DVD Review: ‘Plus One’ Weaves Spellbinding Tale of Identity

Plus One (IFC Films)Plus One, directed by Last House on the Left filmmaker Dennis Iliadis, succeeds as a hybrid of different genres. If you’re looking for a teenage party romp, Plus One has enough party rowdiness and fresh faced leads (Rhys Wakefield, Logan Miller, Ashley Hinshaw, Natalie Hall) to keep you entertained.

But Plus One isn’t about a set of nubile youths waiting to have their night of hedonistic bliss, as an asteroid crashes on a neighborhood which leads to a supernatural occurrence. Although the narrative initially centers David’s (Wakefield) attempts to win back his girlfriend (Hinshaw) at the party, finding his true love takes a distant second to self-preservation. With the presence of the asteroid’s energy, the revelers discover an exact double of themselves has been created, leading to an all out battle for survival.

Plus One has plenty of wonderful touches, including a beautiful repartee between an eager to get laid Teddy (Logan Miller) and a beautiful woman (Natalie Hall) who might actually be an alien. Ilidias and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. craft a visually mesmerizing tale that’s punctuated with expert lighting and framing. The picture’s final moments, wherein one major character makes a fateful decision, is also a pleasant and unexpected storyline surprise. The use of twin actresses (Colleen Dengel and Suzanne Dengel) to play the role of the angsty college student Allison and her asteroid creating double was also an inspired creative choice by Ilidias.

For fans, looking for a bit more trimmings to their film, the DVD special features are top notch:

  • Audio commentary from director Dennis Ilidias and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.
  • An interview with Iliadis and the cast at SXSW.
  • Cast auditions which has the actors talking about their dreams. Miller’s dream of encountering a deformed woman hidden in the bed of a trunk is particularly creepy.
  • Visual effects behind the scenes segments are also featured, one sequences shows how actors had their faces digitally replaced. The other scene, titled “Sushi Girl Revenge,” shows the preparation it took for for a naked actress to karate kick a partygoer into a cabinet.
  • There’s also a storyboard to scene sequence which shows how the director and storyboard artist composed the terrifying pool fight sequence featured in the film’s final act.
  • My favorite special feature is the three minute outtake, titled “Teddy’s Pick-Up School.” This three minute segment features Logan Miller and Nathalie Hall improvising their way through a scene, and their chemistry is just as palpable than the two leads. It’s a scene that isn’t completely pivotal to the overall film’s structure, but it’s quite fantastic.

Plus One (IFC Midnight, R, 94 Minutes) is now out on DVD.

Skylar Astin On Acting Career: “I Don’t Want To Be A Flash In The Pan”

Well Go USA EntertainmentNow out on VOD & playing in select theaters, Cavemen centers on a struggling Los Angeles writer named Dean (Skylar Astin) who, even though he’s still quite the bachelor, wants to find his true love. Dean’s best buddy is Tess, an understanding and loyal confidante who is played by Camilla Belle. Since Astin and Belle have a natural chemistry, one pretty much assumes Dean will get the proverbial happy, Hollywood ending.

The movie, shot in Downtown Los Angeles, is a low budget affair but thankfully director Herschel Faber finds a solid visual tone for the picture. Shooting Angelenos cavorting and socializing at night is a tricky thing, and even though technology has profoundly improved since the Swingers day, shooting in near dark is still a challenge.

During the Cavemen interviews, Skylar Astin, who is best known for his roles in Pitch Perfect and 21 & Over, talked about his career goals as an actor. In a celebrity driven age, coupled with the overwhelming deluge known as social media, simply just doing the work really won’t cut it. It’s a Faustian bargain Astin understands, as he alludes to in the following quote:

“I want to work, I don’t want to be famous,” said the actor, who’s also the lead in the TV series Ground Floor. “It’s cool if that comes along with it. If people know who I am for my work, then hopefully I’ll be able to continue to work.”We live in real celebrity and status obsessed culture, and Twitter and Instagram haven’t helped that. I have accounts. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I feed into it only slightly. I don’t take anything too seriously.”

Acting is Astin’s main focus and priority. “I want to do this until I’m old,” he added. “I don’t want to be a flash in the pan and I don’t want to be the most famous person in the planet, because I don’t want people to get sick of me. I really want longevity, and I really want to do a multitude of different characters throughout my career.”

To hear Mr. Astin talk about the difference between social interaction in New York and Los Angeles, especially when it comes to finding a prospective date, listen to the clip below:

Rosario Dawson Finds Personal Connection With ‘Gimme Shelter’

ROSARIO DAWSON " JUNE" :  ROSARIO DAWSON  (Roadside Attractions)If you’re in search for a drama filled with heartrending (and inspired) work from its actors, it’ll be hard to beat Gimme Shelter. Vanessa Hudgens is Apple, a pregnant teen who struggles to find a home after leaving her crack addicted mother June (Rosario Dawson). Both actresses give standout performances in the feature, which also stars Brendan Fraser as Apple’s Wall Street exec dad.

“I felt a lot of compassion for her,” said Dawson. “There’s going to be a lot of people who will be walking by Junes on their way into this movie, and I really hope when they walk out they see Apple and have a different experience, and maybe see people who they didn’t see before.”

The film’s theme of finding one’s family, whether it stems from one’s DNA or a group of former strangers, is sure to pull on our heart strings, but thankfully director Ron Krauss avoids painting the story with heavy handed or maudlin brushstrokes.

For Dawson, accepting the role of June Bailey came from a very personal place. Click on the clip below to hear her talk about how she connected with Gimme Shelter.

The actress, who is set to travel to Haiti for 100K World Water Day, also. “I hope I get to push myself and grow and be a better actor,” added Dawson. “I have one of the best jobs in the world. As long as I stay lucid, and I can remember a few lines here and there, I can act until the day I die. And that’s an awesome thing.”

Gimme Shelter is now playing in select theaters.

‘Vampire Academy’ Star Lucy Fry’s Acting Dreams Starts With Physical Theater

VAMPIRE ACADEMY (Weinstein Films)Vampire Academy, based on the series of successful young adult novels penned by Richelle Mead, opens nationwide today. The film, which already has a built in fan base, may signal a significant career boost for lead actresses Zooey Deutch and Lucy Fry. During our interviews with Fry, she reflected on the origins of her acting ambitions.

“When I was a kid, it would change every day,” said Fry, who cites farming, architecture, and writing as several of her early loves. “And then I eventually realized that the only way I could be all of those things is if you’re an actor. From there I went to do speech and drama classes because I was shy and my parents (said) ‘You need to learn how to speak.’ (laughs)”

It was her physical theater training in Brisbane (at Zen Zen Zo) which turned things around for Fry and gave her the confidence to push forth.

Click on the media bar below and listen to the actress taking her experiences with theater and acting to an “extreme level” starting at the tender age of 14.

Jennifer Lopez On Fellow ‘American Idol’ Judges: “We Have The Same Hearts”

American Idol (CR: Michael Becker, FOX)

Although they’re technically judges on American Idol, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. are trying their best to impart their respective pearls of showbiz wisom for all of the singing hopefuls that come their way. One of this year’s biggest pleasures is the lack of bickering that infested last season, and the return of Lopez and addition of Connick Jr. certainly helped with the refreshing change.

“We have similar hearts,” said Lopez about her colleagues. “We have a similar feeling for what we are doing. We love music. We love our children. We have a sense of family. There’s a commonality of a lot of things about us besides the business (aspect) of it that makes the whole thing work.”

Part of Lopez’s decision to return to American Idol was to also have the ability to give salient advice and insight to up and coming artists, and she understands that such a collaboration isn’t a two way street. “I think about mentoring and why people who love something love to mentor and pass on what they know,” she added. “Because in that exchange you also learn something.”

Click on the bar below to hear Jennifer Lopez talk about why she loves being a judge/mentor on American Idol:

American Idol continues its Hollywood Round tonight on FOX (8 pm et/pt).

Chad Michael Murray Reflects on ‘Cavemen’ & A Creatively Gratifying Year

Cavemen (Wellgo USA)

Opening Friday in select theaters and on VOD, Cavemen centers on several young men who live and love the night away in Los Angeles. Chad Michael Murray stars as one of the perpetually on the make bachelors.

While his friends Dean (Skylar Astin) and Tess (Camilla Belle) are the kind of buddies who are destined to be with each other, Jay (Murray) throws a monkey wrench into the equation after showing his affections for Tess. Along with Cavemen, Murray’s role on Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, Fruitvale Station (in a pivotal cameo), and the Crackle original series Chosen is proof that he’s making a concerted effort to diversify his body of work.

During the Cavemen interviews, Murray talked about going into a “dark place” while playing a homeless man in the indie feature Other People’s Children. He lost twenty five pounds for that role, and that upcoming project, along with much of his recent work, signals a possible subtle yet significant shift in his career.

I asked him about the creating gratification of doing such a challenging role as Other People’s Children. “You know, I didn’t understand it up until this last year,” said Murray. “Now that I’m starting to see the fruits of the labor on film, it’s really validating, because you know you gave it your all and you know that you really committed.”

To hear Murray talk about why he loves a “blue collar” approach to acting and filmmaking, click on the media bar below:

I haven’t checked out Chosen, after hearing Murray’s absolutely praise the project (he said it looks like a “60 million dollar movie”), I’ll definitely give it a shot. Click on the audio to hear him talk about the series, as well as his work on Other People’s Children and Cavemen:

Dominic Sherwood’s Vampire Academy Role Shaped Through Audition Process

To land the role of Christian Ozera in Vampire Academy, Dominic Sherwood auditioned six times for director Mark Waters. It’s a challenging process that’s just part of the job for many actors, so it’s good to know that Sherwood keeps things in perspective.

“I think my passion is performing,” said Sherwood, who grew up in Kent, England. “Working on a movie like this is truly incredible but if I’m performing for a living, it could be anywhere. I could be in a theater in London playing to 50 people every night – I’d be able to die happy because I know I’m doing what I love and I never gave up on it. I was always there.”

The movie, co-starring Zooey Deutch and Lucy Fry, is based on the popular novel penned by Richelle Mead. Click on the media bar below to hear the actor explain how the audition process helped him shape Christian Ozera (he mentions director Mark Waters and writer Daniel Waters in the clip):

Vampire Academy opens Friday.

Blu-ray Blast: Inside Llewyn Davis Readies For A March Release

Inside Llewyn Davis (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)It’s still hard to stomach that Oscar Isaac’s compelling, and ultimately heartbreaking portrayal of a stubborn folk singer was snubbed by the Academy. But Oscar voters aren’t exactly on my mind these days, especially since Inside Llewyn Davis is now being released March 11 on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The narrative centers on the titular character (Isaac), a folk singer whose life and talent was inspired by Dave Van Ronk (his track ‘Green, Green Rocky Road’ is featured on ILD’s stellar soundtrack). Penned and helmed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis contains the darkly humorous pessimism featured in their most resonant work (No Country for Old Men, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and A Serious Men travel similar thematic ground), as Llewyn Davis just can’t seem to catch a break. Like much of the Coens’ stories, Davis’ failure isn’t simply due to his human frailties, but sometimes life is really about timing and, as the closing moments of this story suggests, sometimes lightning doesn’t strike twice.

The Blu-ray & DVD special features are unfortunately threadbare, as the only offering is the featurette “Inside Inside Llewyn Davis.” The making of documentary features the Coens, Elijah Wald, Stark Sands, T-Bone Burnett, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Chris Thile, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham, production designer Jess Gonchor, art director Mary Zophres, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel.

To hear Oscar Isaac talk about why his collaboration with the Coen Bros. worked so well in Inside Llewyn Davis, click on the media bar below:

About Last Night’s Kevin Hart on Comedy: “Laughing Heals All Wounds”

Bernie (Kevin Hart)in Screen Gems' ABOUT LAST NIGHT.With the success of Think Like A Man, Grudge Match, and Ride Along, Kevin Hart is definitely, to quote one of his phrases, “coming in hot” with the relationship comedy About Last Night. A remake of the popular 1986 feature (which is based the David Mamet work Sexual Perversity in Chicago), About Last Night centers on the highs and lows of two couples (Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant) who live, work, and play in downtown Los Angeles.

During a recent interview to promote the film, a journo asked Hart how he prepared for his love scenes with Hall, and although the following quote applies to the picture, it also can be applied to Mr. Hart’s approach to life.

“You’ve got to understand the type of person I am,” says Hart. “You can’t be awkward or uncomfortable around me. I’m too open, and if you are uncomfortable I’m going to make you comfortable very fast. Laughing heals all wounds.”

One of the misconceptions regarding Mr. Hart’s career is that he’s an overnight success, and it’s a perception that is somewhat understandable considering overwhelming reception he’s received the past several years. Hart has actually been paving his way in the business for close to 15 years, and back in 2004 he starred in the short-lived TV series The Big House and was also the lead in Soul Plane.

Close to a decade later, the actor/comedian is still growing as an artist. Part of Hart’s longevity deals with his dedication in learning all aspects of show business. Click on the media bar below to hear Kevin Hart talk about one of the secrets to his success.

About Last Night opens February 14.

Sarah Hyland Hopes ‘Vampire Academy’ Scores With “Supportive” Fans

Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company

Best known for her work on Modern Family, Sarah Hyland is also carving out a career in film. Vampire Academy, based on the popular book penned by Richelle Mead, co-stars Gabriel Byrne (he plays her father in the feature) hits theaters on February 7. The actress is hoping the book’s diehard fans will have a positive experience with the film version.

“I really hope the fans love the movie,” said Hyland, who starred last year in the Lifetime film Bonnie & Clyde. “They’ve been so supportive since the beginning. They make the most beautiful fan art I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I think fans should make the posters instead of the people that do. Our posters are amazing, I’m not demeaning them in any way…there are beautiful artists out there that are fans of the book. I just hope they like because they’re the ones invested in it. Even more than we are, I think. We put our souls into it, but they are the souls of the book.”

Photo: (Modern Family/ABC/Bob D'Amico)

During interviews for Vampire Academy, I asked Hyland how she stays “in the moment” as an actress, and she admitted that it differs from project to project. With Modern Family, the level of comfort definitely helps the process, and in one instance she recounts shooting a scene that she doesn’t even remember working on. Check out the audio clip below:

A new episode of Modern Family airs Wednesday night (ABC, 9 pm et/pt), with Vampire Academy opening on Friday.

Where dreaming is believing…