Jockey


A prayer in jockey’s silks.

(2021) Sports Drama (Sony Classics) Clifton Collins Jr., Logan Cormier, Vincent Francia, Molly Parker, Marlon St. Julien, Moises Arias, Danny Garcia, Ryan Barber, Martin Bourdieu, Aki Kato, Richard Lull, Scott Stevens, Carl “The Truth” Williams, Michael Ybarra, Joe Johnson, Daillon Luker, Oscar Quiroz, John Shumaker, Willie Whitehouse, Stacey Nottingham, Colleen Hartnett. Directed by Clint Bentley

 

They call horse racing the sport of kings, and there is an intense beauty to it; the overwhelming majesty of the horses, the colorful silks of their riders, the pounding hoofs kicking up clods of dirt, the intensity of competition. But not every race is the Kentucky Derby; not every jockey wins the race.

Jackson Silva (Collins) has had a storied career, but he is reaching the end of the line, and he knows it. His battered body, mauled in falls off of his mounts, has begun to manifest some disturbing symptoms, ranging from hand tremors to outright seizures. His doctor – well, the vet at the local race track in Phoenix where he plies his trade – urges him to retire, but Jackson isn’t about to do that, when there is one more championship to win, and the trainer he works with, Ruth (Parker), has just the horse that might get him that last ring.

But onto the scene comes Gabriel (Arias), a brash young man with talent by the bucket load. He also claims to be Jackson’s son. At first, he doesn’t believe it but as he watches the boy ride, he realizes that the kid could well be the legacy he wants to leave behind. He takes Gabriel under his wing as a mentor, but time is not his friend and as his condition worsens that last championship is tantalizingly close – but just out of reach. Can he urge his mount forward just a little faster to catch that brass ring?

Jockey is both a conventional sports drama and an unconventional one; it carries many of the same beats as traditional sports dramas do, and relies on some of the tropes, but it is unconventional in the way that the film is shot and in that Bentley doesn’t seem overly concerned with the outcomes of the few races he does show – most out of focus on a TV screen in a bar. The only way we can tell who won or lost the race is by Collins’ facial expression.

Speaking of Collins, his name may not be familiar but his face should be. He’s a veteran character actor who’s been in the business since the Nineties, generally playing supporting roles. This is a rare opportunity for him to play the lead, and he runs with it, turning in the performance that he will undoubtedly be remembered for. Jackson isn’t necessarily a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but he does wear them in his eyes and much of Collins’ acting is done there. He is sometimes mournful, sometimes joyful, often frustrated but rarely uninteresting.

Bentley and cinematographer Adolpho Veloso have a good eye, but unfortunately, they are more interested in getting unusual shots. There are tons of gorgeous panoramas at dawn and dusk, with the sun low or gone from the Arizona sky. Cinematographers call this the “golden hour” and it makes for some beautiful pictures, but they use it to distraction. They also spend a lot of time in close up on Collins’ face and that, in itself, is not a bad thing, but there is a tendency to shoot from unusual angles above and below the actors’ head, which also gets distracting. I’m not sure if the filmmakers didn’t have faith in the script that they felt they had to jazz it up with the low-light close-ups.

Which is a shame because there is a lot to like about the movie; the camaraderie among the jockeys in the tack room as they sit around the card table, shooting the breeze, lamenting about their injuries, laughing about past glories and commiserating over the state of the business. The filmmakers used a lot of actual equestrians and persons associated with the horse racing world, and that authenticity is evident throughout the film. When they get together, talking about what’s going on in their lives, those scenes are absolutely a delight, some of the best in the film.

This is probably not a film for everybody; it has a fairly languid pace, and there’s really no antagonist in the cast to root against. It’s kind of a slice of life sports drama, one in which tough people weather tough days and nights at the track on the backs of beautiful animals, and the love between horse and rider is clearly felt, and it is a real element, not something canned like many a Hollywood horse racing film. It’s worth taking a chance on. The movie made a qualifying Oscar run at the end of December, and is opening in selected markets on February 4th, expanding to a wider release the following week.

REASONS TO SEE: Collins gives a career-defining performance. There’s an authenticity to the environment.
REASONS TO AVOID: There’s an overreliance on close-ups, silhouettes and low-light dusk shots.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Bentley’s father was a jockey.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/3/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews; Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lean on Pete
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
7 Prisoners

Dark Skies


Things that go bump in the night.

Things that go bump in the night.

(2013) Sci-Fi Horror (Dimension) Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett, J.K. Simmons, L.J. Benet, Rich Hutchman, Myndy Crist, Anne Thurman, Jake Washburn, Ron Ostrow, Tom Costello, Marion Kerr, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Josh Stamberg, Tiffany Jeneen, Brian Stepanek, Judith Moreland, Adam Schneider, Jessica Borden Directed by Scott Stewart

6 Days of Darkness 2015

In one’s home, one feels secure, safe as if locked doors and a deadbolt can keep the outside world at bay. The terrors of the outside world however are insidious and some of them can’t be deterred by a closed door or a security alarm.

Daniel Barrett (Hamilton) is an unemployed architect unable to find a job in a recession-era environment. His wife Lacy (Russell) is a real estate agent in a market when NOBODY is buying houses. They are surviving on her meager income and the bills are rapidly becoming an issue that is affecting their relationship.

Their kids Jesse (Goyo) – the eldest – and Sam (Rockett) – the youngest – are aware that their parents are under some strain but don’t really know why. And then some odd things begin to happen. They find the refrigerator door open and all the vegetables eaten. The canned and packaged food is stacked up in a neat pile on the kitchen table. The chandelier over the table begins projecting strange symbols on the ceiling.

The incidents begin to escalate. Sammy has some kind of seizure during a soccer game. Lacy witnesses hundreds of birds flying into their home and killing themselves. Lacy sees an alien figure standing over Sammy’s bed who disappears when she turns on the light. As the incidents get worse and worse, Lacy does some research and comes up with a single cause – U.F.O.s. She consults an expert (Simmons) who tells them that these cases usually end up in child abduction.

That night, which happens to be the Fourth of July, Daniel and Lacy load up for bear, sealing up their home and awaiting an alien onslaught. But how can you fight an enemy you can’t see – and whose motivations you don’t know?

There have been plenty of alien abduction movies ranging from Communion to The X-Files: Fight the Future. Where does this one stack up on the list? Somewhere in the middle. Director Stewart, whose background is in visual effects, manages to set a great suburban environment where everything is normal – at least normal for this time and place. At first the villains are purely financial – bill collectors and the possibility they might lose their home bring in modern horror we can all relate to.

But as the movie goes on, it slowly begins to come off the rails until it builds to a climax that is to put it mildly disappointing. I can’t stress enough that this is a movie with enormous potential that you watch with a stupefied catatonic expression on your face as it completely blows it.

Keri Russell is a really fine actress and normally she can be relied upon to keep a film centered but here, she – like everyone else in the cast – overacts almost to the point of parody. All the gestures are wild and overbearing; all the dialogue delivered like they’re pronouncements rather than lines. I have never seen a movie in which there was such universal scene chewing as this one, or at least none that I can remember.

The two actors playing the kids – Royo and Rockett – are completely unconvincing and as wooden as a treehouse. I get that having children put in jeopardy is part of the movie’s whole reason to be, but at least make the children believable. I can’t believe they couldn’t find better juvenile actors than these.

The most major failing however is that this sci-fi horror movie isn’t as scary as it could be. For one thing, we never see the aliens clearly. If you’re going to have an alien movie, the least you can do is show us the aliens. And as the ending dives over the cliff of futility, the sense of jeopardy that the director worked so hard to establish disappears entirely. By the end of the movie you’ll be hard-pressed not to check the time.

The first half of the movie is actually pretty terrific and if they’d maintained the momentum they set up, this could have been a horror classic. Instead we get a movie that is a bit of a mess. There are definitely some features worth exploring here but overall this is fairly unsatisfying and despite a decent cast, falters in nearly every important way.

WHY RENT THIS: Establishes a sense of normalcy. Hits close to home.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Abundant overacting. Not scary enough.
FAMILY VALUES: Situations of terror, a fair amount of violence, some sexual material, a little bit of drug use and a fair amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dark Skies was also the original title for Sharknado.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.4M on a $3.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu , M-Go
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fire in the Skies
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness continues!