Tag Archives: Dark Horse

Do It For the Hwyl!*

Dream Horse

by George Wolf

How much of a feel good story is this? Dream Horse is the second film to tell it in just the last five years.

2016’s Dark Horse introduced it as a splendid documentary, with archival footage and first person accounts from the working class U.K. folk who pooled their money to breed a race horse. That horse, named Dream Alliance, become an unlikely winner, ultimately racing for the Welsh Grand National title.

If you’ve seen that doc (and I recommend it), it will come as no surprise that narrative filmmakers are having a go at the tale. I mean, it’s got majestic horses, regular Joes and Jans crashing the owners boxes, triumphant sports moments, and it really happened! Barton Fink couldn’t have cooked up anything more big screen ready.

Director Euros Lyn (lots of TV including Doctor Who) has a terrific anchor in Toni Collette, who stars as Welsh barmaid Jan Vokes. It was Jan’s idea to form a “syndicate” ownership group for a racehorse, leaning on bar regular Howard Davies (Damien Lewis) – a tax advisor with some experience around the track – for backup.

For Lyn and screenwriter Neil McKay (also a TV veteran), the challenge becomes keeping the generic sports cliches from overpowering the moments that transcend sport. And for the most part, they do.

Yes, you’re going to hear swelling music and a dismissive trainer admitting “there’s just something about him…” But more importantly, you see people finding a renewed joy in their very existence – and a touching pride in knowing they were a part of something worthy enough to outlive them.

One of the many joys of Dark Horse was getting to know this colorful gang in person – they are a collective hoot. Collette, Lewis and a solid ensemble bring them all to life in warm and witty fashion, while Lyn earns some bonus points for the refreshing way he brings out the real players for a curtain call.

The best sports movies are almost always about more than the sport. Dream Horse doesn’t forget that. You can bet on it.

*a old Welsh saying meaning doing something for the stirring sensation, fervour, emotion and enthusiasm

Crashing the Owners Box

Dark Horse

by George Wolf

Man, how great were those NBA finals? Can you believe Cleveland really did it? If you’re still as inspired by their comeback as I am, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get a group of friends together, pool our money, and buy a minor league team!

Crazy as it seems, that plan is not far from the one at the heart of Dark Horse, a captivating documentary that follows a group of racing enthusiasts in the U.K. In the early 2000s, Welsh barmaid Janet Vokes organized some customers and friends from the “working men’s club” where she worked, and the group bred their very own race horse.

Director Louise Osmond is gifted with the very definition of a feel good tale, and she doesn’t squander the chance to present it in stand-up-and-cheer fashion.

As the group of working stiffs crashes the upper-crust owners boxes at the track, their horse, named Dream Alliance, starts winning, and suddenly Janet and her crew are hometown celebrities.

Osmond flexes sharp instincts for keeping cliche to a minimum while finding universal emotion in this underdog journey. What starts as a let’s-see-what-happens gambit becomes a vessel for “common folk” to find meaning in their lives and contentment in their legacies. As members of the owners group (dubbed “the Syndicate”) start to open up about what the entire experience has meant to them, it becomes truly touching.

Mixing charming first-person interviews, dramatic archival footage and nifty re-creations, Osmond keeps the pace engaging, switching gears before any particular segment shows signs of fatigue. Anyone who doesn’t already know how the Dream Alliance saga turns out will find themselves wide-eyed when Jan and her fellow owners are suddenly faced with a tough choice regarding their horse’s health.

Sports could use more owners like the Syndicate, and more docs like Dark Horse.




For Your Queue: Laughing and Wincing


By Hope and George


An underseen film being released to DVD/BluRay today is the newest flick from Todd Solondz.

In Dark Horse, misanthrope/filmmaker Solondz turns his pitiless gaze toward the entitled underachiever. Abe (a perfect Jordan Gelber), waddling through his thirties, drives a hummer, lives at home, slacks off at his father’s office, collects action figures, and believes himself to be put-upon.

A game supporting cast, including Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken as coddling parents, keeps things interesting. As usual, Solondz’s humor comes from a dark place, although Dark Horse is hardly his blackest comedy (that would be Happiness, the one about the pedophile). Nor is it his best (see also: Happiness). But a middling effort from Solondz is still too brilliantly awful to go unseen.

If you’re up for a double scoop of dark laughs, consider Carnage, Roman Polanksi’s adaptation of the hit play from Yasmina Reza (who also wrote the script).

The film is set almost entirely in one room, where two sets of parents are meeting to cordially discuss a recent altercation at school involving their respective sons.

Cordial doesn’t stand a chance.

In short order, the meeting spirals into chaos amid brilliant slices of coal black comedy and stellar performances from Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Wislet and Christoph Waltz.

Uncomfortable? Oh, yes. But its also intelligent and hilarious, and worth a look if you missed it in theaters.