There’s a lot riding on The Wave, the Norwegian disaster flick now playing at Cinemapolis. The novelty of the phrase, “Norwegian disaster flick,” says it all: Never before has Norway or any Scandinavian country produced a Deep Impact or a Volcano, the kind of dopey, doomsaying spectacle that with the rise of CGI has become a Hollywood staple.
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With a fraction of either film’s budget, The Wave convincingly renders full-scale destruction and may indeed galvanize the Nordic filmmaking industry if it is a box office success. Whether it’s any good beyond that depends on one’s interest in and patience for glaring genre tropes.
Like last year’s San Andreas and most disaster films before it, The Wave sees the deluge through the prism of a flawed but loving nuclear family. The set-up should need no introduction: the workaholic scientist father, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner); the stressed matriarch, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp); the moody teenage son, Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro); and the cherubic youngest, Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). That the family is about to move to another, less-tsunami-prone town, and that Kristian is the only one to report the imminent cataclysm (to which his bureaucratic superiors respond like sloths), add layers of irony atop this familiar scenario.
Needless to say, the devastation greets one of Norway’s top tourist destinations. Ogled through many verdant helicopter shots, the gorgeous town of Geiranger sits at the tail end of a fjord in western Norway and downstream from Åkernes mountain, which as it turns out poses a real-life threat.
Seismic activity indicates a sudden rock slide could soon hurtle debris into the river, triggering a tsunami like the one in 1934 at Tafjord, some 50 kilometers north of the film’s setting, which killed 40 people. So The Wave sends mixed messages to the thrill-seeking tourist, that much is for sure.
When it’s time to blow the overlong first act to smithereens, the awesomely named director Roar Uthaug proves more than capable at his job. Much of the press buzzing around this film points to the strides taken in Norway’s computer effects department, and indeed the polygonal wave looms large and deadly.
Unlike San Andreas, there is only one, indicated by the singular title, and so CGI fatigue never sits in.
But Uthaug pulls off that tried-and-true B-movie trick of letting a small, closed-off location — a car, foyer or hallway — stand in for the unseen whole.
When the earthquake first hits, he stages a rather violent and suspenseful sequence by having two scientists inspect the mountain’s crevice as it ruptures. The set could very well be two parallel rock-climbing walls pushed together, but the shaky camera, panicked audio and cross-cutting to HQ obfuscate any modest means.
You will sooner laugh at character behavior than special effects in a disaster film, anyway, and The Wave is par for the course.
Due to hormones or something, the skateboard-riding son does not hear the emergency sirens and causes a well-meaning rescuer to drown. Actually, if one steps back and inspects the body count, a good two dozen people die on behalf of saving the central family — one man unmistakably gets the axe when provoking Idun’s mama bear instincts. This is all to be forgotten once the sun rises and it is morning in Geiranger again, but this new, shaken town has no hero to thank.
Up the hill, Cornell Cinema offers a sterling program of movies and guest speakers for the public’s pleasure this weekend.
Tonight only, the cinema screens one of 2015’s very best films, Experimenter, followed by a Q&A with editor and Cornell alumna Kathryn Schubert. This wise and affecting film is the most interesting biopic in years, narrating the contentious career and personal agonies of social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Michael Almereyda’s direction calls attention to its artifice and nurtures career-best performances out of Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder, while Schubert’s precise, spatially coherent editing earns her a place beside Christian Nyby, Anne V. Coates and the handful of others most gifted at the invisible art.
On Saturday, ahead of its longer run next weekend, Cornell Cinema will screen The Big Short with a special in-person introduction from actress and Cornell alumna Adepero Oduye (Pariah, 12 Years a Slave). Freshly awarded the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Big Short reenacts, with ample humor and anger, the lead-up to the 2008 financial meltdown, from the perspectives of the eagle-eyed, moneyed few who saw it coming. Oduye appears in a small but crucial role as the sole female suit in the story, complicit in the crisis but humanized thanks to Oduye’s talents.
Two acclaimed films by and about women will play Saturday and Sunday. Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, which won Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, is a coming-of-age tale set on the Italian countryside. Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, a documentary directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, covers the life and times of the eccentric art collector and bon vivant with the famous last name.
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