Down From the Shelf ~ Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Facts:

Synopsis: A man must struggle to travel home for Thanksgiving with an obnoxious slob of a shower ring salesman his only companion.

Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon, Ben Stein

Director: John Hughes

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

Original Release Date: November 25, 1987

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: Here’s a movie I’m really, truly thankful for.  30 years (!!!) after its original release, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a gift that has kept on giving to countless people throughout the year but especially at Thanksgiving.  Writing this review in 2017 as I’m about to hit the road to celebrate the holiday with family, I knew I had to get my annual viewing of this one in a day before the big Turkey Day. Revisiting this one is like meeting up with an old friend who tells the same jokes but still delivers them with a master’s precision.

It’s two days before Thanksgiving and marketing exec Neal Page (Steven Martin, Parenthood) is rushing to catch an early flight home to Chicago to be with his family for the holiday.  If only he could make it to the airport.  In mid-day NYC rush hour traffic, he races for a cab with another big shot (Kevin Bacon in a cameo done as a favor to John Hughes right before they made She’s Having a Baby together), gets his cab stolen out from under him by an unseen man toting a large trunk with him, and arrives at the terminal to find his flight delayed.  That’s where he meets Del Griffith (John Candy, Splash), a portly shower ring salesman that turns out to be the cab thief.  When their plane is diverted to Kansas on account of the weather, Neal and Del become unlikely travel mates as they work together to get back to their families.

Hughes was on a real roll at this point, having just come off of directing back to back to back to back hits that have become seminal favorites (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) not to mention writing National Lampoon’s Vacation, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful.  This was his first movie to deal with real adults and it’s a marvelous pairing of a perfectly assembled cast with Hughes’ hilarious (if episodic) script.  There’s not a single boring moment in the movie, pretty remarkable considering how hard it is to sustain comedy for any length of time, let alone 92 minutes.

The movie is filled with classic scenes.  Martin and Candy waking up in their small hotel bed in an awkward embrace, Martin’s hysterically foul-mouthed run-in with a car rental agent (Edie McClurg, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark), Candy driving cross-country and accidentally getting both of his arms stuck behind him while Martin sleeps, the list goes on.  Hughes is smart enough to have Del be the catalyst for a joke but not make him the ultimate target, to do that would be too cruel to be funny and that’s not what he’s interested in.

Martin is great as the tightly wound Neal who alternates between hating the schlubby Del and hating himself for the way he treats him.  It’s not hard to see why Neal gets so frustrated, either, because Del does himself no favors.  He’s a slob, he takes all the air out of any room he’s in, he doesn’t recognize normal social signals, and he has an uncanny way of destroying anything he touches.  Still, in Candy’s brilliant hands he’s a lovable dude and by the time the movie reaches its surprisingly emotional zenith, you’ll probably be like me and wiping tears away.  Oh yeah, I cry every time I watch the movie…I know I will and have accepted it at this point.

On a personal note, I can’t watch this movie without remembering my late father’s howling laugh when I first saw it.  I can still hear him roaring at Candy’s cluelessness and Martin’s slow-burn reactions.  This was a family favorite of ours and while my dad isn’t here to watch it with me, I think of him constantly when I put it on.  I watch a lot of movies and don’t always take the time to go back and rewatch many films…but there are exceptions and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is certainly one of them.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Splash

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A man is reunited with a mermaid who saves him from drowning as a boy and falls in love not knowing who/what she is.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Dody Goodman

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Growing up, I think I saw Splash more times than I care to admit (it was the first movie I saw on Beta!).  I think it was the fantasy nature of the film that made it so appealing and I always got a huge kick of John Candy but the romance angle of the movie went right over my head…as it often does for young children.  As I revisit some Ron Howard movies (like Backdraft, The Paper, and Parenthood) I couldn’t let this one slide by because it was a landmark film for several reasons.

First off, though Splash wasn’t the first film that Howard directed it was the huge success of this one that cemented the child actor’s transition to dependable Hollywood director.  Howard became quite in demand, churning out a movie a year for the next two decades.  In addition to making Howard bankable, this was the first role that Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah got major notice for and rightfully so.  Though the film was originally intended for Michael Keaton and Brooke Shields (which would have been interesting), watching the movie now I see how much of the film’s success is owed to the performances of Hanks and Hannah as two people from different worlds destined to be together.

The charm these two exude could fuel a mid-size city and there’s a surprising amount of chemistry on display.  Though Hanks would go on to win Oscars and Hannah would show up in lesser/lighter fare, the star wattage from both is just one piece of Howard’s excellent casting choices here.  Candy, as Hanks’ sweetly crude brother is dynamite and long before he was an American Pie dad, Levy (American Reunion) is goofball gold as a bumbling scientist trying to prove Hannah’s mermaid origins.

Ah…that’s right.  This is, after all, a mermaid tale and the Oscar nominated script manages to not date itself too much but instead works wonders with the star-crossed lovers storyline.  There’s a sense of destiny and fate that surround Hanks NYC businessman and Hannah’s sea-life mermaid that just gels and rises above its marginally silly set-up.

The first film released from Disney offshoot Touchstone pictures, Splash was an unexpected box-office hit (spawning a less impressive Disney Movie of the Week, Splash Too!) and hurtled all involved to instant stardom.  Though I’d seen it countless times, this recent viewing revealed it to be a touching love story with a little bit of magic added to the mix.