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“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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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