Movies that end not so nicely: ‘Us,’ ‘Swing Kids,’ ‘Run the Race’

By Tom Von Malder | Jun 25, 2019
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Lupita Nyong-o is terrific in dual roles in "Us."

Owls Head — Us (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 116 min.). The follow-up to his excellent “Get Out,” writer-director Jordan Peele’s “Us” is again an unusual horror story. In some ways it is a zombie movie, only the zombies are doppelgangers or mirror images of us, and instead of wanting to consume us, they want to consume our lifestyle. There also are lots of socio-political overtones to the narrative.

The film begins in 1986, with Adelaide “Addy” Wilson’s family visiting the Santa Cruz oceanside boardwalk amusement park. Young Addy wanders off onto the beach and enters an isolated, seemingly abandoned hall of mirrors, where she encounters an exact replica of herself, an incident that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even though she has suppressed most of the 15 minutes that she was missing. In the present day, Addy is a mother herself (Lupita Nyong’o of “Black Panther,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”), with a husband (Winston Duke of “Black Panther,” the last two “Avengers” films as Gabe) and two kids of her own (Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora and Evan Alex as Jason), and firmly against visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk, even though they are using her late mother’s nearby house as a vacation home.

While Gabe surprises her by buying a boat, the Craw Daddy, to go fishing in the bay they are on, he still insists that they visit the amusement park. Addy reluctantly agrees. In one of the film’s many nice little touches, Jason wears a “Jaws” t-shirt. Some of the social commentary begins during on-the-beach conversations with the Wilsons’ friends, a white couple (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss as Josh and Kitty Tyler), while Zora interacts with the teenage Tyler twins (Cali and Noelle Sheldon playing Becca and Lyndsey). Addy loses sight of Jason, which causes her to panic and cut the day short.

The real horror begins when the Wilsons are disturbed that night by four shapes at the end of their driveway, shapes that turn out to be their doppelgangers and who attack them. Things turn bloody and deadly as it slowly is revealed that the world has gone mad.

Peele references a lot of earlier films. In addition to “Jaws,” there are several visual references to “The Shining,” which had its own twins, as well as work by Brian De Palma and Darren Aronofsky (the late, dueling dancing of the Pas De Deux, which both versions of Addy had turned into solos).

Due to the nature of the film, the strong cast each had to play two different roles, each with a separate personality. One personality has had a comfortable, at least middle-class stable life, while the other –referred to as The Tethered -- has been living in poverty with restrictions. It is a clear case of the haves and the have-nots, leading to a revolution. The doppelgangers wear red jumpsuits, giving them the visual impression of being prisoners. Even the opening Hands Across America anti-hunger campaign ad will get its own chilling doppelganger.

Best of the extras looks at how nearly every scene had to be shot twice since the actors play two roles opposite each other (7:29) and the film’s duality, showing the privileged in the United States versus the those who suffer and Pele explains some of his themes, including of science and religion (9:56). Other extras show Nyong’o preparing for her roles (4:45); a look at Peele’s brand of horror, which includes comedy and social commentary (5:31); Nyong’o shown between takes staying in character as Red (4:09); explorations of three scenes (7:37; a massacre, the fire trap and the final fight); six deleted scenes (6:28); a look at the dueling Pas De Deux (5:02); and alternate takes of Gabe and Josh talking on the beach about the boat, having a pool and the smart house (6:28). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Swing Kids (South Korea, Well Go USA, Blu-ray, NR, 133 min.). The film, directed by Kang Hyoung-Chul, is set in a prisoner of war camp on Koje Island in South Korea during the Korean Conflict of the 1950s. The camp is subject to outright war between prisoners who are for and against Communism, as an opening newsreel discloses as it sets the stage. The camp is run by Brigadier General Norman Roberts (Ross Kettle) who decides to start a dance training program for prisoners, after he learns of the secret swing dances, attended by local women who serve as partners, that have been held in the camp. Roberts feels that, if successful, such a dance team would show progress to visiting dignitaries.

Roberts appoints Staff Sgt. Jackson (Jared Grimes of TV’s “Manifest”) to do the dance training as the tap dance specialist used to dance on Broadway. Jackson has only three volunteers who can actually dance at all. They are Kang Byung-sam (Jeong-se Oh), overweight Xiao Fang (Kim Min-ho) and interpreter Yang Pan-rae (Hye-soo Park). Jackson slowly gets Roh Gi-soo (Kyung-soo Do) to join the group, as he is the one with the real dance talent. However, Gi-soo has to be careful because his brother Roh Gi-jun is a Revolutionary hero. It takes a dance-off between Jackson and Gi-soo to bring the latter into the dancing fold. In real life, Kyung-soo Do is a K-pop sensation as one of the main vocalists of the South Korean-Chinese boy group Exo.

While the film’s politics may not always be understandable and some characters, like the a-hole American guard McCoy, are way too stereotypical, the film often finds joy in the dance performances. One really nice sequence has Gi-soo, who is new to tap, realizing there are beats to the everyday happenings around him. However, the mostly fun film has a horrible ending. The film’s music is a bit all over the place, going from big band swing to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird.” There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Run the Race (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 103 min.). This film, executive-produced by football star Tim Tebow and his brother, Bobby Tebow, has an endearing story of the love between two brothers, whose father has abandoned them after their mother died of cancer.

Zach Truett (Tanner Stine of the TV series “Adopted,” “Impulse,” “The Thundermans”) is the star running back of the small Southern town’s high school football team. He regularly scores five touchdowns a game and hopes for a college scholarship so he and his brother Michael (Kristoffer Polaha of TV’s “Condor,” “Get Shorty”) can escape their limited surroundings. Michael was the team’s quarterback the previous season, until a tackle led to a serious head injury and he needs to take medicine to control his seizures. Both work evenings stocking the shelves in the grocery store run by their Nanny Louise (Frances Fisher of TV’s “Resurrect ion,” the films “True Crime,” “Titanic”). During the film, their father (Evan Hofer as David Truett) tries to reconnect and while Michael is inclined to forgive him, Zach will have nothing to do with him.

The story turns when Zach tears his ACL, ending his high school football career and probably his scholarship chances. So, Michael steps forward and says he will run the 400 meters for the school’s track team and try to earn a scholarship. A further event is more predictable and turns very upsetting. This is another film with a crappy ending, but the two actors create a very believable brotherly bond during the film, which brought me to tears three times – believe me, that does not happen a lot. Note that there is religious content throughout and it gets a bit heavier as Zach looks for answers. Mykelti Williamson plays Coach Bill Hailey, who just happens to handle both football and track.

The very good soundtrack includes several songs about brothers. Extras are minimal: Tim Tebow talking about the heart of the film (1:39); a 1-minute making-of look; and seven cast members talking about subjects that include dating advice, forgiveness and mentors (6:29). Grade: film 3 stars; extras .5 stars

Sorry Angel (France, Strand Releasing DVD, NR, 132 min.). Our third film with a crappy ending – I would have stopped this one two scenes and five minutes earlier, which would have left the audience with hope and possibilities – is from writer-director Christophe Honoré (“Les Chansons D’Amour,” “Metamorphoses”). It is about relationships between men of different ages, set in 1993 Paris and Brittany, when, despite the growing presence of AIDS, casual sex was very much still practiced.

Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) is at 35 a successful playwright. He has a school-aged son, Loulou, whom he shares custody with the mother, who is only a friend. On a trip to Brittany to work on a play, Jacques meets 22-year-old Arthur (Vincent Lacoste), an aspiring filmmaker who runs a kids’ summer camp. Arthur, who has a girlfriend, is bisexual, saying at one point that he falls for girls, but then cheats on them with guys. However, there is an instant attraction between Jacques and Arthur, when they meet in the movie theater housed in the same building as the play’s production. (The film is “The Piano,” one which I personally never “got.”)

While the two meet up occasionally, it is not until three quarters of the way in that Arthur, looking to expand his horizons, visits Jacques in Paris. The two-day visit has a rough start as Jacques, whose HIV is worsening, initially pretends to be away, leaving Arthur in the hands of his neighbor friend (Denis Podalydes as 40-something Mathieu).

In the film’s press notes for Cannes, Honoré wrote, ”I wanted to use fiction to bring back to life the student I was at the time and revive the figure of the writer that I would have dreamed of meeting, which never happened.”

While the film is occasionally frank in its portrayal of sex, it is the bonds of friendship, companionship and overall love that are its overriding themes. One moving scene is between Jacques and a former lover who is close to dying from AIDS. What turns out to be their farewell scene is something rare to behold, an affecting scene filled with compassion and memory. Thomas Gonzalez plays the dying Marco. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.5 stars

Hotel Mumbai (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 123 min.). Inspired by the documentary, “Surviving Mumabi,” director-co-writer Anthony Maras has fashioned a tense thriller about whether those trapped in the Taj Motel during the 2008 terrorist siege would survive. The film opens with the 10 young male terrorists arriving by raft at the waterfront in Mumbai, India’s financial capitol. The terrorists take taxis to three locations. We first see two shooting people in a train station, before they make their way to join others at the Taj Hotel.

In all, 12 sites were attacked, with 78 killed and 200 injured five hours into the attacks. The situation would not be totally resolved for three days, as riot police had to come from Delhi, 800 miles away. Nine of the 10 terrorists were killed, but their leader in Pakistan, known as The Bull, who only communicated by telephone, has never been caught. Other than identifying the terrorists as Muslims, no specifics for their attacks is given.

The film’s story centers around two characters that represent the dozens of hotel employees who stayed who help safeguard their guests. One is head chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher), whose motto is “The guest is God.” The other is waiter Arjun (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire,” the two “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” films), who is serving guests David Duncan (Armie Hammer of “Call Me By Your Name,” “On the Basis of Sex”) and Zahra Kashan (Nazanin Boniadi of TV’s “Homeland”), who are a couple but not married, when the shooting starts inside the hotel. Zahra is pregnant, while David’s infant son is upstairs with the nanny. Another major character is hotel guest Vasili Orchevsky, played by Jason Isaacs of “The Patriot,” “Black Hawk Down.”

The film is an exciting, tense watch, but I wish Maras, making his directorial debut, did not center on Caucasian characters so much; it creates a kind of racism, especially since all the characters except Chef Oberoi appear to have been made up.

Bonus features are very brief: a look at the story and cast (2:40); finding the real story, with actor Kher knowing two people involved (2:16); conducting six months of interviews to find the humanity in the tragedy (1:43); and a look at the real-life heroes (2:24). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras .5 stars

Trapped Alive (1988, Arrow Blu-ray, NR, 91 min.). Originally titled “Forever Mine” after the mine in the film, this low-budget horror film was the first product of the newly-found Windsor Lake Studio in Eagle River in the north woods of Wisconsin. In the film, three escaped convicts – one of whom was forced into the escape – hijack a station wagon with two young women who were going to a Christmas party. Taking a detour to escape the manhunt, the vehicle drops into an abandoned mine, which is not completely vacant, as there was one survivor of a previous cave-in who had to turn to cannibalism to survive.

The name in the cast is Cameron Mitchell (TV’s “The High Chaparral,” “Swiss Family Robinson”), who plays the father of one of the girls in a very limited role. The girls are Robin (newcomer Sullivan Hester) and Rachel (Elizabeth Kent). The escapees are led by Louis “Face” Napoleon (Alex Kubik) and include his cellmate Mongo (Michael Nash) and the forced-along kid (newcomer Mark Witsken as Randy Carter). The cannibal is not seen for 58 minutes. Randolph Powell (TV’s “Dallas,” “Logan’s Run”) plays Sheriff’s Deputy Billy Williams, who, unbelievably, stops to have sex with the woman in the mine keeper’s house, instead of investigating the big hole into the mine only a few yards away.

That silliness aside, the film is not too bad for a low-budget feature and is deserving of the cult status it is gaining. It never made it to theaters and only was released on VHS in limited quantities. As usual, Arrow has done a wonderful job with the extras, including three audio commentaries: one by director-co-writer Leszek Burzynski (TV’s “Father’s Day” series); a second by special effects artist Hank Carlson and Josh Hadley; and a third by The Hysteria Continues, a Transatlantic podcast dedicated to slasher movies and Italian giallo. There also is an interview with Carlson, who was only 17 when he became a crew member hire at the new studio, located 10 minutes from his home (18:37). Carlson talks about hiss love of creature makeup and finding it hard to get into the business in remote Wisconsin, and then discusses his career afterwards.

Both the making-of documentary (30:52) and the 1988 episode of “Upper Michigan Tonight” (22:32) spend a lot of time about the creation of Windsor Lake Studio and what the owners, Christopher and Cheryl Webster, hoped to accomplish. Both have behind-the-scenes footage, while the making-of contains interviews with Burzynski, actor Kubik (he talks a lot about the poor catering) and actor Hester, as well as cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, who brought her own brown rice. There also is an image gallery of 181 stills and a look at Burzynski’s early years (9:41) that includes a lot of Tiny Tim acting as a killer clown in his only film, “Blood Harvest,” which Burzynski wrote and produced. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 4 stars

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