Life Lessons From Matthew Saracen

Life Lessons From Matthew Saracen

I just watched Friday Night Lights (FNL), and there are so many things you can praise.

Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) is more believable as a high school football coach than most guys who are actually standing on a sideline wearing a headset on Friday nights. Coach Taylor and his wife Tami (Connie Britton) provide one of the most honest portrayals of marriage ever put on screen. The show just feels authentic, from the settings to the stars to the supporting characters.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about FNL, though, lies in the relatability of Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), the show’s most honest (and perhaps TV’s most honest) character. Everybody can relate to him, young or old, married or unmarried, rich or poor.

Matt Saracen is a human speed bump.

I was going to describe him as a human punching bag, but Matt Saracen doesn’t just take a few blows here and there. Matt Saracen gets completely run over by life, repeatedly, and he continues to get back up, knowing full well he’s going to get flattened once again.

It doesn’t take long for the show to introduce us to this painfully awkward/shy backup quarterback of Dillon High School. From episode one, Matt is fighting to keep his head above water. Not only is he fighting to keep his head above water, he’s fighting to keep his head above water with large anchors attached to both of his legs. You see, Matt Saracen is dealt the seven-two offsuit of life circumstances. To say he’s fighting an uphill battle would be a dramatic understatement.

Matt’s mother is out of the picture. His father is serving the US Military in Iraq, leaving Matt, a 16-year-old, to care for his dementia-ridden grandmother while he navigates the confusing waters of high school alone.

As if this wasn’t enough stress, Matt works a job at the local burger joint on school nights around homework, football practice and making sure his grandmother doesn’t inadvertently do something to harm herself or others.

As if the unfair starting position wasn’t enough, life does everything it can to throw Matt off-track, beat him up or crush him entirely.

Matt is immediately forced into the starting QB job at Dillon High when Jason Street, a generational talent, is paralyzed in the first game of the season. Matt inherits the unfair, unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that come with the starting job in a football-obsessed Texas town. Every move Matt makes will now be compared to the Tom Brady of high school quarterbacks.

Matt was already trying not to drown on his own, but now he’s in a position where one small mistake on a Friday night means the entire city of Dillon is ready to hurl insults and help him drown a little faster. Within a few episodes, he is completely discouraged and gasping for air.

But Matt manages to get back on his feet with the help of Coach Taylor and his teammates, and against all of the odds, he’s able to grit and grind his way up the sheer cliff standing in front of him, despite getting beaten up metaphorically (and physically) along the way.

Matt manages to keep everything going fairly well with his grandmother (with the occasional hiccup along the way). He handles problems at home when they arise and manages to navigate the ups and downs of dating Coach Taylor’s daughter.

And somehow, Matt is able to do just enough on Friday nights to help the Dillon Panthers keep winning football games.

Ultimately, Matt’s determination and perspiration lead Dillon to a state championship in dramatic fashion. It’s not easy, and it’s not always pretty along the way, but Matt reaches the mountaintop of high school sporting accomplishments.

This trend continues for five seasons. Life repeatedly runs over Matt with the force of a thousand double decker buses.

His girlfriend leaves him for “a better guy.” Coach Taylor takes a college job, leaving Matt feeling betrayed. Despite all his accomplishments, he loses his starting job to a freshman phenom. His father dies after stepping on an IED. His grandmother guilts him into staying home instead of going to school. I could go on, but you get the picture.

There are very few characters who remind us life is hard and messy and unfair like Matt.

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We may not have as bad of a hand as Matt started out with (or maybe it’s worse, I have no idea what your story is), but we’re all going to be pulverized by life in certain seasons. That’s just a guarantee. At some point, things will get tough. Death of a loved one. Lost job. Bad breakup. Disease. Severe injury.

We can all relate to Matt in this way.

The most important thing about Matt is that he always manages to get off the ground after taking what seems like a knockout blow. Sometimes it takes him longer to get up; sometimes it’s with the help of others. No matter what the circumstances are, Matt always gets up.

When life gets hard, Matt works harder to keep going than life does to stop him. Matt may sulk for a brief period, but the trend we see with Matt more often than not is that when life hits him head on, he picks himself up (sometimes with the help of others), dusts himself off and starts putting one foot in front of the other.

This is where we can learn from Matt.

Life is hard. Life is messy. Life is not fair. You can live with your head on a swivel, but even having the range of motion of an owl won’t stop you from getting blindsided by life at some point. Life does not care if you had the odds stacked against you from the get-go or if you were dealt the perfect hand. At some point, life is going to hit you, and it’s going to hit you hard.

The next time I’m sitting squarely on my butt, I want to be like Matt Saracen and get up, knowing I could be knocked back down almost immediately.

Life is too short to spend a prolonged period sulking. We’re going to get hit. We’re going to get knocked down. We’re all going to spend time in the valleys of life. But much like Matt Saracen, I want us all to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get moving in order to reach the top of the mountain from time-to-time.


The Winds of Winter (*Spoilers*)

The good people over at “Game of Thrones” just produced what might be the single greatest episode in the history of television.

Like ever.

Let that sink in for a second.

Seriously, if I’ve seen something definitively better than what I saw Sunday night, it must be slipping my mind.

Now I know we like to drop hyperbolic, emotionally-charged, lava takes online (as is tradition). That’s why I took a night to sleep on this notion, but I woke up and still feel the same way. Hell, I could probably hibernate and it still wouldn’t change how I feel because what I witnessed Sunday night, ladies and gentlemen, was greatness.

And we were all witnesses.

I’m not talking about an episode of television where you text your friend something like, “Hey bro, what’d you think of that?” I’m talking about an episode of television where you text your friends who don’t even watch the show the following message:


The Winds of Winter gave us an absolutely perfect opening in King’s Landing.

Most of our characters (Tommen, Margaery, the High Sparrow, Loras, Cersei, etc.) are prepping for perhaps the biggest trial of all time. If this was sports related, ESPN would be doing an 11-part 30 for 30 (eat your heart out, OJ).

I already knew Cersei was up to something, but as Ramin Djawadi’s magnificent score started to take up a larger portion of real estate in my head, I realized this was turning into something I shouldn’t even consider checking my phone while viewing.

When everybody arrived at the Great Sept of Baelor, one prominent face, Cersei’s, was noticeably missing, and those haunting piano notes playing in the background seemed to get about 10 decibels louder.

As a child led Lancel Lannister away from the sept and into the bowels of King’s Landing to stab him/troll him, my jaw dropped.


As the candles on top of the spilled wildfire slowly burned with Lancel desperately crawling across the floor to try to put them out, I was so far on the edge of my seat that I nearly fell forward onto my face.

They built the tension perfectly. It was palpable by the time Big Bang 2.0 was seconds from happening. When those beautiful green flames ripped through the underworld of King’s Landing and up through the sept, my already dropped jaw came dangerously close to falling all the way to the floor.

I’m not sure, but it might have been the first breath I took since the Main Title played.

As if the sweet, sweet carnage wasn’t enough, we got a wonderful shot of Cersei watching the chaos from the distance.

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Cool guys don’t look at explosions, but you better believe that a badass, scorned, vindictive woman is going to watch (and enjoy) while sipping her wine as the massive fireball engulfs all the people who wronged her.

And to top it all off in the capital, we saw Tommen take a leaf out of Denholm Reynholm’s book by deciding “I’ve had enough. I’m just going to jump out of this window real quick.”

Although the 25(ish) minute opening in King’s Landing was the highlight of this entire season (and perhaps the entire show), IT WASN’T EVEN HALF OF THE EPISODE.

We saw Lyanna Mormont continue to be awesome (LYANNA FOR THE IRON THRONE) by declaring Jon Snow her “king from this day until his last day.” We watched a girl slit Argus Filch’s throat to get sweet, sweet revenge. Oh, and she did this after murdering his two sons and baking them into a pie she served him. WHAAAAAAAT!?!?!?

Oh, and The Mother of Dragons and Co. are on wooden horses sailing across The Black Salt Sea.

Samwell Tarly even got to see a down-on-his-luck Jamie Vardy!


Hey, not even the brief detour to Dorne could derail this brilliant installment!

I don’t know what’s coming next, but if it gets better than what we just saw, we are in for the biggest treat imaginable. Winds of Winter is easily the Ozymandias, the Who Goes There or the Pilot of “Lost” in the “Game of Thrones” Universe. It’s a reminder of why we love this show and why we love shows in general.

I’ve watched 60 episodes of “Game of Thrones” in the last month, and The Winds of Winter made rushing through the other 59 episodes well worth my time.

Can Season 7 start tomorrow?

Jack’s Academy Awards

I know you’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, so I’m finally releasing my awards for the last year. Before we start, I would like to point out that these are not predictions. These are how I would honor my nominees I published in my previous post. You can see my actual predictions for tonight on my Facebook page or on my Twitter feed (@_jack_woods). Without further ado, let’s get started.

Best Picture:

Ex Machina


George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Actor:

Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Actress:

Brie Larson (Room)

Supporting Actor:

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight)

Supporting Actress:

Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Original Screenplay:

Inside Out

Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short


Roger Deakins (Sicario)

Visual Effects:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Editing:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Film Editing:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Costume Design:



Mad Max: Fury Road

Animated Feature:

Inside Out

Original Score:

Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

Jack’s Academy Awards nominations

Every year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gets it wrong with the Academy Awards nominations. This year is no different. So why look at the flawed list formulated by rich, old white people when you can look at a list compiled by some random 22-year-old from Ruston, Louisiana?

Without further ado, here are my nominees for the major categories:

Best Picture


Mad Max: Fury Road


Ex Machina

Inside Out


George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Best Actor

Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Steve Carell (The Big Short)

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

Abraham Attah (Beasts Of No Nation)

Best Actress

Brie Larson (Room)

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Emily Blunt (Sicario)

Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Supporting Actor

Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Benicio Del Toro (Sicario)

Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton)

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight)

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Joan Allen (Room)

Rooney Mara (Carol)

Original Screenplay


Inside Out

Ex Machina

Straight Outta Compton


Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short



Steve Jobs

The Martian



The Revenant

Mad Max: Fury Road


The Hateful Eight

The curious case of Leonardo DiCaprio


January conversations always involve two things: Doomed-to-fail New Year’s Resolutions and “Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win his “long overdue” Oscar?”

I don’t mind the ridiculous resolution talk. I like the idea of people trying to make positive changes.

And I like Leo, even if he overacts at times. He’s one of the most talented individuals in Hollywood, and nearly every movie he’s starred in has been well above average (let’s pretend Romeo + Juliet doesn’t exist). In fact, many of the films he’s attached to have been downright fantastic.

But don’t let personal feelings cloud sound judgment. DiCaprio doesn’t have an Oscar because he’s never deserved one. Seriously, Best Actor isn’t a lifetime achievement award. What year and what role did Leo deserve to win for? I’ll wait.

Actually, let me run through some of DiCaprio’s most famous roles.

I’ll start in 1994 with his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Leo was nominated, but lost to Tommy Lee Jones, who gave one of my favorite performances of all time in The Fugitive. Even if you believe Jones didn’t “deserve” that Oscar, Leo wasn’t the man who got snubbed. That award should have belonged to Ralph Fiennes for his scary portrayal of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.

Leo got no love for Titanic. Did he even deserve a nomination? Remember, he didn’t get a nomination for Gangs of New York or Catch Me If You Can. Even if he deserved to be on the ballot that year, do you really think he deserved to win over Adrien Brody for The Pianist?

Let’s be real.

In 2005, Leo was fantastic in The Aviator. He came second best to Jamie Foxx (Ray) who was nominated in both categories. My vote would’ve gone to Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda.

Blood Diamond was extremely forgettable, and Leo’s attempt at a South African accent didn’t help. In 2009 when the field was stacked, he had a 0% chance to win in 2009 for Revolutionary Road

Inception? LOL. J. Edgar? Come on. Wolf of Wall Street over Matthew McCongaughey’s Dallas Buyers’ Club performance? Get out.

DiCaprio always delivers solid performances, but he hasn’t had one that transcends everyone else in the category he’s competing in. In short, he doesn’t have an Oscar because he hasn’t deserved one.

When Leo has been nominated 12 times and has failed to bring home a statue like legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, then we can talk about Academy injustice.

That brings us to this year. DiCaprio will certainly be nominated for his work on The Revenant. In my mind, this will be the first year DiCaprio has a legitimate gripe if he loses. He’s the so-called frontrunner and the category is fairly weak compared to most years.

I personally preferred Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs and Steve Carell’s work in The Big Short, but there isn’t a clear winner in my mind like there is most years.

I don’t know what will happen when the envelope is opened. Does the Academy love watching a severely injured man crawl through the snow for two hours? Leo can start writing his speech now if the answer to that question is “yes.”

So if Leo finally gets to take home the famous statue, please spare me the “it was long overdue talk.”



The Good Dinosaur


The Good Dinosaur is a flawed but entertaining voyage-and-return tale suitable for both children and adults. More than anything, it’s a testament to just how damn good the people at Pixar Animation St
udios are at their jobs. Although the studio’s latest effort might not rank with its top-tier releases, it is a fun movie well worth the price of admission. Despite narrative shortcomings, I left the theater satisfied, my heart full and eyes teary.

The story centers around Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), a young apatosaurus born into a family of farming dinosaurs. His Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) find their other kids Buck (Marcus Scribner) and Libby (Maleah Nipay-Pedilla) useful around the farm, but Arlo, a timid runt, often botches small tasks due to his crippling fear of… well… everything.

Arlo is desperate to overcome his fears so he can good-dinosaur-poster“make his mark” and become a valuable member of the family, but he just can’t seem to bring himself to face the things that terrify him most.

But when a tragic stroke of misfortune takes Arlo into the wilderness, well beyond the safety of his farm, he has no choice but to grow up quickly in order to survive. He befriends a caveboy he dubs Spot (Jack Bright), and the two misfits begin a long, harrowing journey to get Arlo home.

There’s plenty of excitement along the way. Pterodactyls and T-Rexes and the most unexpected drug trip in any movie ever made, oh my!

As with most Pixar movies, The Good Dinosaur boldly tackles and masterfully simplifies a complex issue. In this case, it’s a crash-course in how to deal with fear. Rather than sweep the idea of fear under the rug, it acknowledges we all have things of which we are afraid. It stresses the importance of not letting the things that scare us cripple us (by pretending they don’t exist).

The Good Dinosaur perfectly portrays the idea of family. You can feel the strong bonds between characters. It’s the interactions between Arlo’s family members that brought the biggest laughs and most tears. Those interactions made me want to go home and hug my loved ones tight (and perhaps drive my brother up the wall).

Every Pixar movie is visually striking, but The Good Dinosaur’s beautifully rendered landscapes were jaw-dropping. I was watching a photorealistic animated movie.


Considering nearly everyone originally slated to do voice work for the film had to be replaced, the vocal performances were spot on.

But for a film that preaches the importance of overcoming fear and being brave, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t take many risks. The narrative is fairly generic, and the plot is rather predictable. Perhaps the people at Pixar should’ve listened to their own advice about dealing with fear instead of playing it safe.

They could’ve made a good movie a great one.

Grade: B

1 Sentence Reviews

A sentence for each of the movies I’ve seen in 2015.

  • The Revenant: One of the best looking films to ever grace the big screen. B+
  • The Big Short: If you want to know how to effectively break the fourth wall, The Big Short serves as a perfect example. B+
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Although it didn’t take any chances, TFA was an enjoyable blast of nostalgia that set the stage perfectly for future films. B-
  • Room: Please give Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay all of the awards. A
  • Brooklyn: It would be easy to describe Brooklyn as a love triangle, but there’s a lot more at play. A-
  • The Night Before: Exactly what you’d expect from a Seth Rogen comedy: A movie that’s very funny… in parts. C
  • Spotlight: The best look at the journalism world since All The President’s Men. A
  • The Good Dinosaur: Not even close to Pixar’s best, but Pixar has set the bar pretty damn high. B
  • Creed: Ryan Coogler proves that Fruitvale Station was no fluke; the man can direct. B+
  • Spectre: An entertaining spectacle, just like any Bond movie should be. B
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2: A perfect example of why most books should not be split into two movies. C-
  • Steve Jobs: This perfectly paced film has a nearly flawless screenplay thanks to Aaron Sorkin. A-
  • The Martian: The best thing Ridley Scott/Matt Damon have been attached to in a long time. B
  • Sicario: A pulse-pounding film with superb performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, excellent camera work courtesy of Roger Deakins and a reminder of why Denis Villeneuve is one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. A
  • The Intern: Superb chemistry between Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway elevates an average film to an enjoyable level. B-
  • The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: A fun throwback to a different era of spy films. B-
  • Straight Outta Compton: A hard-hitting, perspective-providing, incredibly timely biopic; one of the year’s best. A
  • Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: Tom Cruise proves again that he is the greatest action star in Hollywood. B+
  • Ant-Man: Bigger doesn’t always mean better. B
  • Spy: Did Melissa McCarthy actually just star in the summer’s funniest movie? B+
  • Terminator Genisys: At least it’s not Terminator Salvation. C-
  • Dope: Three teens in way over their heads in a movie you just can’t hate. B
  • Inside Out: In the words of my mom: “Pixar should have counselors standing outside the theater for you to talk to”. A+
  • Me & Earl &The Dying Girl: An incredibly charming, emotional, coming-of-age indie film that could melt a heart of stone. B+
  • San Andreas: At least I got to see The Rock drive a boat over a tsunami? D
  • Jurassic World: Dinosaurs, dinosaurs, more dinosaurs and Chris Pratt. B-
  • Pitch Perfect 2: Not as sharp as the first, but still provides a fair amount laughs. C+
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Fury Road is everything an action movie should be… and so much more. A+
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron: It’s just another comic book movie… and that’s okay. B-
  • Furious 7: The ultimate popcorn movie featuring Kurt Russell IN NIGHT VISION AVIATORS. B-
  • While We’re Young: Noah Baumbach provides a fascinating look at aging. B
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: I’m thankful to live in a world where Colin Firth has become a badass. B+
  • Ex Machina: Alex Garland’s directorial debut provided us with one of the year’s best films; Ex Machina will age gracefully and have people talking for years to come. A+
  • Cinderella: For what was becoming a tired tale, Cinderella feels surprisingly fresh. B