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Ode to My Father and The Taking of Tiger Mountain Are Among the Best of This Week’s Limited…

By  · Published on January 10th, 2015

Ode to My Father and The Taking of Tiger Mountain Are Among the Best of This Week’s Limited Releases

Well Go USA Entertainment

There was a time when the only place to see new movies was in theaters ‐ I know, it sounds like science fiction, but it’s true ‐ but the brave new world we find ourselves in has made it possible to experience brand new releases in a myriad of ways. One of the increasingly more common methods of mainlining cinema these days is via VOD, and while some smaller films manage limited theatrical releases a growing number are premiering on demand.

One of the best of the week’s small releases is Predestination (my review), and one of the worst is Preservation (my review), but they’re not alone as four foreign titles are also available.

The long-awaited and highly anticipated [Rec] 4 brings that franchise to a close, Black November tells a heartfelt tale of corporate greed destroying the Nigerian people, Tsui Hark delivers some large-scale period action with The Taking of Tiger Mountain and the South Korean dramedy Ode to My Father tells a humorous and melodramatic tale across several decades of tumultuous history.

The Taking of Tiger Mountain

Rural China in the ’40s is a rugged and dangerous place due both to the country’s ongoing civil war and the roving bands of bandits who pillage and destroy with impunity. A captain in the People’s Liberation Army decides enough is enough, and with the support of his small but talented squad he decides the time has come to bring the fight to the villains’ own doorstep. Unfortunately, it’s a highly precarious doorstep as the bad guys operate out of a remote and precariously-located mountain lair. The captain sends a spy in ahead of the soldiers but soon begins a winner take all assault on the ne’er-do-wells’ own turf.

Action cinema is filled with David and Goliath-type tales where small forces of good work to take down a much larger and stronger enemy, and this is definitely one of them. That’s not a criticism as I just mean that Tsui Hark doesn’t aim for much more than that narratively-speaking. It’s a popular Chinese tale (with a loose basis in history) getting its first big-screen treatment, and it’s in that scale where Hark chooses to make his mark.

The cast of characters is immense on both side of the moral divide ‐ and with names like Lord Hawk or Tank ‐ but only a few of them are given emotional beats. Instead the focus is on the heroic antics of the captain’s team with the spy, Yang, coming off like a dashingly acrobatic Indiana Jones-type as he works his way into the enemy before having to fight his way out. There’s all manner of gunplay, explosions and energetic fights, and it’s there where the film and Hark find their strongest footing ‐ provided you can swallow some occasionally sketchy CGI.

Curiously, and unfortunately, Hark allows his film two unnecessary missteps that do nothing but pad the runtime and leave viewers scratching their heads. The film is book-ended in the present day leading to a finale that doesn’t stick its emotionally-intended landing. Even more confusingly, once the film is over ‐ as in the credits are rolling ‐ the movie jumps back to show an alternate fate for the lead villain. It adds nothing and instead only mutes what little emotional effect the final present-day scene had managed.

Excessive length, shoddy CGI and odd script choices aside, this is a big, fun action throwback worth seeing on a big screen. It’s easily Hark’s best film since 2011’s A Simple Life and best epic action movie since the first Detective Dee.

The Taking of Tiger Mountain is currently in limited theatrical release.

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Ode to My Father

CJ Entertainment

Yoon Duk-soo (Hwang Jeong-min) is an old man in modern day Busan, but he still keeps busy providing for his family both immediate and extended. His adult children crack wise about his refusal to slow down and focus on something other than money, but flashbacks to his earlier life reveal why he’s so driven. We see him as a young boy who along with his parents and siblings are attempting to evacuate their seaside village before the advancing Chinese arrive, and in the chaos and panic that ensues he loses his grip on his younger sister’s hand. His father jumps into the sea in search of her but not before passing “man of the house” responsibilities to young Duk-soo. From there we between the present and various stages of his life as his family and his efforts to support them grow in tandem.

Director Jk Youn’s last film was the disaster film Tidal Wave ‐ it’s about a tidal wave ‐ and he carries that film’s attempted balance between humor, spectacle and drama onto this project with more consistent results. There are moments of slapstick-like humor throughout, oftentimes separated by only a minute or so from scenes of loss, suffering and heartbreak. It doesn’t always work leading to moments that gags that feel too broad and moments that tease overwrought melodrama, but more often than not the film pulls viewers in to Duk-soo’s heartfelt adventure of life.

Hwang is a big part of why it works ‐ an impressive feat as part of the film requires him (and Kim Yunjim as his wife) to act beneath some less than successful old-age makeup ‐ as he’s onscreen throughout and delivers a driven performance as a man determined to do whatever’s necessary. That drive takes Duk-soo to Germany as a miner and Vietnam as an engineer before he manages to settle down in Busan, and the globetrotting allows for mine disasters, gun fights with the Viet-Kong and a spectacularly presented explosion.

Oddly, while Duk-soo is the one making the ode to his lost father, we don’t get to know any of his own children and their dialogue consists mostly of complaints without personality. That child connection is ultimately unnecessary though as Duk-soo’s story leaves plenty of room for familial drama. A sequence late in the film, one based on real televised events from Korea in the early ’80s, is guaranteed to lubricate your eyes.

This is big biography the likes of which Hollywood rarely makes these days. The recent Unbroken tries, but it focuses more on ideas and themes than on the man at its center. Here though we simply have a man struggling like many before him and many after him, and it’s that familiarity that makes his tale so much more compelling.

Ode to My Father is currently in limited theatrical release.

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Black November

eOne Films

Los Angeles traffic comes to a standstill when a group of heavily armed Nigerian men take dozens of motorists hostage. The man (Mickey Rourke) they wanted most was targeted for his role as CEO to an international oil company with interests in their homeland. A reporter (Kim Basinger) has been brought along for the ride, and she uses her position to try and get their story out in the desperate hope of stopping an impending execution of a woman back in Nigeria. The men tell their story by way of flashbacks from their childhood up to the present day.

Look, there’s no denying that writer/director Jeta Amata’s heart is in the right place, but this film is something of a human rights violation in its own right. The early assault is well-staged, but everything after that feels cheap and severely lacking in energy. CGI fire and explosions hurt the eyes, and unlike Tiger Mountain above which had solid set-pieces to distract from the poor effects work we have no such luxury here.

The double-headed surprise here is seeing the likes of Rourke, Basinger, Anne Heche, Vivica A. Fox and William Goldman (?) seemingly donating an afternoon of their time to work on the film ‐ and then turning in the laziest performances of their varied careers. They all act like they just read their lines moments before and deliver work that doesn’t even rise to the level of videogame cut-scenes.

It’s a shame as it’s clear that not only is this an important story but it’s one that Amata feels highly impassioned about. We’re used to films about corporations screwing over the little people, but we rarely give thought to what our commercial interests are doing to other people in other, far away lands. Just as our own country’s past laws and antics prevented entire generations of Blacks from achieving prosperity these corporations (in cahoots with corrupt local governments) are doing the same today in countries like Nigeria.

But all the importance in the world can’t make a terrible film better.

Black November is currently on VOD and in limited theatrical release.

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[Rec] 4: Apocalypse

Magnet Releasing

The deadly virus that infected the populace of an apartment building, trapping journalist Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman inside along with firefighters and S.W.A.T. members, has been officially quarantined. Angela awakes on a ship out at sea along with one of those cops and a woman who was at a wedding that also suffered an outbreak, and together they discover that scientists on-board have been doing research on virus samples ‐ but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe, and what could possibly go wrong?

Director Jaume Balagueró shared the chair with Paco Plaza on the first two films ‐ both examples of brilliantly executed found footage horror ‐ but left Plaza to his own devices for the more comedic and Angela-free third film. His return for the fourth and final entry in the franchise came with much promise, and the subtitle “Apocalypse” added to the expectations, but unfortunately the resulting film is actively generic.

Apartment halls are traded in for ship hallways giving us essentially a highrise on its side, and much of what follows is people running back and forth through repetitive, dimly-lit areas. [Rec] 3 was it’s own kind of disappointment, but it least it found fresh geography. The script is equally bland with its scientists who we know will mess up somehow in their experimentation and military thugs who we know will act overly aggressive. Velasco still has spunk, thankfully, but she’s fighting a losing battle against the mundane.

The film tries to shake things up with some lab monkeys gone wild, but the special effects leave them more ridiculous and distracting than terrifying. Simians aside, the action becomes a roll call of familiar shots and jump scares, and when combined with a failure to expand the mythology in any interesting way the film begins to feel like an obligation on behalf of the filmmakers ‐ a feeling that viewers determined to see it through to the end quickly begin to share.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse is currently on VOD and in limited theatrical release.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.