Two Dramas from Phase 4 Films
The Architect (June 27/11)
A well-intentioned misfire, The Architect follows the title character (Anthony LaPaglia's Leo) as he and his family (Isabella Rossellini's Julia, Hayden Panettiere's Christina, and Sebastian Stan's Martin) are forced to confront a variety of issues over the course of a few eventful days - with the film also detailing the exploits of an activist (Viola Davis' Tonya) who is leading the charge to tear down a public housing complex that Leo designed. There's little doubt that The Architect opens with a good amount of promise, as filmmaker Matt Tauber does a decent job of initially setting up the various characters and their respective problems/issues. The film's low-key, decidedly unassuming atmosphere is, as a result, not quite as problematic as one might've feared, with the uniformly strong performances going a long way towards compensating for the pervasively subdued bent of Tauber and David Greig's screenplay. It's only as the narrative adopts an increasingly aimless feel that The Architect begins to lose its hold on the viewer, and it subsequently becomes more and more difficult to overlook the less-than-authentic brush with which some of these characters have been painted (eg Rosselli's Julia primarily comes off as a hopelessly over-the-top figure whose mood swings border on psychotic). The absence of momentum ensures that the movie is finally unable to pack the emotional punch that Tauber is clearly striving for, which cements The Architect's place as an actor's showcase more than anything else.
Guilty Hearts (June 28/11)
An unusually incompetent assortment of short films, Guilty Hearts kicks off with an entirely underwhelming episode and maintains that level of mediocrity right to the bitter end - with only one of the movie's seven shorts able to make anything resembling a positive impact. And although the movie opens with the trite and predictable Please!, which follows Gerard Butler's angry novelist through one desperate day, it's the film's second short, Torte Bluma, that effectively establishes an atmosphere of aggressive (and pervasive) pointlessness. The movie details the relationship between a Nazi official and his Jewish slave, but, as eventually becomes clear, filmmaker Benjamin Ross is simply unable (or unwilling) to offer up a single element designed to capture (and sustain) the viewer's interest. Of course, Torte Bluma comes off as a small masterpiece compared to the next episode, Notting Hill Anxiety Festival - as this unwatchable Julie Delpy starrer meanders its way through as ridiculous and downright stupid a premise as one could possibly envision. Ready, starring Imelda Staunton, stands as yet another inconsequential entry, though it is, at the very least, followed by the one passable short in this otherwise worthless collection. True to its title, Spelling Bee details the off-kilter happenings at a youth-oriented spelling competition - with Charlie Sheen stealing scenes as a clueless cohost of the event. The competent vibe doesn't last long, however, as Guilty Hearts closes with a pair of hopelessly uninteresting shorts the cement the movie's place as a total and complete failure.