K-19: The Widowmaker

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It’s time to look at a historical film that adapts an event from a while back. Naturally with any adaption you look at it and absorb the story while picking and choosing which specifics make sense as some of it will naturally be dramatized for added effect. By and large this film seemed to play it straight though at least in the sense that nothing too fantastic happened.

So, the Widowmaker is a large submarine that the Russians want to bring to the Americas in case a cold war starts. They’re treated like the villains from start to finish which is interesting, but at the same time one of the big themes in the film is that the actual men on the ship are just your average 9-5 guys. They didn’t ask for this, but it’s their task so they’ll see it through to the end. Unfortunately, the ship isn’t ready for the sea yet as the captain Misha tries to tell the higher ups. They don’t listen and send in Alexei to spearhead the operation. Can the crew survive?

One of the interesting parts here is that the ship was seemingly very capable. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something that the film altered a bit since based on the reputation you’d expect it to be less impressive. It would have easily made it all the way to the destination, but Alexei wanted to show off and kept making the mission more and more dangerous. Going lower than they were supposed to go, running drills nonstop, etc. Even then the ship did well enough, but it’s fair to say that at least in the film’s portrayal, Alexei is largely responsible for how the ship began to melt down and almost started the war on his own.

I liked how America was portrayed here. They were ready to forego country politics and save the crew from their sub. Sure, we would take control of the sub of course, but it is in our waters anyway and that’s a fair price for saving lives. If they had only listened to us, then maybe things would have been very different. At least their reasons for refusing aid were fairly decent as we wouldn’t take kindly to seeing a nuke on their sub. Especially since it was primed to detonate and nothing would have stopped it at that point. I’m sure we would have had some decent radioactive suits to try something, but there wasn’t much time either.

The film can be a little grotesque though like when the characters walk into the radiation chamber and try to turn the valve. We get that the radiation is super serious so we don’t need to see them puking all over the sub that I’m sure had just been polished. It adds that extra dimension of realism that nobody wants to see and that’s how you differentiate a movie from a great one. The greats know how to be realistic without going too far while the others go all the way. Other scenarios of lesser gravity in a film would be simple things like brushing your teeth or going to the bathroom. We know that the characters have to do that anyway so there’s no need to show it right? It’s just understood.

The characters suffer the same fate of being very realistic at times with painful dialogue and chatter amongst themselves. You just want them to stop talking and start working already. Of course, considering one of them is a drunk, another one is too nervous to tell his boss when the ship is sinking, and the rest of are being fed red wine every day, I suppose there isn’t much they can really do about that now is there? I would have liked to have had a comparison shot where we see a US sub where everyone is playing cards and the place looks nice and shiny.

There is one unfortunate scene that didn’t help this film’s plight and it also came out of left field. An animal dies. The instant it appears and got on the ship I knew this movie was going to go the dark route. Not taking shots at the film…but you could just tell. It simply is that kind of film and the fact that I was right just makes it all the sadder. If that really was in the true event then it should have been cut out and if it was made up for the movie for extra emotion then that’s even worse.

Overall, I’m sure this film will be a lot more powerful for people who are in the army or grew up during the tense cold war period. I find those topics decently interesting myself, but typically as a purely fictional movie or one that stays in the court room. I don’t need the gritty details, just the story. I also wonder how the Russian viewers would take this interpretation since I personally thought they were depicted as being quite cruel and unreasonable. Of course, that may be the facts, but the upper crust seems to just want a scapegoat whenever they are on screen. The jury didn’t seem very passionate and in general the air was always very dead. I know in general their culture isn’t quite as loud or in your face as America’s, but I still expected a little more than that. Even their style of humor like flashing the American choppers who were just doing their job was a little murky. Of course, I can easily see something like that happening with America too depending on the circumstances so I can’t speak for that much. So, if you’re interested in a sort of documentary film like this one then check it out, but I can’t say it was my cup of tea. Films based on a true story rarely work out for me.

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Duel Review

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It’s time for an old thriller with a truck as the main villain. We’ve done the evil car trick a few times in the past, but this film is fairly old so it might have been one of the first times we’ve seen it in cinema. Level up the car to a truck and you’ve got yourself a good thriller that’s ready to go. The film does fumble the ball a little in the second half and the main character doesn’t always make the right moves, but it’s an enjoyable film. I do like the lead’s name.

David is a struggling 9-5 worker. He gets the job done, but at home there is a lot of stress and drama over something that we never quite learn about. That’s not too important. What’s important is that David has to be home in time or it’s going to get tricky. He sets off on the road, but a giant truck starts honking at him. David pulls out the sweet moves and slows down enough for the truck to pass him. The problem? Now the truck has slowed down just enough so that he will miss a big meeting. David passes him but the truck takes it personally and decides to murder him. Can the hero get out of this?

The whole film centers around the fact that this truck is trying to murder the hero. However, he is limited by a set of rules. One, he’ll only go after the main character if he is in his car and ahead of the vehicle or if he drives backwards. David is safe if he stays parked. Next, the truck will attack if he tries to get help from other drivers or alert the cops. Finally, the truck is faster than David’s car so he can’t be out driven. Those are the basics of the situation so you can see how it’s tough for the main character. It doesn’t help that his detective skills aren’t really on point.

David could be rather annoying at times though. After being passed by the truck 2-3 times and finally passing it again, he lets go of his lead so he can go fill up on gas at the nearest station. Big mistake since the truck just follows him. We learn by the end that the truck is super fast so it probably would have passed him anyway, but it wasn’t a great move. Then he considers stopping at a cafe later although the truck doesn’t give him a chance. Once in the restaurant, David gets a little too eager and attacks the wrong guy. I had actually thought it was a misdirect and the driver was the lady in red who appeared out of nowhere, but it was apparently someone who got out when the main character wasn’t looking near the beginning or there’s a back exit.

David started making some decent moves by the end since there wasn’t much he could do at that point. It was a little late though and he cracked several times so I wouldn’t say that he took the situation particularly well. He wasn’t exactly Tom Cruise. The driver of the truck really liked messing with David though as he even saved a school bus just to show off. At the very least that was a nice thing to do even if it was just a PR stunt.

The first half of the film is pretty tense as a result. At first it seems like the driver is just in a hurry or maybe he had some kind of reason for slowing down after that. Gradually it becomes apparent that this guy is crazy and just wants to murder the guy. It’s pretty nice and atmospheric. The occasional change in scenery like the cafe was also pretty good. I liked the scenes in there for sure as we got some nice suspects even if they may have all been red herrings.

My problem with the film is that the second half just feels like a rehash of the first. He gets back on the road and into the exact same situation that he was in the first time. I feel like the film may have limited its options a little too much with the plot so they were forced to just keep on going with the same plan. They should have changed things up a bit in the second half. As a result, the film did drag on a little as the pacing completely died. If you watched the first 15 minutes of the film and the last 15, the bulk of those scenes would look very similar. David is driving away from the enemy car. It was a little repetitive and even if you cut out a big chunk of the film, it would have still worked out quite well. The film’s plot is very direct and there really isn’t much of a cast so it didn’t need a full film’s length to tell the story. What it could have done was add some extra characters or a new sub plot. Maybe add that extra climax at the end where a driver steps out to have a fight with David.

There really weren’t any subplots which I was fine with. No need for random filler plots, but it is a way to pad out the story. On the other hand, I’m glad we didn’t see more animals. As it is, it was iffy when the trick attacked a place with a bunch of bugs and a dog. Fortunately they seemed to make it out all right. It was a pretty intense scene since it showed that the truck was finally getting serious. I was also glad because it confirmed that the whole thing wasn’t fake. For a little while there, I was worried that the truck was going to be a figment of his imagination or something. The film would have very quickly dropped down quite a bit if that had been the case. Fortunately the film took the high road.

Overall, This film is definitely more of a slow burner than Jaws or Godzilla. It’s also a fair bit more repetitive so find something to focus on in the film or you may get bored watching the same roads over and over again. With the effects being rather limited back in the old days, I suppose the movie may not have had a very many options. I’d recommend checking it out if you want to see a good ole speed race. The stakes are high here so they definitely have to go as fast as they can. The lesson to learn here is that if you’re going to race, make sure that you’re ready to win!

Overall 7/10