Thursday, March 31, 2016

Disaster Day: The Wave (2015)

In 2016, I’ve devoted some real estate here on the blog to “Disaster Day,” my reviews of classic disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure (192), The Towering Inferno (1974) and even Earthquake (1974).

My obsession with these movies runs deep, but for a good reason, I hope. Specifically, many of these genre films from the seventies seem like more than mere demolition derbies. Instead, they offer unique viewpoints on life, and how to survive in difficult times. I think, for example, of Gene Hackman's reverend in The Poseidon Adventure and his boot-strap brand of  "those who help themselves" Christianity.

By contrast, many modern disaster films, such as San Andreas (2015) feel much more concerned with special effects than with people, let alone philosophical musings.

But 2015’s The Wave -- a Norwegian film from Roar Uthaug -- is a worthy heir to the disaster genre flicks I name-checked above. 

Intriguingly, it’s a highly personal film. Most genre flicks give audiences faded celebrities -- Shelley Winters, Fred Astaire and George Kennedy -- by the (capsized) boatload but The Wave reinvigorates the formula, in part, by cutting out the fat in the cast.  

Our main characters are in one family, for example. 

It's true,  that we meet one or two other victims (a neighbor and a couple visiting a tourist hotel), but the primary focus here is on the family, and how its members relate to one another, and cope with a day nobody believed would ever come. 

The special effects in The Wave go beyond the realm of the impressive to actually stunning, but -- importantly -- aren’t asked to carry the picture. 

The special effects scenes are beautiful and effective, yes, but limited, and that too seems like a re-write of modern genre rules, which seem to demand constant spectacle and constant one-up-man-ship. The tsunami featured in The Wave decimates a seaside town, but doesn’t bring down skyscrapers, planes in flight, or whole continents.  In essence, then, The Wave is rooted in reality, not fantasy.

The Wave is a low-budget film and that’s a contrast to the disaster films made by Hollywood, but its focus on the essential qualities of good drama make for a big impact, and big achievements. With fewer characters for us to keep track of, the film’s danger feels more immediate. And with limited scenes of mayhem and destruction in the mix, the effects transmit as believable, instead of over-the-top. 

Once more, this approach reels in viewers, focusing and refocusing attention not on destruction, but on suspense instead.

Accordingly, The Wave is a thoroughly involving and terrifying film, and a welcome addition to a genre that, since the 1970s, has reveled in trickery and excess instead of good dramatic storytelling.

In beautiful Geiranger -- a tourist village in Western Norway -- a geologist named Kristian (Kristoffer Jonner) has devoted his professional life to monitoring a local mountain range for signs of collapse, or a rock slide. 

Such an event has happened before, decades in the past, and one occurring now would generate a huge tsunami. The town’s unsuspecting denizens and tourists would have only ten minutes to reach high ground (87 feet above sea level…) once a collapse begins.

But now, feeling like a stranger to his family, including his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and young daughter, Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), Kristian has accepted a new job in the city, at a big oil company.

Immediately following his last day on the job in Geiranger, Kristian begins to detect signs that something is wrong inside the mountain. 

His boss, Arvin (Fridtjov Saheim) refuses to sound the alarm and evacuate the village, for fear of destroying, economically, the tourist season in Geiranger. While Kristian makes his case for warning the town, he separates from his family, as Idun goes to her job at the hotel, and Sondre skateboards in the hotel basement.

Before long, Kristian's long-feared disaster strikes.

What do you do when disaster seems impending, and you’re the only person who can, literally, sound the alarm? 

That’s one big question raised in The Wave. Kristian lives in fear and anxiety because he knows that a rock slide is a matter of “when,” not “if.”  

Accordingly, he has become something less-than an ideal father and husband. He is galvanized with fear -- every day -- by the possibility of disaster. Others -- in and out of his family -- view Kristian as “Chicken Little,” one might conclude. 

For him, the sky is always about to fall.

The only problem? It could fall, at any time. With minimal warning.

Arvid, Kristian’s superior, meanwhile, is the polar opposite. He is a man with apparently no imagination, and he denies, even to himself, the signs of the coming apocalypse. Like the town elders in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) who just want to keep the beaches open, Arvid wants to avoid panic, humiliation and false alarms at all costs.  

I suppose if one is willing to consider this conflict or dynamic on a wider scale, there's a real life corollary worth considering. 

Arvid ignores impending disaster -- and the considered evidence of a scientist (Kristian) -- in favor of economic and personal concerns.  

And yes, this exact dynamic is happening right now, and every day, regarding climate change. The Wave, without being preachy in the slightest, makes the case that our failure to responsibly care-take the environment will eventually bite us in the ass. 

It isn’t an “if.”  It’s a “when.”

In The Wave, Arvid pays a price for his failure to heed evidence and facts. While investigating the mountain, he becomes the first to die, thus paying penance for his “keep the beaches open” economy-over-environment viewpoint. Similarly, his failure to act responsibly when it makes a difference, causes many people to die.  

And the tourist season is destroyed anyway.

Meanwhile, Kristian lives through his worst nightmare. In this equation, the scientist plays the role of the mythical Cassandra. He knows what is coming, but is ignored, and ultimately, helpless to stop destiny. 

Still, Kristian’s arc in The Wave is significant and affecting. After he faces the fear of what is happening (not what might happen), he becomes the man his family needs him to be.

The feeling of terror and suspense in The Wave are palpable. Director Uthaug gets much mileage from the classic ticking clock conceit. The mountain collapses into the water near Geiranger, and the ten minute countdown till disaster commences. 

When it starts, Kristian is separated from his wife and son.  He sets his watch for ten minutes, and knows just how long he has to get his daughter to safety, and find Idun and Sondre.

Suddenly as he realizes, there is no time left. A missed call, which goes to voice mail, could be the difference between his family’s survival or destruction. Or a missing hotel resident could delay the departure of the tourist evacuation just long enough to cause total disaster.

The Wave isn’t just about “time,” either. The equation for survival also includes distance and, actually, height. 

One of the film’s most harrowing sequences finds Kristian -- with young Julia in tow -- realizing that he can’t make it to the desired high ground by car in the remaining time left, due to traffic.  

Accordingly, he exits the car with his daughter, picks her up, and starts running.  In the background behind Kristian and Julia, one can see the wave looming, growing ever closer. Then, a neighbor is injured, and Kristian must send Julia ahead so he can take care of the wounded friend, and get her to safety too.

Another powerful technique that The Wave makes use of comes straight from the horror genre. 

Many times, horror movies begin with title cards suggesting that what we are about to see is based on a true story.  

The Wave opens with archival footage of earlier tsunami incidents in Norway. The movie informs us of a disaster in 1905 (with 60 people killed) and again in April, 1934, when a tsunami killed 40.  

The inference is obvious: The Wave is not some far-fetched fantasy. It is not showing audiences just something that could happen.  Rather, it tells a story about history -- predictable history -- repeating itself.  The film’s end card resurrects this call to reality.  We are told the mountain near Geiranger still stands…and scientists aren’t sure when it will collapse.

But they are sure it will collapse.

If that prediction of future terror doesn’t chill the blood, you’re watching the wrong genre, perhaps.

The Wave features many of the tropes one expects of the disaster films. There are panicky survivors who jeopardize everybody’s safety.  There are feats of courage. There are people trapped underwater.  There are families separated and fearing the worst.

But instead of simply repeating such chestnuts in a hackneyed way The Wave floats above the predictable. 

Consider the scene in which Idun, a tourist, and Sondre are trapped in a bunker rapidly filling with water. The tourist panics and begins to mindlessly drown Sondre. How Idun reacts to his behavior is surprising, smart, and brutally efficient. There’s no debate, no second-guessing...she just acts. And I like to think I’d have the presence of mind to react as quickly given the same circumstances.

Suspenseful, emotionally-affecting, and beautifully-rendered, both in terms of cinematography and special effects, The Wave proves that disaster films still have a lot of life left in them when vetted by thoughtful filmmakers. 

More than that, the disaster film looks and sounds great with a Norwegian accent.

Movie Trailer: The Wave (2015)

Movie Trailer: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mini-Kojak (Pilen)

Kojak Emergency Kit

Action Figure of the Week: Kojak (Excel)

Kojak, Power Records Sets

Pop Art: Kojak Annuals

Kojak Letraset

Kojak Action Pack

Kojak Toys (Corgi)

Trading Cards of the Week: Kojak

Board Game of the Week: Kojak (Milton Bradley)

Theme Song of the Week: Kojak (1973-1978)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Conscience of the King" (December 8, 1966)

Stardate 2817.6

The U.S.S. Enterprise is drawn to Planet Q by an old friend of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent), but under false pretenses.

Instead of having made progress on his life’s work to cure hunger in the galaxy, Leighton has brought Kirk to the distant planet to see an actor named Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss).

Leighton believes that Karidian is actually Kodos the Executioner, the former governor of Tarsus IV, and a man who, twenty years earlier, executed 4,000 colonists so that the colony could thrive in a time of scarcity. 

Both Leighton and Kirk were living on Tarsus during that crisis, and can thus identify Kodos. The problem: Kirk doesn’t recognize Karidian as Kodos. He is uncertain.

After Leighton is murdered, however, Kirk starts to believe his friend’s suspicions were accurate, and arranges for Karidian and his troupe -- including his lovely daughter, Lenore (Barbara Anderson) -- to come aboard the Enterprise for transport to their next show on Benecia Colony.

As Kirk attempts to determine if Karidian is indeed Kodos, another murder attempt is made. Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde) -- another survivor of Tarsus -- is found poisoned.

Star Trek and Shakespeare: perfect together?

Since early in its first season (and including episode titles such as “Dagger of the Mind”), Star Trek has taken pains to connect its universe to the works of Shakespeare. 

This connection continued into the Next Generation (and in episodes such as “The Defector”), and even into the movies series, especially Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). We have heard about Shakespeare translated from the “original” Klingon, for example, and learned that Captains Kirk and Picard share a favorite author in the Bard.

“The Conscience of the King” is an intriguing and distinctive episode of the original series for its two-track references to Shakespeare and his plays.  

On a literal level, the episode involves an actor's troupe that performs Shakespeare’s works. The episode opens with a performance of Macbeth, and closes with a performance of Hamlet, granting the installment a nice book-end structure.

On a much deeper level, however, “The Conscience of the King” alludes to Shakespeare and his recurring themes by putting characters, essentially, in roles that one would immediately recognize from a reading of the author’s tragedies.

Take for example, our protagonist, James T. Kirk. He plays the role of Hamlet in a very real way. He encounters not the ghost of his father, specifically, but a ghost from the past nonetheless. 

A friend reminds him of a bloody incident from his youth, and Kirk must seek justice for the ghosts of those who died on Tarsus IV.  Significantly, Kirk demonstrates Hamlet’s inability to act decisively and quickly to resolve the matter.  In other words, Kirk inherits Hamlet's hesitance. He doesn’t want to condemn Karidian as Kodos unless he is absolutely certain of the man’s guilt. By contrast, Spock is certain about Karidian's identity and expresses that certainty.  Kirk still can't act until he is satisfied, in his gut, that he is right.

But consider the mode in which Kirk does act, for a moment. 

He goes to great lengths to orchestrate the equivalent of "a show" to entrap Karidian. He agrees to transport the troupe aboard the Enterprise. And he romances Lenore, when he may or may not be legitimately interested in her romantically. 

In other words, Kirk sets the “stage” to entrap Karidian, manipulating people and events so it is possible for him to learn the truth.  It’s not precisely the play that Hamlet "produces" to ensnare his father’s murderer, Claudius, but it is very close.

Uniquely, Lenore views Kirk not as Hamlet, but rather as Julius Caesar. 

She terms Kirk a “Caesar of the stars” and contextualizes herself as his Cleopatra; there to worship him.  Yet, this is only a surface.  

Of course, Caesar was assassinated and some part of the mad Lenore's psychology must realize that Kirk is, similarly, bound for assassination. He is one of the few men left alive in the universe who can harm her father.  Therefore, he must die.  Like Caesar, his time is nearly up.

Although he says it jokingly, Kirk also notes with “interest” that Lenore plays the role of Lady Macbeth in a performance on Planet Q. 

Lady Macbeth is a villain and a manipulator; one who facilitates and urges her husband’s (bloody) ascent to power. Lenore is a manipulator certainly -- though so is Kirk in this episode -- and she facilitates her father’s freedom and continued survival, she believes. So the comparisons to Lady MacBeth are a bit displaced, it seems.  What she is doing she does for love; not out of avarice.

It is true, however, that Lenore falls well into the tradition of the Shakespearean “mad woman,” (of which Lady Macbeth is also a club member) but she is more like Ophelia from Hamlet, perhaps.

Meanwhile, Karidian is both Macbeth and Claudius in terms of character. All three are men who have committed acts of great violence and cannot escape the repercussions of that violence.  They wish to escape their "ghosts," but the die is already cast.

The two-tracks of Shakespearean references in “Conscience of the King” nicely reinforce each other. The play is the thing, one might say, that brings out the truth about each main character.

William Shatner performs particularly well in the episode, I feel, primarily because he doesn’t play up, literally, the connection to his literary counterpart, Hamlet. Kirk is tortured by his choices, and the morality of his decision (to trick Karidian and his daughter, and to expose them). 

But he never goes big and stereotypically Shakespearean in terms of expression or word choices. He stays in character -- stays grounded -- as Captain Kirk. Kirk just happens to be grappling with a choice of Shakespearean proportions.

By contrast, Arnold Moss and Barbara Anderson go over-the-top a bit in their performances from time to time, doing the “full” Shakespeare, so-to-speak. 

The purple nature of some moments in the episode is, finally, a detriment. I know that both performers are playing actors, but in their moments as 23rd century “people” -- Karidian and Lenore -- respectively, they transmit as a bit too theatrical within the hard sci-fi world of Star Trek.  Moss's wail or lament -- "I am TIRED" -- might be fine in the universe's theatrical play, but is a little too much outside those confines.

There’s Shakespeare after all, and then there’s bad Shakespeare. Occasionally, Moss, goes too big for my taste.

Outside the Shakespeare references, “Conscience of the King” is one of the last episodes of Star Trek episodes to include the paradigm I have termed “lower decks.”  

As you may recall, this paradigm tells a story not only among the lead characters (Kirk, Spock and Bones, basically), but features important complementary moments with the lower-ranking crew members. This approach makes the Enterprise feel like a real ship, populated by a real crew.

In this story, for example Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) sings “Beyond Antares” in the rec room.  She serenades Kevin Riley, who is alone in Engineering.  

But importantly, Riley represents another Hamlet type-character; one seeking justice or vengeance, and attempting to dispel the ghosts of the pasts. He is a lower decks surrogate for Kirk too; sharing Kirk’s history and family tragedy.

Importantly, "The Conscience of the King" also depicts the crew enjoying a play, Hamlet. We learn from this episode that theater and literature both survive and flourish well into the 23rd century.  Despite all the technological development of this new age, live performance and literary classics are still cherished.

A compelling and unique first season entry, “The Conscience of the King” also seems to be the episode that time -- and the franchise -- forgot. Specifically, Kirk is given an entire detailed back- story here. We learn that at as a teenager, he was at the Tarsus IV colony, and that his life was jeopardized by Kodos’ survival plan. The J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot films completely elide over this background, but in fairness, the original series never goes back to it, either. 

Later in the series run, we meet Kirk’s brother Sam (“Operation: Annihilate,”) but we never learn if Sam was also present on Tarsus. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) tells us James Kirk was born in Iowa, but doesn’t make mention of his time on the planet Tarsus, either.

Still, this episode suggests that the Tarsus interlude was one of the most important events in young Kirk’s life. He could have been murdered. He also saw, at close-up range, a leader who had to make a tough call…and made the wrong one.  Or, at least Kirk has seen how history can decide which is the right call and which is the wrong call.

It seems like this event is a pretty formative one for Kirk, something that would shape his adult perception of politics, leadership, and morality. Yet there is no mention of this again in the official continuity. It's a blind alley, character-wise.

“Conscience of the King” is a unique outing for Star Trek, but also, perhaps, a really odd one.  The series keeps bringing back Shakespeare (in titles and quotations) yet ignores the episode’s contribution to the series’ lead character.

Next week: “Balance of Terror."

Monday, March 28, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: The New Star Trek Series?

A reader named David asks:

“You have been strangely quiet on this subject so I will come right out and ask. What are your thoughts about the new Star Trek series and Bryan Fuller as show-runner?”

David, great question! 

I haven’t been quiet on this topic by design, or out of seething rage or anything.  I just feel it is still really early in terms of the new series’ development, and so haven’t had much to comment on or react to. 

But since you asked, here goes: I feel very optimistic.

I love Bryan Fuller’s work (especially on Hannibal) and beyond that outstanding work, he has two other factors in his favor.

First is experience: Fuller has worked on Star Trek before, in the 1990s (DS9 and Voyager).  So he knows how to make Star Trek happen, in a practical sense. He knows the ropes of TV production, and has had success both in and out of Trek.

And secondly, Mr. Fuller is a life-time fan so he understands and enjoys Star Trek for what it is.  He “gets it.”  He’s not out to reboot it or make it like another popular franchise, I suspect, just successfully translate Roddenberry's ethos to the 21st century.

All of this bodes well, I feel, for the new series. Once you add the great Nicholas Meyer to the mix as a writer and producer, the new Trek looks incredibly promising.

As far as what I would like from the new series, I do have some preferences. But hey, don’t we all?

I am not a J.J. Abrams-verse hater by any means. I like the Abrams’ movies (both of them, so far).

But nonetheless, I would like to see a return to the Prime Universe. That’s the universe where Vulcan has not been destroyed and we have the established history of the 23rd and 24th centuries to interact with. 

The Alternate Trek universe is absolutely a valid creative outlet for Trek in movie form, but I would prefer to see a return in the new series to tradition, rather than an expansion of a “pocket” realm.

I would also like the new TV series to be set on the Enterprise, approximately 100 years or so after the era of the Next Generation films. 

Let’s do what was done so beautifully in 1987: leap forward a century, reveal new technology and new characters, but also maintain the integrity of Starfleet and its personnel and belief system.

Naturally, I would like to see a return of Star Trek’s utopian-thinking, study of humanity, and yes, even the ideal that fighting doesn’t always solves problems. 

I would also like to see the new series continue the proud tradition of lauding diversity, and therefore feature a diverse human/alien crew.  And I feel the show needs to comment on the here and now; honoring the franchise's history of social commentary.

Finally, I think it would be great to have Patrick Stewart -- as an elderly Captain Picard -- guest star in the first episode, fulfilling, essentially, the role De Forest Kelley played in “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Let’s honor Star Trek’s past, and then move into a new century!  The final frontier is waiting.

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Crocodiles and Alligators

Crocodiles and alligators are large reptilian predators with scaly skin, long tails, pointed snouts, and which live in semi-aquatic environments.

And these animals have made great villains -- or threats -- in cult-TV history.

For example, the villainous King Tut (Victor Buono) dropped Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) into a crocodile pit in the Batman (1966-1968) episodes "The Spell of Tut/Tut's Case is Shut."

A crocodile showed up briefly in Star  Trek (1966 - 1969), as a trophy mounted on Trelane's wall in the episode "The Squire of Gothos."

In The X-Files (1993 - 2002), an episode called "Quagmire" finds Mulder and Scully in search of a Nessie-like monster, Big Blue, but run afoul, instead, of a hungry crocodile.  The giant reptile eats Scully's dog, Queequeg, before the episode ends.

The third episode of Primeval (2007 - 2011), sees a prehistoric crocodile come through an anomaly into London and eat a number of unsuspecting swimmers.

Crocs and alligators have also appeared in Hanna Barbera shows such as Jonny Quest, Valley of the Dinosaurs, and the Super Friends.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Crocodiles and Alligators

Identified by SGB: Jonny Quest.

Identified by Hugh: Star Trek: "The Squire of Gothos."

Identified by Hugh: Batman.

Not Identified: Valley of the Dinosaurs.

Identified by Hugh: The Super Friends.

Identified by Hugh: Transformers.

Not Identified: SeaQuest DSV.

Identified by Hugh: The X-Files: "Quagmire."

Identified by Chris G: Wild Kratts.

Identified by Hugh: Primeval.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Advert Artwork: Kojak Edition

National Twilight Zone Day: "Come Wander with Me"

There are, perhaps, several episodes of Rod Serling's classic   The Twilight Zone  (1959-1964) more sharply-written, more morally-valuab...