Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
ALEXANDER THE LAST
Of the current wave of lo-pro, post-grad, video-as-filmmakers, Joe Swanberg is, if nothing else, the sexiest. Previous trailblazing mumblecore efforts have deliberately shied away from pretension (a dirty word in hipster circles) to the extent of shedding any sense of even being “about” something. Joe’s last few films (Nights and Weekends and Alexander the Last namely) and his IFC Web series Young American Bodies are of a different ilk. They are still cute, and often too precious for my taste, but the difference is that he embraces a more standard telling of the boy-meets-girl story, unafraid of a too-familiar story. He trusts the charisma and talent in the improvised performances to hold interest.
Joe, though still a Brooklyn hipster to the core, has brought sex to these films in a way that’s somewhere between a leaked “boyfriend-only” striptease video, and a ’90’s-era Hollywood suspense thriller. Especially in Alexander, the erotic scenes are remarkably personal, and at the same time, they act as hard-hitting plot details. Jess Weixler plays Alex, an actress who cheats on her husband, Elliot (Bishop Allen front man and mumblecore regular Justin Rice), with her sexy scene partner, Jamie (Barlow Jacobs). Elliot returns from tour to find Alex’s new friend spending a little too much time in his apartment. A love triangle chimes its tune.
Rice’s performance feels native to a more emotionally tapped film, perhaps a Quiet City or a Mutual Appreciation (in which he actually did star). Jacobs, as Jamie, on the other hand, is emotionally tapped in a different way. He’s what we haven’t seen too often in these types of films—beefcake! The no-makeup, au natural aesthetic feels strange around him. He has an oversexed confidence that’s strangely unusual to these films—his arm muscles bulky, well defined, and often showcased. He’s a sexy lug of a love interest, and, unfortunately, not a whole lot more. Alex’s crisis of emotions is the most interesting when she’s alone with Jamie, though. The voyeur attraction of watching the two become physical is thrilling. When Elliot comes back home, the awkwardness and the endless sidestepping begin. A return to the never-ending possibilities of infidelity ironically feels like the more natural impulse.
introduces the DVD extras with an explanation of his “Trim Bin,” a
sequence of clips he liked but didn’t include in the final cut. One such
bit features a push-up contest between Jamie and Elliot, where Jamie
eclipses Elliot’s meager effort. It’s a further example of how
frustratingly passive the boys’ conflict becomes during the film’s
second half, and nice to know that however Swanberg may have enjoyed
directing the scene, he at least knew not to include it in the final
piece. Another such moment, and maybe the best reason to check out the
DVD, guest stars the hilarious and offbeat documentary filmmaker Caveh
Zahedi, who informs on a woman stealing comics at Alex’s store. Zahedi’s
weirdly uncomfortable performance is excellent, despite the scene being
truncated and ultimately left out of the film.