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DID YOU READ

“The Architect,” “10 Items or Less”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Architect,” Magnolia, 2006]

A lot of movies feel too long. “The Architect” is the rare one that feels too short. These characters, and the emotions they stir up, can barely be contained in a movie just 81 minutes long. Filmmaker Matt Tauber may have bitten off more than he can chew for his directorial debut — or at least more than he can chew in such a short amount of time — but that doesn’t make watching him mull things over any less interesting.

Anthony LaPaglia, who also serves as the film’s co-executive producer, plays Leo, an architect and college professor living in quiet, upper middle-class splendor in suburban Chicago. But the veneer of a happy, successful marriage, family and career hides a darker truth (doesn’t it always?). Leo’s wife Julia (Isabella Rossellini) is distant and moody and seems perched on the verge of a mid-life crisis, and his two kids (Hayden Panettiere and Sebastian Stan) are bored by their static lives and confused by their emerging sexuality.

Leo is largely oblivious to his family’s problems and equally unaware that a housing project he built has, in part because of his designs, fallen into disrepair while becoming a breeding ground for crime and gang activity. A proactive single mother living in the project named Tonya (Viola Davis) is campaigning to have the buildings, ironically named “Eden Court,” demolished, and she comes to Leo hoping to get his signature on the petition, believing that the builder’s acknowledgement of Eden Court’s failures will lend her extra credibility.

In his lectures, Leo teaches that humanity shapes its environments and, in turn, environments shape their inhabitants. When an environmental turns sour, who is to blame? The people who created that environment, or the people who lived in it, were shaped by it, and perhaps spoiled it? “The Architect” doesn’t know for sure.

Tauber seems to suggest that Leo’s work in Eden Court leads to disaster because of the architect’s fundamental misunderstanding of human beings, up to and including his own family, which falls into ruins much like a decaying building. The ways in which our lives are related to our surroundings, and vice versa is easily the first-time director’s most fruitful element, and his treatment of the two parallel families, Leo’s and Tonya’s, offers many useful points of comparison and intersection, though Tauber might have been better served to include more imagery of Chicago and its architecture to further support his arguments.

When “The Architect” drifts into subplots about white suburban malaise, suicide and sexual identity confusion, it assumes a perspective and tells stories it feels like I’ve seen hundreds of times this year alone. Ten years ago, it was a radical idea to suggest that the American dream of the big house and the white picket fence was meaningless. Now it would be radical to suggest the opposite.

The film raises questions it doesn’t and, in some ways, can’t answer. But that’s fine. It’s worth seeing the film to consider them and trying to answer them yourself. “The Architect” is the starting point, not the end result.

At the other end of the spectrum lies “10 Items or Less,” a film that feels heavily padded at just 82 minutes — it’s just one minute longer than “The Architect” but that minute feels like it lasts at least a half an hour. This self-indulgent piece of heavily manufactured sentimentality and poignancy features Morgan Freeman goofing off around the Los Angeles suburbs. He’s the only one laughing.

He plays an unnamed movie star, one of the biggest in the world, who’s taken a self-imposed exile from his success for several years. He’s preparing to return with a small independent film in which he’d play a grocery store manager. Since Freeman’s character hasn’t shopped retail in years, he needs to do some research. He gets dropped off at a place that could never be mistaken for a supermarket, Archie’s Ranch, and when his ride never returns, he bums a ride from cashier Scarlet (“Spanglish”‘s Paz Vega). Eventually, she reveals that she has a big job interview later in the day, so Freeman hangs around, wearing out his welcome by and helping Scarlet prepare by teaching her the wisdom he’s accrued as a rich, carefree actor.

Freeman’s nameless celebrity (he appeared in “that Ashley Judd movie”) is intended as a benevolent force for heartwarming good, but comes off a creepy and unwelcome intruder. His “research” involves mimicry that borders on outright mockery. His lessons (“We’ve got to get this to wardrobe!”) are worthless, and his attempts to become a man of the people by slumming with the lowly proles who work for a living devolves into disturbingly sincere “branded entertainment” showcases for Target (where Freeman marvels at the remarkably low prices) and Arby’s (where the two stars have a — wait for it — burping contest!). The movie is as out of touch with reality as its subject.

The jokes are so unfunny and the drama so uncomfortable, it’s shocking that the film was actually written and directed by an established filmmaker, “Moonlight Mile”‘s Brad Silberling. Though Silberling’s made numerous Hollywood entertainments, this film amounts to little more than pandering and meandering. And at just 82 minutes, there aren’t enough compelling ideas for something half as long. In this case, it’s “10 Items or Less” …much, much less.

“The Architect” (official site) and “10 Items or Less” (official site) open in limited release December 1st.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.