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Film Reviews: "Alive Inside," "Starred Up," and "The One I Love" 

Three's company

"Alive Inside"

(NR), Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett

Screens Tuesday, September 9, 7 p.m. at the Little

First-time director Michael Rossato-Bennett's deeply affecting documentary, "Alive Inside," spotlights the crusade being waged by social worker Dan Cohen as he seeks to drastically alter the way our country cares for the elderly. As founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, Cohen travels to nursing homes across the nation, demonstrating how playing meaningful music for patients with Alzheimer's and dementia can allow them to reconnect with memories seemingly lost to them forever.

It's genuinely moving to see the effect Cohen's methods have on certain patients, as the music reawakens something deep within them and the light returns to their eyes. The film is at its most compelling as it argues how a $50 iPod is infinitely more beneficial to a patient with dementia than the laundry list of pharmaceuticals they're typically prescribed, though it loses focus and eventually settles for repeating itself as it expands further out to tackle the more generalized topic of elder care in our country. But as a poignant examination of aging in a society always looking toward the future, "Alive Inside" is a singularly emotional experience.

"Starred Up"

(NR), Directed by David Mackenzie

Available now on VOD and iTunes

Scottish director David Mackenzie's searing prison drama begins with a sequence in which 19-year-old Eric (Jack O'Connell) arrives for processing at a maximum security prison. He moves through each step with the calm demeanor of someone who's well-versed in the procedure -- if there was any question the boy isn't a veteran, it's answered by the time he reaches his cell and immediately begins crafting a crudely constructed shiv from the melted remains of a toothbrush. Eric has been "starred up," the term for a juvenile prisoner being prematurely moved up to an adult facility due to excessively violent behavior.

He's soon assigned anger management group therapy sessions led by dedicated, but troubled, volunteer counselor Oliver (Rupert Friend). Eric's father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) is already on the inside, where he's been (and likely will remain) for all his son's life. At first, Neville is content to allow his son to make his way through the prison with little interference. But as Eric begins making connections through the group, he's seized by the need to exert a guiding force and act as a father for the first time. Letting his son know exactly what he thinks of those he's choosing to associate with, he acts as something like the jailhouse equivalent of a helicopter parent. O'Connell gives a ferocious, powerhouse performance, and Mendelsohn is equally good: the friction between the two functions as the raw, wounded heart of the film. Despite its often shocking brutality, "Starred Up" emerges as a surprisingly tender and deeply humane look at the ties that bind us.

"The One I Love"

(R), Directed by Charlie McDowell

Available now on VOD and iTunes

In "The One I Love," Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") and Mark Duplass ("Tammy") play Sophie and Ethan, a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In addition to the general ennui that can sometimes develop in certain long-term relationships, they're also dealing with the fact that Ethan cheated and Sophie hasn't entirely forgiven him yet. Taking the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), the couple agrees to spend a weekend at a couples retreat and attempt to reconnect with one another. The site of the retreat is a spacious country house with an extra guest house on the property -- seemingly an ideal location for them to rediscover what made them fall in love in the first place. To say much more about the plot would be a disservice to what director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader have set out to accomplish. Suffice it to say that what starts out as a low-key relationship drama morphs into something else entirely, adding a blend of dark comedy, mystery, and even science-fiction to the mix.

Moss and Duplass are both pitch-perfect in their roles. As Ethan and Sophie rediscover one another, the actors are called upon to find subtle variations in shading and inflection to play within their characters, and they deliver performances that alternate delightfully between playful and prickly. McDowell and Lader keep finding surprising ways for the central mystery to play out, and though the answers they provide don't entirely satisfy, the journey of getting there more than makes up for it.

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