "All Or Nothing" and put it in a room where her other wigs were stored, police spokeswoman Christie Collins told Reuters. Larry W. Wilson Jr., general manager of the Richmond Coliseum, said, "We're still not 100 percent sure the wig was stolen out of our facility."
Son of "The Pianist" Releases Father's Songs
Andrzej Szpilman, whose father Wladyslaw Szpilman is the focus of Roman Polanski's Oscar-nominated film The Pianist, has spearheaded an album of his father's love songs, pop classics in Poland from the 1940s and 1950s, titled Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist--Wladyslaw Szpilman, Reuters reports. Famous in prewar Poland for his film scores and popular songs, Wladyslaw Szpilman performed Polish radio's last live music broadcast on Sept. 23, 1939, as German shells knocked out the station's power. When Radio Warsaw resumed broadcasting in 1945, it picked up exactly where it left off--with Szpilman playing the same Chopin nocturne he performed in 1939. He wrote his story down following the war, and it was published in 1946. The memoir was then banned by communist authorities and forgotten until it was reissued, due to his son's insistence, shortly before Wladyslaw Szpilman's death in 2000.
Role Call: Julianne Moore; Ashley Judd; Scary Movie 3; Molly Shannon
Variety reports...Double Oscar nominee Julianne Moore has signed on to star in the supernatural thriller The Forgotten for Columbia Pictures, with Return to Paradise helmer Joseph Ruben set to direct. Moore will play a grieving mother coping with the loss of her 8-year-old son when she is told by her psychiatrist that she created eight years of memories of a son she never had. Ashley Judd is negotiating to join Kevin Kline in De-Lovely, the Cole Porter biopic that Irwin Winkler is directing for United Artists. The pic will shoot in London starting May 5, giving Judd time to make the film and be back to begin rehearsals to play Maggie the Cat in a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Old School's Jeremy Piven will join Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards in the third installment of Dimension Films' horror-spoof franchise Scary Movie 3. The studio has set an Oct. 3 release date for the film, which begins shooting this month in Canada. Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon has inked a deal to star in Fox's primetime comedy pilot Cracking Up. She will star as the mother of a crazy Beverly Hills family that takes in a psychology grad student.
From the creators of the TNT miniseries Gettysburg including executive producer Ted Turner and writer/director Ronald F. Maxwell Gods chronicles the Civil War from its beginnings when the South rises up. Confederate General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall) a distinguished military man but also a loyal native Virginian chooses to fight for his home rather than his country while Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) a devoutly religious man becomes Lee's most trusted lieutenant. On the other side we have Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) a professor from Maine who ends up one of the Union's finest military leaders. In between there are glimpses of the wives and families left behind. Stories of this magnitude with their dramatic bloody battles and tragic endings usually leave you numb or crying for those lives lost and destroyed. Instead Gods and Generals holds no resonance whatsoever meticulously plotting out the details and making this decisive moment in American history interminable at three and a half hours. It's like wading through a textbook--or worse watching Civil War fanatics carefully reenact the famous battle scenes on the very ground they were fought over and over again--while the players stand around quoting long-winded verse from the Bible or Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Blech.
The actors in Gods and Generals must have honestly thought they were making something important when they signed up. Main players Lang (who played Major Gen. George Pickett in Gettysburg) and Daniels (who reprises his Gettysburg role as Chamberlain) have their moments but after hearing them recite one speech after another especially Lang's Jackson who says more prayers to God than anything else you start to wonder if they ever realized they made a mistake. (Or have we for sitting through it?) One of the more superfluous scenes is when Jackson and his black cook Jim played by Frankie Faison are standing outside in the freezing cold night for about 15 minutes both looking up at the stars and praying to God. It seems like the actors are trying to make such sermonizing poignant meaningful but all this pontification simply drags the movie further down. These speeches aren't just Lang's and Daniels' territory--Mira Sorvino as Chamberlain's wife and Kali Rocha as Jackson's wife get their own personal moments in the sun too. If you count the cast of thousands each with their own things to say well you get the point. Thankfully Duvall who is the only good thing about the movie gets to keep the talking to a minimum.
If you want to see a Civil War melodrama at its best where watching the heroes race through a sacked city makes you hold your breath and witnessing horrific hospital scenes makes you squirm then watch Gone With the Wind. If you want gut-wrenching Civil War battles or more understanding of how slaves truly felt then watch Glory. If you want a heartening history lesson about the Civil War that not only teaches you about the era's political machinations but also shares the insights and thoughts of the men and women who experienced it then watch Ken Burns' documentary series The Civil War. Gods and Generals offers none of that in its dry textbook version of the Civil War which uses the same shots are used over and over again (how many times does the camera pan up to the night sky or show the panoramic view of Fredericksburg Virginia? I lost count) features more actors waxing prophetic than real drama and actually makes you yawn during what should be intense battle scenes.