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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?

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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


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BWN Nerds’ Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

The Nerds are back to a more normal format for this review! German Judge Patrcik O’Dowd returns to help Dave and guest reviewer Rey Cash on Kong: Skull Island (2017)!

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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 and, making his Nerd review debut, Rey Cash review 2017’s Kong: Skull Island!!

The Flick:  Kong: Skull Island

What’s it About:  A team of researchers receive a grant from the government in the wake of the Vietnam war to explore a mysterious island discovered in the Pacific Ocean.  Upon arrival to Skull Island, the team finds a lush paradise teeming with life…and a dangerous secret.

Metacritic Score: 62

The Nerds’ Take on Kong: Skull Island (2017):

Patrick:  Oh my, it is good to be back!  I hope you all missed me as much as I missed writing these reviews.  Last week, Dave kicked off our Kaiju run to Godzilla vs. Kong with his review of 2014’s Godzilla.  This week, we tackle the other half of the Kaiju showdown with a review of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island.  I gotta say, I picked the right movie for my triumphant return.

The first rule of any good Kaiju movie is that the human characters are completely secondary to the film itself.  The movie is all about the monsters.  Forty-Five minutes into the film, Kong: Skull Island completely embraces this philosophy.  The story follows a familiar arc to those familiar with the character.  In this iteration, a pair of “geologists” convince a senator to fund a research expedition to an uncharted island in the Pacific.  The pair secure their funding, a military escort, and hire a retired SAS agent to act as a guide.  Along the way, the group is joined by a photographer and a second research team.  Of course, upon the group’s arrival to the island it is revealed that the geologists are monster hunters who have been looking for proof that giant creatures exist.  And boy, do they ever.  As the team sets off seismic charges (explosives) disrupting the life on the island, Kong emerges and wipes out most of the team.  However, nothing is what it appears and as the survivors delve deeper into the island, they learn the truth behind Kong and Skull Island.

I am sure Dave will give a much more detailed plot description, so I’m just going to dive into the good.  Monster fights.  Loads and loads of monster fights.  Once we get past the ho-hum exposition of who the human characters are and get to the island, we get scene after scene of Kaiju attacking, roaring and dominating our senses.  The special effects are terrific, especially the work done to bring Kong to life.  He’ terrifying and for a CGI character really carries a commanding presence.  And then there are the monster battles.  Again, the special effects team really outdid themselves.  The climactic battle between Kong and the largest of the Skull Crawlers is truly epic in scope and feel.  My only regret is that I didn’t catch this movie on an IMAX screen.  I imagine the experience would have been even more magnificent than it was on my tiny television.

The cast is loaded with talent.  Tom Hiddleston plays Conrad, the former SAS operative hired as a guide for the team.  He’s clearly cinched in as the human protagonist and the rational member of the group.  Brie Larson plays an antiwar photographer Mason Weaver, in a role that can best be described as minimal.  She’s a part of the team, but outside being a sounding board for Conrad and the maiden to be rescued by Kong, she doesn’t do much else.  Samuel L. Jackson is cast as Colonel Preston Packard, the commanding officer of the US Military escort driven mad with a desire to stop at nothing to kill Kong.  A tropey character type for sure, but necessary.  For me though the performance of the film comes from John C. Reilly.  Reilly plays Marlow, a soldier who crash landed on the island during the 1940s, yet managed to survive by endearing himself to indigenous people on the island.  He provides the audience with much needed plot points regarding the island and, more importantly, the creatures therein.  Reilly’s Marlow is quirky, but not too funny, and very relatable as a man who just wants to go back home and have a hot dog.

I really, really enjoyed this iteration of the Kong Story.  As is typical for the character, Kong is the hero of the tail whereas man is the threat.  This idea is even more pronounced in this film as it is the expedition team’s destruction of the island prompts Kong’s hostilities.  While the human characters are the audience’s anchor to the story, Kong is the star.  This film was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.  Totally worth the two hour run time to watch.

Patrick’s Rating: 4.29/5.0

Dave After my somewhat tepid review of Godzilla last week, I went into this week’s assignment with somewhat low expectations. I had never seen Kong: Skull Island before and had heard mixed things about it. After watching it though, I can say this: It is a monstrous improvement over Godzilla (pun intended) and sets the stage for Legendary’s MonsterVerse much more effectively than Godzilla did.

Usually, I save a discussion of the cast for the end of these reviews. But for Kong: Skull Island, you almost have to address it at the beginning as it is the cast, and the chemistry they have, that sets this movie apart from Godzilla. There is a simple reason for that: We end up with a mini-MCU reunion here. Samuel L. Jackson plays Col. Packard, Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, and Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver. So, right off the bat, you have actors very familiar with each other (especially Jackson and Hiddleston from their portrayals as Nick Fury and Loki) and you can see how this familiarity translates into some exceptional performances that, to a certain extent, Godzilla lacked. Add in John Goodman and John C. Reilly and there was star power aplenty for this movie.

The premise of the movie is familiar to anyone who has been a King Kong fan at any point in their life. Bill Randa (Goodman) a high-ranking official with Monarch Corporation, with a lot of help from geologist Houston Brooks, convinces a US Senator (played by Richard Jenkins) to help fund an expedition to a strange island in the South Pacific, known as Skull Island. It is surrounded by a perpetual storm system, which has allowed it to elude discovery…. until now. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War is ending and Col. Packard is looking for one last assignment. He is asked to be the Military detail on Randa’s expedition to Skull Island. Conrad is hired on an as an expert tracker while Weaver comes aboard as a photographer. Once the group reaches Skull Island, they drop seismic charges to map out the island. This pisses off Kong, a 100-foot-tall ape (roughly 50 feet taller than he has been portrayed previously), who has his way with the helicopters and kills at least half of the men on those helicopters.

The survivors are spread across the island. Packard leads a group to try to get to the crash site of one of the helicopters that has weapons on board that he feels can kill Kong. Conrad and Weaver lead a different group and they stumble across the remnants of a civilization of indigenous people. Among them is Hank Marlow (Reilly). Marlow crashed on the island with a Japanese pilot named Gunpei at the very beginning of the movie and they encountered Kong. The two men were then stranded on the island for some 28 years, ever since the end of World War II. Without a war to fight, the two men become closer than brothers and are befriended by the people of Skull Island. Gunpei eventually dies leaving Marlow to only hope and pray for an eventual return to civilization. It is here that the usual Kong lore gets tilted quite a bit. Marlow explains that Kong is a god to the people and actually protects them from a subterranean race of reptilian creatures that he calls Skullcrawlers. Many of these Skullcrawlers killed off all of Kong’s species, save for him, and the natives believe that if Kong dies, an enormously large Skullcrawler that Marlow calls “The Big One” will emerge and threaten the entire planet.

This leads to some significant conflict between Packard, Conrad, Marlow, and Weaver. Packard is hell bent on killing Kong and, after the survivors are reunited, he tells them they have to go and find Chapman, one of his missing men. Chapman, meanwhile, has been devoured by a Skullcrawler. Packard leads the group into a mass grave where the skeletons of Kong’s species are located. Naturally, a pack of Skullcrawlers emerge and lay waste to much of the group. Packard remains undeterred to kill Kong but once the rest of the group learn his real intentions, they are not willing to follow. The groups split up again and Packard’s group is able to render Kong unconscious. But Conrad is able to intervene before Packard detonates explosives that will kill Kong. Unfortunately, all the activity attracts the attention of The Big One and this leads to a titanic showdown between Kong and The Big One. Based on the upcoming sequel, it is obvious who wins…. but it’s still a damn good throw down.

This movie does a lot of things right. It is fun, fast-paced, and does a great job of introducing just enough cool creatures to give Kong a good challenge without over whelming you with too many creatures. There are several characters you really care about and Jackson does a great job of making you genuinely dislike Packard, who gradually comes unhinged as the movie goes along. What I absolutely loved about the movie were the subtle tweaks it made to Kong lore. It took several well-established elements and gave them just enough of a fresh coat of paint to make the movie really stand out. This is most notable in two places. Weaver is the person who connects with Kong the most. But even though she is a female, her connection with Kong is not on the romantic or quasi-sexual nature that it was portrayed in the 1933 original, the 1976 remake, or even the 2005 reboot (a prime example of monster/creature over saturation). It is a subtle connection and it is done very well. Then there is Kong himself. In the 1933, 1976, and 2005 movies, Kong is always the misunderstood creature who dies in the end to protect the woman he loves. It is always heartbreaking, especially in 1976 and 2005. Here though, Legendary gave us what many of us wanted: Kong as the hero who survives and, obviously, lives to fight another day. I have always been a huge fan of the 1976 movie. Kong: Skull Island was almost as good.

It is, of course, not perfect. The Skullcrawlers were cool creatures, and a big step up from the MUTOs in Godzilla. But they are still not quite the perfect antagonist. Perhaps that was intentional as man has always been Kong’s most dangerous opponent. Still, something was missing from there a bit. There is some obvious romantic/sexual tension between Conrad and Weaver that never plays out that could have added an element to the story. And, similar to Bryan Cranston in Godzilla, John Goodman did not last nearly long enough. But these are really minor complaints. Kong: Skull Island is a very good movie and the true starting point for the MonsterVerse. Make sure you check out the post-credit scene that really sets the stage for Godzilla: King of the Monsters and introduces the concept that the planet has never been ours….and the monsters are about to retake it. More on that next week. As for Kong: Skull Island, this is how a reboot should be done and I highly recommend you check it out.

Dave’s Rating: 4.25/5

Rey’s Take:  As a younger guy, I’m not well versed on the history of King Kong movies.  I mean, I get it.  Big monkey in the wild scares small white people, and big monkey falls in love with cute white woman, then big monkey gets killed or captured trying to save white woman.  The story is very easy to digest and understand.  And that very reason is why I loved Kong: Skull Island.  It takes that ideal, the big monkey in the wild having an unnatural relationship with a white woman, but it flips it.  In this story, Kong is the good guy!  Kong is actually the hero!

Not only is Kong the hero, but there are actually 3 antagonists!  First off, there’s John Goodman’s government lackey Bill Randa.  Randa was so obsessed with finding Kong and the mysterious Skull Island, so much so that he knowingly put his people and the troops set to escort him in danger.  We’ve seen a number of movies where man meddling with science comes back to bite them, and this is no different.  Randa’s exuberance soon becomes his demise, as nobody was prepared for what they were dealing with.

Secondly, we have the monster antagonists of the movie – the Skullcrawlers.  As is such in a kaiju/monster movie, the beauty is in the destruction.  And oh, what glorious destruction there is between Kong and a number of giant reptilian monsters.  This fight is what leads us to find John C. Reilly’s fantastic character, Air Force Lieutenant Hank Marlow, who was stuck on Skull Island since 1944.  He’s the person that lets us know, along with the quiet and workmanlike Iwi tribe, that Kong is actually their protector and is the latest in a line of Titans that used to rule the Earth.  Important foreshadowing for a certain mega movie coming out soon, wink wink.

Finally, we have the best character in the whole movie.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard is a ball as the angry army lifer who isn’t ready to give up the life and is willing to die for his cause.  His beef with Kong isn’t even rooted in logic.  He just wants to kill something.  He just wants to continue to feel like a soldier.  He essentially just wants to do his job.  And the dichotomy his brigade has between following their leader and realizing what’s actually happening in front of them is just damn good movie viewing.

Most monster movies don’t have much heart.  Ultimately, they’re big blow up movies when it comes down to it.  This movie, however, has heart in spades.  Each character has defined character motivations.  Kong goes from being the destructive villain that must be vanquished to becoming the misunderstood hero who actually does the vanquishing.  Not often that you get that much out of a movie about a big monkey.

Rey’s Rating: 4.5/5

 

Overall Nerds’ Kong: Skull Island (2017) Rating: 4.35/5.0


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Bandwagon Nerds #68 – 90s Project pt. 4: Sports

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Bandwagon Nerds #68 - 90s Project pt. 4: Sports

The 90s Project rolls on this week as Patrick, Rey, Dave and PC give their top 10 Sports Movies from the 1990s!   The guys cover all kinds of great sports flick ranging from comedies to documentaries to dramas!  WandaVision’s penultimate episode dropped another major Marvel shakeup, the nerds review all of the happenings in Westview and what it could mean for the MCU.  News broke this week of a new Superman film in the works.  Patrick was intrigued, Rey less so.  Could the guys change Rey’s mind.  Finally, the Nerds choose what MCU “mood”  they would be.

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About Bandwagon Nerds

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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