Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review! Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different classic from the Nerdosphere. This week Dave and Patrick review the 1987’s Thanksgiving classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!
The Flick: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
What’s it About: Neal Page just wants to get home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. Unfortunately, his flight home is cancelled and he has to find other means of transportation home. Enter shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith who through a series of random events continuously encounters and joins Neal on his attempts to get home.
Metacritic Score: 74
The Nerds’ Take on Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987):
Dave: While Christmas has an over-abundance of movies synonymous with the Holiday season, when it comes to Thanksgiving, there really is just one movie that stands out above all others: John Hughes’s 1987 classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Not even a global pandemic that has swallowed up 2020 can stop Thanksgiving. It is only fitting then that we review this masterpiece for this Thanksgiving.
Full disclosure: Out of the many John Hughes films out there, this is not my favorite…but it is up there. The movie tells the story of Neal Page, a marketing executive trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving. Neal is at a meeting in New York and is wanting to get back to Chicago. As he scrambles to get to NYC’s La Guardia airport, he has a brief run in with shower curtain sing salesman Del Griffith when Del snatches Neal’s taxi cab, unintentionally. This is the genesis of the relationship between Neal and Del and the movie is one hilarious mishap after another, a touchstone in many Hughes films. First, the flight cannot make it to Chicago due to severe weather and it gets re-routed to Wichita. Del and Neal share a hotel room together, which leads to one of the most iconic scenes of the movie (“Those aren’t pillows”). They end up on a train bound for Chicago, but the train breaks down. A bus gets them to St. Louis and Neal wants to rent a car to get the rest of the way to Chicago. That goes predictably wrong as well. Neal and Del will eventually make it to Chicago a couple of days late.
Now, that brief description does not do the movie justice, not by a long shot. There are so many unforgettable moments in this movie, from Neal verbally tearing Del down in the hotel room, to Neal unleashing an F-bomb laden tirade on the girl working the counter at the rental car facility, to Del’s mishaps with the rental car…it is all done so very well. The main reason for that is because of the two stars, Steve Martin who plays Neal and the equally magnificent John Candy, who plays Del. These two characters could not be more different from each other. Neal is very uptight and high-strung, which is a role that Martin has absolutely mastered over the years. Del, on the other hand, has a good heart but is just supremely annoying, a role that Candy crushed many times as well during his cut-short life and career. It is the dynamics of this relationship that make the movie work so well.
In fact, it is the evolution of Neal and Del’s relationship which really help this movie stand out. Neal goes from pretty much despising Del to, by movie’s end, not only liking Del but welcoming him into his own family. Neal’s humanity towards Del at the end, once he realizes a rather sad truth about Del’s life, is the sort of heartwarming moment that showed that there was more to John Hughes’s humor than the teen comedies he had come to be known for up until this time (think Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller, Pretty in Pink, etc.). It was a trend Hughes would continue for the next couple of years with movies like She’s Having a Baby (including a cameo by Kevin Bacon in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, as well as dialogue from She’s Having A Baby, even though it would not come out until nearly a year later), The Great Outdoors and Uncle Buck (two more great John Candy films), and an arguably even better Holiday Classic in Christmas Vacation. But, Planes, Trains & Automobiles was a big step forward in showing Hughes’s range as a director and filmmaker.
The film was a critical and financial success and the chemistry between Martin and Candy was unmistakable. It is the quintessential Thanksgiving classic and deserves to be every bit as part of any Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, stuffing, football, or pumpkin pie.
Dave’s Rating: 4.5/5
Patrick: There really was only one film we Nerds could review for Thanksgiving week, right? There was just no way we could caver any movie other than the John Hughes’ classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It is THE movie that focuses on the Thanksgiving holiday. When we reviewed the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, I focused on how relatable the experience of a stressful family roadtrip can be. Planes is no different as the audience is treated to the odyssey of trying to get home for the holidays.
We follow the travels of Neal Page, who has been out of town in New York on business, looking to get home to his family in Chicago. As he makes his way to the airport, Neal keeps crossing paths with a man who seemingly is getting the best of Neal’s attempts to even reach the airport. When he finally catches his flight, he meets a boisterous shower curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith. Neal and Del are on the same flight to Chicago but a snowstorm reroutes the plane to Wichita, Kansas. At every turn, as Neal tries to find ways to get home he inevitably finds himself travelling in the company of Del. Del’s bombastic personality progressively drives Neal up a wall as the obstacles to Chicago increase.
I mentioned Vacation as a comparable film in my opening paragraph and that is no accident. John Hughes was one of the writers of Vacation, and for Planes he both wrote and directed the flick. Hughes is very adept at taking the mundane annoyances of life and magnifying them in hilarious ways. From flight cancellations or having your seat bumped to losing out on a rental car, Hughes captures the horrors of travel. And who among us hasn’t found themselves traveling next to that annoying seat neighbor on a plane? For us though, our experience ends when the plane lands, the bus stops, etc. Not for Neal. Del is with him for every stop on the journey. Of course, as with most John Hughes films, by the time we reach journey’s end a bond has been formed and both Del and Neal see each other in a new light.
The script is great, and Hughes found the perfect two actors to carry the film. Steve Martin plays Neal so well. You can feel his frustration and desperation grow with every mishap on the road. The great John Candy dives into that larger-than-life character he made famous in so many other roles toad to Neal’s stress. As the tension between the two grows, you just know Neal, will break down and lose his mind on Del. When he finally does, Martin brings all of that frustration to bear terrifically. Planes has so many memorable scenes carried by Martin and Candy. Most immediately remember the hotel scene (those aren’t pillows!!!!) For my money, I love the scene where Neal loses his mind on the car rental sales rep played by Edie McClurg (look her up, you know who she is). Martin delivers every f-bomb with an ever-increasing punch of rage before McClurg gets the last word it’s great.
Planes Trains and Automobiles is a film that speaks to anyone whose had travel issues over the holidays. As someone with family halfway across the country, I have been there when the plans go awry. I’m just glad I never faced Neal’s struggles. This is classic movie and one to watch anytime, not just Thanksgiving. Definitely worth your time
Patrick’s Rating: 4.75/5
Overall Nerds Rating for Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987): 4.6/5
BWN Nerds’ Movie Review: WarGames (1983)
The Nerds tackle WarGames! The movie from 1983, not the wrestling match. Global Thermonuclear War sounds like a fun game! Right?
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review! Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different classic from the Nerdosphere. This week Dave and Patrick review 1983’s classic WarGames!
The Flick: WarGames
What’s it About: Underachiever David Lightman has no interest in school, but loves the world of computers. When David finds a backdoor into a computer system named Joshua filled with interesting games. David thinks he’s stumbled onto a fun distraction and chooses to start a game called “Global Thermonuclear War”. What David doesn’t know is that his discovery is much more dangerous than he could ever imagine.
Metacritic Score: 77
The Nerds’ Take on WarGames (1983):
Patrick: “Would you like to play a game?” That’s the question asked of David Lightman when he stumbles into the computer system of an unknown game company in the 1983 film War Games. What follows is a film that introduced many audiences to the concept of computer hacking, pushed the noton of artificial intelligence and tapped into the public’s fears of a Nuclear War with Russia during the Cold War. Loaded with tension, WarGames holds its audience throughout with a climactic scene that is as visually stunning as it is intense.
David Lightman is a bright, but underachieving teenager more interested in his computer than he is at achieving academically. David has learned how to use his modem to find his way into various computer systems (including his school’s system) and looking for ways to manipulate things to his benefit. One day after purposely being sent to the principal’s office so he can steal some passwords, David encounters his classmate Jennifer who takes an interest in David and his skill with the computer. One David learns of a game company on the verge of releasing some new games and decides to try and break into their system and play the new games before they are released. While searching for a way into these various systems, David’s computer comes across a system he can’t seem to enter. Intrigued, David discovers a “back door” into the system, where he comes across various innocuous game titles…and one called “Global Thermonuclear War.” David, thrilled to have a new game to play, starts a round as Russia and immediately launches an attack on the United States. Miles away at NORAD, David’s game registers as a legitimate attack from Russia and the military personnel begin to launch a response. Fortunately, a technician figures out it is a simulation and convinces the military to stand down.
After the incident is resolved, the Government eventually tracks down David and brings him in for questioning. While in custody, David discovers that the computer, now known as Joshua, is still playing the game David and the Government thought was stopped. The computer continues to escalate and execute its strategies, resulting in the United States and Russia gearing up for an attack and retaliation. David, realizing something must be done to stop Joshua, seeks out the computer’s original programmer to try and stop the computer from launching World War 3.
War Games is a fascinating window into the fears and uncertainties of its time. Computers were still relatively novel in the consciousness of the American people and the idea that one could be infiltrated and possibly cause a world war was terrifying. Complicated by the tensions between Russia and the United States, War Games is adept putting the audience on edge. Given the film is nearly 40 years old (YIKES!), things naturally extraordinarily dated. Younger viewers will undoubtedly be curious as to what a modem is and why people are putting quarters into a phone to use it. But for its time, the technology is cutting edge. Nowadays the idea of hacking is commonplace. One scene that has aged well, though is the final scene in the heart of NORAD. In an effort to show the computer Joshua the futility of war, David forces the game to play itself. As it does so, all of these oversized monitors start running simulations. The audience is assaulted with a dazzling display of light and color that even today is still quite powerful.
The movie’s cast is carried by young Matthew Broderick, still three years away from his turn as Ferris Bueller. Broderick does really, really well playing a kid in waaaaay over his head, desperately trying to convince hardened federal agents he is not a spy. Years before her turn in the Breakfast Club, Ally Sheedy plays Jennifer. The great Dabny Coleman plays head programmer McKittrick. In true Coleman fashion, he plays the role of slimy asshole better than anyone. My favorite cast member though is the great Barry Corbin in the role of General Beringer. Corbin goes from exasperated to stoic at the turn of a dime. When the threat ultimately passes (38 year spoiler alert) he nearly melts into his seat with relief and the audience can feel the tension leave him.
I have a soft spot in my heart for War Games. While much of the movie is dated by today’s standards, it was far ahead of its time in its portrayal of the act of hacking. While it would be lovely to think that the World is nowhere near a third World War, it seems we may be as close as ever. WarGames ends with a great sense of relief in a war avoided, but it also shows how fragile maintaining a peace can be. While I don’t think the path to such a conflict would necessarily happen the way it did in WarGames, the threat is sadly still very much a reality. Watch this movie for the nostalgia, the dated technology, the strong cast and its dynamite finally. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but WarGames still has some punch.
Patrick’s Rating: 3.78/5.0
Dave As a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C in 1983, WarGames hit home on many levels. This was a time when the Cold War was still very hot and living at Ground Zero, we were all keenly aware of the very real threat of nuclear Armageddon that hung over humanity on a disturbingly regular basis. WarGames played upon this reality as well as any movie of its era and it is still one of my absolute favorites.
The general plot of WarGames revolves around the idea that when faced with the reality of turning a key and ending the lives of millions of other humans, the humans in the silos might not have the stomach to press that proverbial button. So, the US Government decides to remove the men from the loop and have a computer, the W.O.P.R., be completely in charge of the USA’s nuclear response in the event of a nuclear strike from the USSR. Meanwhile, David Lightman, a high school genius of sorts and computer wizard at the dawn of home computer technology, is busy using his computer knowledge to change his biology grades and avoid summer school. He gets wind of a new lineup of games from a company called Protovision and he decides to try and find the Protovision computer so he can, in essence, hack into it and play those games before anyone else can. Instead, he stumbles across a remote connection to the W.O.P.R machine and learns all about the man who developed it, Professor Stephen Falken. Using a password that Professor Falken created as a backdoor to W.O.P.R., David gets into the Defense Department’s computer system and decides to play a game called Global Thermonuclear War. The problem is that the game is not a game at all and the aspect of W.O.P.R. that has learning capabilities, also known as Joshua, conducts such a convincing simulation that it convinces the military that the simulation is real. This leads the world to the brink of World War III and a race against time as David and his girlfriend, Jennifer, try to convince Professor Falken to let the military know what is really going on before it is too late.
The movie has an awesome cast, led by a very young Matthew Broderick who plays David Lightman, an equally young Ally Sheedy who plays Jennifer, John Wood as Professor Falken, Dabney Coleman as Dr. McKittrick, and a host of others you will immediately recognize. Everyone works together seamlessly and almost perfectly. While the move almost certainly takes some liberties with the reality of the situation had it actually been presented, WarGames does a fantastic job, especially the last 30 minutes, of taking you inside the control room at NORAD as Joshua displays on its screens an overwhelming Soviet nuclear strike. The tension gets ratcheted up as General Beringer orders the system to DEFCON 1 as some 2400 Soviet ICBMs are being tracked. When David, Jennifer, and Professor Falken show up at NORAD and convince the brass that everything is just a simulation, everything seems to be OK…. until Joshua tries to access the launch codes on its own to launch the US missiles and complete the game.
WarGames has so much good stuff going on. It deals with early concepts of things that are commonplace now, such as the beginnings of what would eventually become the Internet, hacking, and AI. The idea of a computer being able to learn may not seem so far-fetched now but in 1983, it was all rather ground-breaking. Lost amidst everything however, the most important lesson to learn about nuclear war is: The only winning move is not to play. Clearly, the movie means something very different to me than it will to those who did not grow up in the 1980’s prior to the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block. It came out at a time when many people either believed that a nuclear war could be won or, in the alternative, that acceptable losses could exist in any such apocalyptic event. WarGames hammered home the senselessness of any such belief and instilled in many of us the hope that those in charge would never knowingly order the annihilation of the human race. Thankfully, some 38 years later, no one has made the mistake of challenging that belief.
It also is worth mentioning that this movie could, and possibly should, be watched with another 1983 movie, albeit one made for TV, The Day After. Where WarGames showed the logic of avoiding nuclear war entirely, The Day After showed the other side of the coin, about how a nuclear war could start, the catastrophic results of the war, and what happens the day after. WarGames was hopeful; The Day After was hopeless. Still, for anyone who wants to get a good idea of how things were in the early 1980’s watch those two movies back-to-back and you will learn a great deal of what you need to know. As for WarGames though, it remains one of my all-time favorites from the 1980’s. No East German judge here guys.
Dave’s Rating: 5/5
Nerds’ Rating for WarGames (1983): 4.39/5.0
Bandwagon Nerds #62 – WandaVision is Here!
The Nerds review the debut of WandaVision, discuss some casting news in the MCU, and break down Netflix’s announcement to release one new movie a week for 2021
WandaVision debuted this week on Disney Plus and the Nerds are excited and have tons of questions. Patrick, Dave and PC Tunney try and decipher what is happening with Wanda, find MCU Eater Eggs, and who is pulling all of the strings? A couple of casting tidbits have the Nerds intrigued although one rumor may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Ray Fisher/DC story finds another twist. And the nerds react to Netflix’s announcement that they will release one movie a week in 2021. Finally, the Nerds recognize two icon celebrating birthdays.
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Join Patrick O’Dowd, David Ungar, and a rotating cast of guests as they keep everyone up on all things nerd, and maybe add some new nerds along the way. It’s the Bandwagon Nerds Podcast!
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