The Wave (Bølgen) (2015)


New Wave in Norway.

New Wave in Norway.

(2015) Disaster Action (Magnolia) Kristoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp, Fridtjov Såheim, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Laila Goody, Arthur Berning, Eili Harboe, Edith Haagenrud-Sande, Lado Hadzic, Tom Larsen, Herman Bernhoft, Mette Agnete Horn, Silje Breivik, Håkon Moe, Tyra Holmen. Directed by Roar Uthaug

America has essentially had the monopoly on disaster movies. That doesn’t mean that America has the monopoly on disasters – they happen everywhere, all the time. It has been a long time coming that a good disaster movie comes from somewhere not flying the stars and stripes.

Norway’s fjords are lovely, but they are also a ticking time bomb. They are in a mountainous region, and when the set up is just right – as in the tiny tourist village of Geiranger which sits at the mouth of the fjord bearing it’s name – that time bomb can tick rather loudly. As the movie notes in a kind of prelude, rock slides from Ȃkneset Mountain back in 1905 impacted the river below, causing a gigantic wave 240 feet tall moving between two tall cliffs like a bullet through the barrel of a gun, a gun pointed right at Geiranger. Scientists are wary that similar circumstances will happen again.

For that reason, a monitoring station is set up there, and geologist Kristian (Joner) has been a part of the team that has kept an eye on the mountain. However, the lure of corporate money has gotten him and he is leaving the government-run station for the deep pockets of an oil company. His last day has arrived and he and his family – wife Idun (Torp) who works as a desk clerk at the town’s luxury hotel, disaffected teen Sondre (Oftebro) and cute-as-a-button 7-year-old daughter Julia (Haagenrud-Sande).

While station chief Arvid (Såheim) is none-too-happy to be down such a valuable member of the team, he nonetheless gives Kristian a nice send-off. However, readings that show the ground water disappearing suddenly in two sensors on the mountain send Kristian scrambling to examine the evidence, which is disturbing but not enough to have Arvid evacuate the town, especially at the height of tourist season.

Still, something about it bothers Kristian so when he’s just about to drive aboard the ferry, he whips a quick U-turn and heads back. While his suspicions still aren’t enough to get Arvid pushing the panic button, he has succeeded in stranding his family (Idun had been set to finish out the month at the hotel anyway) in the town. With the mountain rumbling, disaster movie fans know that the worst is about to happen. As is true with most disaster movies, who lives, who dies – and what is left of the town – is all up in the air.

Given the film’s small budget, the special effects are pretty impressive. Something with a budget north of $100 million might have made a more realistic looking wave (and it appeared that the filmmakers used practical effects whenever possible) but not much more realistic. When it comes bearing down on the audience, one wishes that the movie had been shot in 3D. That might have been one of those rare instances where the format would have made sense rather than being a gimmick inserted into the movie for the sole purpose of allowing theaters to upcharge the public for the privilege.

Joner, who recently appeared in The Revenant, has a good deal of screen presence and makes a likable hero, even though his workaholic ways and detail-oriented personality drive his family and colleagues crazy. His fierce devotion to his family doesn’t particularly make him unusual among disaster movie heroes but it is unusual to see this kind of character in a European film. Then again, it is unusual to see this kind of subject in a European film.

I had to feel badly for Oftebro, who plays Sondre. He plays a character who is about as disagreeable as you can get and will even irritate Millennials. Apparently, the writer doesn’t think very highly about teens; Sondre is grouchy, disrespectful, self-centered and prone to doing the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. His actions get people killed and put his family in jeopardy; to be fair he does feel bad about it later but while he’s doing those things, you might be tempted to punch him right in the face.

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed in the movie; sure, the effects are better than I expected and the acting was solid, but there are so many disaster movie cliches and scenes that are literally ripped off from other movies such as The Abyss, Dante’s Peak, Jaws and The Impossible. Still, if you haven’t seen those movies and aren’t particularly familiar with the disaster genre, it will all be new to you.

So what this adds up to is a solidly entertaining European take on what has been up to now a genre dominated by American movies. Surprisingly, it is not essentially different than the American take on the genre. In a way, it is kind of comforting to know that some things are the same everywhere in the world – disaster movies apparently being one of them.

REASONS TO GO: Impressive but low-budget special effects. Joner is an effective and charismatic lead.
REASONS TO STAY: A lot of disaster movie cliches. You will want to punch Sondre in the throat.
FAMILY VALUES: Some graphic images of a tsunami disaster, and a few profanities.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Norway’s official entry for the 2016 Academy Awards Best Foreign Language film award; it didn’t make the final list of five however.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Towering Inferno
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Zootopia

Stolen (2009)


Stolen

Josh Lucas can't get a break - a decent performance in a film that was ignored.

(2009) Mystery (IFC) Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, James Van Der Beek, Jimmy Bennett, Jessica Chastain, Rhona Mitra, Joanna Cassidy, Morena Baccarin, Michael Cudlitz, Andy Milder, Holt McCallany, Jude Ciccolella.  Directed by Anders Anderson

For many of us, our children are our lives. When our children are taken away or disappear, our lives are not just disrupted. They are destroyed.

Detective Tom Adkins (Hamm) is a smart cop with a broken heart. Eight years prior, his son Tommy Jr. disappeared while in his care and hasn’t been seen since. The relationship between Tom and his wife (Mitra) is strained to say the least. Tom has never given up on his son, even though an arrest has been made for his disappearance – a body has never been found.

When a boy’s body is found in a box, at first the fear is that it is Tommy Jr., but forensics reveals that the body has been in that box for over 50 years. It turns out that the boy is John Wakefield (Bennett), the developmentally challenged son of Matthew (Lucas). If it weren’t for bad luck, Matthew Wakefield would have no luck at all.

He’s been out of work for quite awhile and unable to secure a new job. The pressure gets to his wife who kills herself, leaving Matthew with three children to raise. His sister agrees to take two of the children in while Matthew goes off in search of work, but her husband refuses to take in John who can be a handful.

Matthew finally finds work in the construction trade and makes friends with an educated sort, who is nicknamed Diploma (Van Der Beek), but Matthew is regarded with suspicion by the townsfolk and he is just one misstep away from being thrown out of town. When John disappears, he gets virtually no help in finding his boy; instead, he searches for him on his own and with Diploma, along with a friendly barmaid (Baccarin). However, it will be all for naught for his son will wind up being found in his lonely, forgotten grave 50 years after the fact.

50 years later, the discovery of John Wakefield has refueled the obsession of Tom, who believes that the two cases may against all odds be related. The man he suspected in the case, Roggiani, may provide the answers for both cases – but is Tommy Adkins alive or, like John Wakefield, patiently waiting for his remains to be discovered in a box of his own?

There are elements of the standard whodunit here, which hold the movie back from being what it ultimately could be. I like the idea of the two parallel stories; the elements in common hold the film together and help elevate the tension level.

Hamm has been getting a great deal of notice for his work in “Mad Men” and this movie was made just at the cusp of his career surge. He has upcoming roles in such high-profile films as Sucker Punch and Bridesmaids; here he has to combine the intensity of the grieving father with the calm, cool logic of the police detective. He isn’t always successful in merging the two sides of Adkins’ personality, but he does a good enough job that you can see the potential shining through. Hamm has a formidable talent and may well be a major Hollywood star in the very near future.

Lucas, on the other hand, has mostly performed on the big screen (most of the rest of the main cast is known more for their TV work) and carries himself with confidence as well as hot. In many ways, Matthew Wakefield is the emotional center of the movie more than Tom Adkins is and you feel real sympathy for a good man who has, through no fault of his own, fallen upon hard times. You feel for Matthew, who has been beat down his entire life and doesn’t deserve the fate that is thrust upon him.

Van Der Beek has come a long way since “Dawson’s Creek,” but I think the subtleties of the role he needed to play here were a bit too much of a stretch for him at this point in his career. Mitra alone of all the characters here has something more three dimensional to work with and she’s one of those actresses who simply perform admirably every time out without attracting the notice she deserves. This is one of those occasions.

The problem here is that there is little or no excitement. Part of what makes the story so compelling – the parallel story lines of the missing boys fifty years apart – is also the issue here. We know what fate awaits John Wakefield and, to a certain extent, Matthew Wakefield as well. That the story makes Tom and Tommy Adkins’ fates just as predictable detracts from the potential of the film. For me, that’s the real crime because this had plenty of potential.

WHY RENT THIS: Some fine performances from Hamm and Lucas, as well as a compelling story.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Film seems oddly lifeless and flat when it should be suspenseful and exciting.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a very sexy scene and some implied violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jon Hamm’s Tom Adkins character was named for Jess Thomas Adkins, the actor who played Carl the Trashman on “Sesame Street” who was the acting teacher for writer Glenn Taranto.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $7,943 on an unreported production budget; the film was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Drive Angry 3D