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posted: 6/21/2012 6:00 AM

'Dark Horse' a healthy dose of schadenfreude

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  • Jordan Gelber stars as Abe, a thirtysomething loser chasing the disaffected Miranda (Selma Blair) in "Dark Horse."

    Jordan Gelber stars as Abe, a thirtysomething loser chasing the disaffected Miranda (Selma Blair) in "Dark Horse."

  • Sorry the dog (played by Aleistair the terrier) romps with Steve Carell in "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World."

    Sorry the dog (played by Aleistair the terrier) romps with Steve Carell in "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World."

  • Video: "Dark Horse" trailer


Reel Life mini-review: "Dark Horse"
Characters in Todd Solondz's movies usually serve up a healthy dose of schadenfreude. They're so messed up and miserable, we feel better that we're not them.

"Dark Horse" presents what I imagine Charlie Brown would be in a Solondz movie. He's a thirtysomething loser named Abe (played by Jordan Gelber) who lives at home with his parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken), is a terrible employee at his dad's office, possesses a weak self-image and blames the world for everything wrong with his life.

"People are selfish!" he shouts in one of his arrested adolescent rants. "People are horrible!"

"Dark Horse" is a character study of Abe, a guy who doesn't connect the dots of his life. He pathetically attempts to romance a clearly disinterested, empty woman (Selma Blair) whom most men might avoid. His successful doctor brother Richard (Justin Bartha) is a constant source of resentment for him.

Solondz, whose "Happiness" and "Welcome to the Doll House" oozed with ominous insights into the darker recesses of supposed average people, goes Solondz-lite in "Dark Horse." Abe slips in and out of daydreams dripping with guilt and desire (mostly with Donna Murphy's wonderfully wrought office marm-turned-cougar).

As the insecure, needy Abe shakes his unsure fist at the world, we quietly root for a Lucy of the story to show up and, for five cents, lay him out straight.

"Dark Horse" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. Not rated; for mature audiences. 84 minutes. ★ ★

Note: Todd Solondz will do a Q&A after the 7 p.m. showing of "Dark Horse" Friday, June 22, at the Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., Chicago. Go to

Who's that doggy?
Cute canine co-stars were big in 2011 ("Hugo," "The Artist," "Beginners"), but they can't compete with the lovable Sorry in the new movie "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World." Sorry, played by a terrier named Aleister, seems to understand his human co-stars and really reacts accordingly.

In the press notes to "Seeking a Friend," I discovered that Aleister had been rescued from a shelter two years ago and has been performing in TV commercials.

Sarah Clifford of Animal Savvy scouted shelters to find doubles for Aleister. She named his stunt double Mulligan, as in "second chance." Clifford rescued Mulligan the morning he was scheduled to be killed. (In the movie when you see Sorry crawling down the fire escape, that's really Mulligan doing his stunt double duty.)

"Seeking a Friend" used four dogs to play Sorry, a poor pet left with Steve Carell by some unknown owner just before the world comes to a fiery end.

Carell got Aleister to like him by starting every day with a bonding session during which the actor gave the doggy treats, then kissed and cuddled him.

"Isn't he amazing?" said writer/director Lorene Scafaria. "There was nothing that dog needed to do except sit there. I'm a real dog lover."

Scafaria used Sorry for much more than a cute prop with a tail.

"I like to think that Sorry also represents our capacity for forgiveness," she said.

Speaking of Scafaria ...
Scafaria, also the screenwriter for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," came to Chicago recently to promote her directorial film debut "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World." I asked her a few questions:

Q. How did you find that balance between the maudlin and the romantic to tell the story of two people who find each other just before the end of the world?

A. I think they are one and the same. I think that the best comedy is actually tragic and some tragedies are actually very funny if you look at them a certain way. I think a lot of that was done in the writing on the script.

Q. How was your first directing movie experience?

A. I directed a lot of theater when I was younger, so I was comfortable working with the actors. I had an amazing crew around me so I could relax a little bit. I found that actually getting on set and crossing off items on a list I've had for three years was a very rewarding experience. And hey, we're outdoors with power tools and kids who can problem solve. It was a lovely, collaborative experience.

Q. Did you view any previous end-of-the-world movies before making "Seeking a Friend"?

A. I hate to say it, but I barely revisited any of those. I've seen them all, "Armageddon," "Day After Tomorrow" and all that. Even the main story in "Day After Tomorrow" -- aside from are they going to make it? -- is about a guy who's got a crush on a girl, but she might be dating some other guy.

You don't stop being a human being. You don't stop having those feelings. In those films, the things you're most compelled by are the human relationships.

Film critic's notebook
• Michael Uslan, comic book historian and the executive producer of a zillion movies, but most importantly "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," will come to William Rainey Harper College in Palatine to speak about his Batman experiences at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28, in the Performing Arts Center, alias Building R.

Here's my question: Hey, Michael, after making "The Dark Knight" here in Chicago, why didn't you make "The Dark Knight Rises" in the Windy City, too? I'm waiting ...

General admission costs $10. Call (847) 925-6100 or go to for tickets.

• "The Wizard of Oz" will be shown at dusk (8:30 p.m. or so) under the stars today, Friday, as part of the "Movies in the Park" program at the Rolling Meadows Community Center at 3705 Pheasant Drive. Free admission! (Concession stuff available for purchase.)

• Cinemark's Classic Film Series continues at 2 and 7 p.m. every Wednesday at local Cinemark theaters through July 25. The features have been digitally restored from the Warner Bros. vault. Go to for details.

• The After Hours Film Society presents Philippe Falardeau's Oscar-nominated drama "Monsieur Lazhar" at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Not rated. 94 minutes. Admission costs $9, $5 for members. Go to for details.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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