Underseen Movie: The One I Love with Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass

The One I Love” is one of the harder movies to review because it really helps to go into it with an open mind. The less you know about what happens in it, the better the experience will be. Ever since its debut at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, its most fervent admirers have been praising it and guarding its secrets as if they have the secret formula for Coca-Cola. What I can tell you is that it is an insanely clever romantic comedy, and it belongs to a genre I typically live to avoid.

Things start off with the married couple of Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) going through troubles which usually tear a couple apart permanently. They try to recreate their romantic spark by revisiting the house they snuck into when they first met and jump in the pool, but the magic isn’t there. In the process of visiting their therapist (played by Ted Danson), he suggests they spend the weekend in this cottage he knows about so they can work on their marriage. When they get there, they find the cottage is in a beautiful location I would personally love to visit sometime, and it proves to be a very relaxing place for a vacation. But when they start to explore the other parts of the house, things quickly get very trippy.

So that’s it. This is all I am going to tell you about the plot of “The One I Love.” It is very nice we have a movie like this one where film buffs are not investigating every little detail like they do with “Star Wars” or “The Matrix.” With big blockbusters, everyone is analyzing every single moment of the movie trailers, following news updates of who is being cast, and it gets to where they have a vision of what it is going to be like inside their heads. The problem is, going into anything with such lofty expectations will usually have you living very disappointed, and perhaps for the wrong reasons. It helps that “The One I Love” is a low budget feature which is coming in under the radar because people aren’t busy overanalyzing like this one.

It should also be noted how director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader created this movie out of a 50-page document which contained the scene beats and the locations of the entire movie. The only thing this document did not contain was the dialogue, and the actors ended up improvising it themselves. Even though the actors were given ideas to work with, they pretty much drive this movie more than anyone else, and I applaud the challenges they face here and the risks they took with what they were given.

“The One I Love” serves as a terrific acting showcase for its stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, both of whom get to explore different levels of their characters throughout the movie’s running time. Mark is, of course, well known for making and producing many offbeat films with his brother Jay Duplass like “Cyrus,” “Baghead” and “The Puffy Chair” among others. As an actor, he is perfectly cast in the role of an everyman husband who finds himself threatened with the various events he is forced to endure while staying at the cottage. As Ethan, we sense his desperation to save his marriage, and we also sense his desperation to not be second best at anything.

Moss has had quite the ride in recent years with her work on “Mad Men,” “Top of the Lake” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and she is currently experiencing great success on the silver screen in “The Invisible Man.” She once again proves just how wide her acting range is as Sophie. Like the movie, she is full of surprises and such a lovely presence to watch, and she renders every emotion you see Sophie going through as being totally genuine. Considering what the role has her doing, it is really quite a feat when you realize what Moss has accomplished here.

“The One I Love” is one of the few movies I have seen in recent years which takes turns I did not see coming, and I honestly have not been this riveted by a romantic comedy since “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Seriously, you really need to check your expectations at the door when you go and see it because there will be no easy way to prepare you for what will unfold. I am always waiting to see a movie which constantly surprises me throughout, and this is one of them.

If there were any expectations I had with “The One I Lovie,” it was that I was to hear Stephen Still’s song “Love the One You’re With” play over the end credits. Once you watch this movie, you will understand why this would have been the perfect piece of music to end things on. After all, “The Simpsons” made great use of it on one of their “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Ben and Josh Safdie Discuss the Making of ‘Heaven Knows What’

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Heaven Knows What” is a movie which takes us into a landscape alien to many of us: the world of a drug addict. Arielle Holmes stars in a riveting performance as Harley, a homeless addict on the streets of New York who has two passionate yet volatile loves in her life: her boyfriend Ilya and heroin. We watch as they struggle to survive one day after another on the mean streets of New York, struggling with addiction and each other as Harley attempts to prove her love to Ilya in the most passionate and dangerous way possible.

The movie was directed by brother filmmakers Josh and Ben Safdie whose previous credits include the comedy drama “Daddy Longlegs,” the documentary “Lenny Cooke,” and the crime-drama “Good Time” starring Robert Pattinson. I got to speak with them while they were in Los Angeles, and they described the various elements behind this movie’s making in great detail.

“Heaven Knows What” is based on the memoir “Mad Love in New York City” written by Holmes. I was eager to read it after watching the movie, but it hasn’t been published yet. Josh explained why.

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Josh Safdie: She has a few publishers who want to do it, but she’s like rethinking about how she wants to release it now that she’s done these two other movies and is now in the responsible world.

Ben Safdie: There’s a beautiful rawness to it. If you were to read the pages, it really feels like you were right there sitting next to her all the time and it’s beautiful. That kind of immediacy is also what really attracted me to it because first you hear about, oh, homeless person addicted to drugs. We’ve heard that story a million times. How do you tell that story in a new and different way? Her voice was that new way.

I came into this movie not knowing anything about its backstory, and I honestly thought Holmes was a highly trained actress as her performance is brilliant and mesmerizing. This, however, is not the case as she is not all that far removed from the addict we see on screen. She was a homeless addict for years but has managed to get herself cleaned up, and her performance in “Heaven Knows What” has earned her attention from many who want to make her a star. Both Josh and Ben described what it was like working with her.

JS: Her performance is incredible. You have to remember when you live on the street you’re performing on an everyday level. Whether you’re hustling this person or trying to get this thing out of that person, it’s a performance and a performative life. She was also moonlighting as a dominatrix where she literally was performing as a different character.

BS: One of the most difficult performances you can give is as yourself because you need to be able to understand what makes you tick and then be able to put that out there without any inhibition. And then that’s how you build other performances because if you can get at your core in its ugliest form, or whatever its form, you can build from there.

JS: Acting is just painting your personality a different color. I really was amazed. When I watch the movie now, as I get more and more distance from it just in terms of just having filmed it with a sense of making it, I watch Ari’s performance and I’m really in shock about it. It would take like six or seven takes to get the performative level because it would often start out with her enthusiasm level and how enthused she was to do the scene. Sometimes she was really in it and she would give us this incredible performance. Other times it would take 12 takes to get it out of her. It’s really a beautiful performance from her. And the guy, Caleb (Landry Jones, who plays Ilya), is an actor in Hollywood movies. That’s like the craziest performance because people don’t even realize that it’s a performance and they learn his real story that he is a Texan and that he was in “X-Men: First Class,” he was in “Contraband,” he was in “Antiviral,” he lives in Los Angeles. This is not him at all. Maybe there are traces of him in Ilia, but no, that’s not him.

What’s fascinating about “Heaven Knows What” is how it combines fiction with a raw cinema verite. It’s essentially a fictionalized version of true events, and yet it feels like we’re watching real life unfold right before our eyes. I asked the directors what it was like balancing out the fictional elements with the real-life ones while making this movie.

BS: I think it was about putting them in a blender and not knowing where that line was because that was the only way to make it successful. We made a documentary before this, and that was a documentary. That was a real person and we were trying to tell his real story, but in order to tell his story most effectively we had to use techniques from fiction filmmaking, reenactment and changing the timeline. We were fictionalizing reality there to get the point across. So here we are making a fiction film with a kind of documentary base, and again we had to employ the same kind of tools. You have to make things up to really get at the true emotional core of things. (Werner) Herzog says it’s like the ecstatic truth once you get there.

The movie also features a brilliant electronic score which serves to illustrate just how alien the world drug addicts inhabit is to the rest of us. Along with movies like “The Guest,” “It Follows” and “Ex Machina,” electronic film scores are making a big comeback. Josh and Ben talked about the movie’s composers and why they chose that kind of music.

JS: There’s a bunch of things that are happening in music in the movie. For the most part, we feature the work of Isao Tomita and his renditions of Debussy. We really wanted to have a romantic score, but this movie is like a time squared, nighttime vibe. It’s like electrified and it’s kind of seedy, and it’s an alien landscape almost. We like to say the movie takes place on Mars which is where an addict’s brain goes in a weird way. Debussy music is some of the most romantic music ever composed, but when it’s done through this Japanese mind from the 70’s it’s different. It’s reinterpreted. It’s no longer really romantic but it has its core in romanticism.

BS: There’s other music that we use throughout the movie. There’s some original music by Paul Grimstad in the hospital sequence, and then there’s Ariel Pink who’s a Los Angeles guy who wrote a song for the movie called “I Need a Minute.” It’s electrified as well, and he wanted it to be a love song to the locked bathroom, being able to lock your own bathroom and needing another minute while people are banging on the door.

Watching “Heaven Knows What” brings to mind movies like “Kids” and “Requiem for a Dream” which dealt with lifestyles which were unnerving and at times horrifying to witness. We want to look away and these films dare us to, but in the end we can’t avoid the reality of what people do to each other and themselves.

“Heaven Knows What” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Daniel Radcliffe on the Young Actor who Played Him in ‘Horns’

Horns movie poster

The “Horns” press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California proved to be a lot of fun as stars Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and writer Joe Hill, whose book the movie is based on, shared great memories about the making of this dark fantasy. Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man madly in love with Merrin Williams (Temple) and who will do anything for her. But as the movie opens, we discover Merrin was brutally murdered, and everyone thinks Ig was the one who killed her.

In addition to scenes where we see Ig and Merrin being intimate with one another, we also get to see a flashback where these two lovers first met. This resulted in two younger actors being hired to play these characters: Mitchell Kummen as Ig and Sabrina Carpenter as Merrin, and both look a lot like Radcliffe and Temple. While watching this sequence, I started thinking of the movie “Contact” in which Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway and Jena Malone plays the same character as a young girl. In her commentary track on the “Contact,” Foster said the following:

“I always love watching actors play me, and actually it’s always the reverse; whenever you hire a child actor to play the adult actor, you just ask the adult actor to copy the kid. That’s certainly what Tom Hanks did in ‘Forest Gump,’ and that’s what I tried to do a little bit in this movie.”

That remark stayed with me long after the first time I heard it, and I wondered if Radcliffe or Temple had the same experience with the actors playing the younger versions of themselves in “Horns.” I asked Radcliffe about that, and his answer led to one of the funniest moments of the day.

Daniel Radcliffe: That’s interesting because we didn’t really see a huge amount of what the kids were doing. I was often, when they would be doing stuff, getting made up or de-made up or something would be going on so they would try and time it like that, so I didn’t really get to see a lot of what they were doing. I got to spend quite a lot of time particularly with Mitchell on the movie, and it was funny because Sabrina lives in L.A. now and she’s 13 going on 21. She’s incredibly mature and well above her years, and Mitchell is like I was when I was like 13. He’s a kid from Winnipeg, and he’s like a kid and he’s incredibly sweet. He’s awesome and I just like the fact that… Obviously, Mitch is blond naturally and he’s got much fairer hair than I do, and they dyed his hair on the first day. He went back to his hotel in Vancouver and nobody knew what he was doing, and then one of the girls just happened to say, ‘Oh you look like Harry Potter.’ That just made his day. He was so happy.

So, while Radcliffe didn’t necessarily take anything specifically from Kummen’s performance, he did illustrate how difficult it can be for casting directors to find an actor to play him as a younger person. Still, both Radcliffe and Kummen took the same character and made it their own in this movie. Thanks to their performances, we succeeded in getting the best of both worlds in “Horns.”

Anna Kendrick on Singing Take After Take in ‘The Last Five Years’

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It should be no secret by now that Anna Kendrick has quite the singing voice. Whether it’s the independent musical film “Camp,” “Pitch Perfect,” “Pitch Perfect 2” or “Into the Woods,” she consistently dazzles us with her singing whether she’s appearing on the silver screen or on Broadway. In “The Last Five Years,” Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s Off-Broadway show, she plays Cathy Hiatt, an aspiring actress who falls madly in love with the very talented writer Jamie Wellerstein (played by Jeremy Jordan). But as Jamie’s star quickly rises, Cathy finds herself struggling in her acting career to where she begins to feel invisible around Jamie. Essentially, “The Last Five Years” looks at a relationship’s exhilarating highs and its emotionally draining lows, and it proves to be a musical which is far more character driven than one which thrives on spectacle.

I was lucky enough to attend the press conference for “The Last Five Years” held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, and Kendrick was in attendance along with Jordan and LaGravenese. I was particularly interested in how Kendrick was able to keep the songs she sang fresh for her in each take. By this, I mean how she kept the songs alive for her to where she wasn’t just giving us something which felt emotionally dead or sounded over-rehearsed. You can perform a song or a monologue so many times before it becomes stale and uninteresting, and you have to keep shaking things up so you don’t end up looking like a robot.

According to “The Last Five Years’” IMDB page, Kendrick had to sing “Still Hurting” 17 times straight through. I brought this up during the press conference and LaGravenese quickly said it was because of all the different camera setups which had to be done for the scene, and this led Kendrick to joke about how much easier it would be to make movies without the camera. When it came to keeping “Still Hurting” fresh from take to take, her answer was complex to where it sounded like she is still trying to figure out how to do that.

Anna Kendrick: You know, if I trained at RADA I might actually be able to verbalize that kind of thing and the fact is I didn’t and I have only learned by working, and I’ve been working since I was a kid,” Kendrick said. “I don’t know and to try to put it into the words would be to destroy the thing. I guess you try to find a balance between going into the material and going to a personal place because you never want to tip it too much in one direction. I feel like I drew a lot of energy from the support of the crew who were unbelievably compassionate and understanding, and nothing gave me greater inspiration than seeing the 40-year old dolly operator in his classic Hawaiian t-shirt listening in. He had the same earpiece in his ear that I had, and watching his face as he counted and I could feel his body counting, all these people are honoring a thing that you’re trying to do and that gives you an unbelievable reserve of energy.

So, after all these years as an actress, it still sounds like this is something she is still working on, and that’s okay. An actor’s, or actress,’ work is never done as the best ones continue to work at their craft year after year to improve upon it dramatically (no pun intended), and it was refreshing to hear Kendrick admit she doesn’t have all the answers because most actors do not. If you think you’re the only one who is struggling with trying to keep a piece you have performed several times fresh and meaningful for yourself, you’re not. Every actor does whether it’s a movie, a play or a TV show they’re working on, but they keep going because they’re passionate about their work. Kendrick may have accomplished a lot as an actress so far, but her work as an actor is never done. Once it is, she may have to retire.

“The Last Five Years” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

It Follows

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To me, “It Follows” was to 2015 as “Honeymoon” was to 2014; an infinitely creepy horror movie deserving of the attention many low-budget movies don’t always get. It’s a mesmerizing and terrifying piece of work which invites comparison to some of John Carpenter’s best films, and it’s smart enough not to reveal every single detail of its story. Like the best Hitchcock classics, it strings you along to where you keep guessing as to what’s behind the cinematic madness all the way to the very last frame.

“It Follows” opens up on a teenage girl fleeing her home in terror, and we’re not sure why. The next day she is found murdered and her body is contorted in ways which make it look like a yoga exercise gone horribly wrong. From there we meet Jay Height (Maika Monroe) who swims alluringly in the family swimming pool, and it’s hard not to be sucked into her realm as a result. After making out with her boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary), he renders Jay unconscious and takes her to an abandoned building where he says he has passed on a curse to her. As a result, an entity which can only be seen by those who have been cursed will follow them, and once they are dead it will go after the person who gave it to them.

It’s an ingenious concept for any horror movie as this is the kind of curse which doesn’t invite an easy explanation. We can’t be sure of what the curse is, and as a result our imagination runs wild with endless possibilities as to how it can appear to us. Now I know a lot of moviegoers are desperate to have everything explained to them, and they will probably have serious issues with “It Follows” as a result, but I loved how this is a film which keeps its secrets close to the vest as revealing any of them could make the whole endeavor fall apart irrevocably.

This is only the second film from writer/director David Robert Mitchell whose previous credit was “The Myth of the American Sleepover.” I liked how he just immerses us into the lives of these young characters to where he has the viewer in a trance. It’s certainly one of the most atmospheric horror films I have seen in a while, and even the cheap scares thrown in have a stronger impact here than they do in the average scary flick.

Mitchell has given us a horror film with real down-to-earth characters which is very commendable as this genre usually benefits from having the opposite kind. Horror movies these days are typically reduced to having one-dimensional characters to where you find yourself rooting endlessly for the masked villain to decapitate them in the worst way possible, but this is not the case here. As a result, the horror feels a lot more real as these characters fight to escape from a deadly force only they can see.

Mitchell also has a very strong cast to work with as well. Chief among them is Maika Monroe who plays the movie’s main protagonist, Jay Height. Monroe was terrific in the criminally underrated thriller “The Guest,” and she succeeds in giving us a strong female heroine who is vulnerable but not too vulnerable to let this evil spirit take her down. Strong performances also come from Keir Gilchrist as Paul, Jay’s friend who has a not-so-secret crush on her, Lili Sepe as Jay’s sister Kelly, Daniel Zovatto as Greg Hannigan, and Olivia Luccardi as Yara.

In addition, “It Follows” features a very cool and utterly visceral electronic score courtesy of Disasterpiece. I grew up on the electronic scores of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, and I think it’s great this kind of film music is making a comeback in movies like this, “The Guest” and “Ex Machina.” Disasterpiece has created a memorable score which is at times lovely and thoughtful, and at other times highly unnerving as it goes out of its way to sound like it will overload your stereo speakers with no mercy.

Mitchell only had a budget of $2 million to make “It Follows” with, and he certainly made the most of it because the movie looks like it cost so much more. Also, he got to film it in Detroit, Michigan, a city which, despite its problems, has proven to have a very unique look other American cities do not possess. This is a wonderfully creepy, suspenseful and terrifying movie which stands out among many others in its genre, and it leaves the viewer with a lasting impression as the ending makes clear the terror is far from over. And I don’t just say this because RADiUS-TWC, the company that distributed it, is already thinking about a sequel.

It says a lot about a movie which manages to maintain a strong level of suspense and tension from start to finish, and “It Follows” is just the latest example of that kind of cinematic experience which, these days, no longer feels all that rare to us.

* * * * out of * * * *

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