film briefs


The Architect

Magnolia Pictures

NEW YORK — This directorial debut from Matt Tauber, adapted from a play by David Greig, interweaves the stories of two families, one headed by a community activist and the other a well-heeled architect who designed the low-income housing project that the activist seeks to have torn down.

But while it provides a sometimes thoughtful examination of modern sociological issues, "The Architect" unfortunately succumbs to melodrama in the depiction of its troubled characters.

The titular figure is Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia), who lives with his family in an upscale Chicago suburb. His lifestyle contrasts dramatically with that of Tonya (Viola Davis), who lives in Eden Court, a dilapidated housing project on the South Side that the idealistic Leo designed years ago in the style of Le Corbusier.

One day, Tonya shows up at Leo's college course to request that he sign a petition for the buildings to be torn down, which the affronted architect refuses to do.

But the characters do have something in common — namely difficult home fronts. Leo's wife (Isabella Rossellini) is depressed to the point of near catatonia. His physically blossoming teen daughter (Hayden Panettiere) is desperate to lose her virginity, and his son (Sebastian Stan) has just dropped out of college.

For her part, Tonya, whose first son committed suicide, has one daughter who is an irresponsible single mother and another who is temporarily living with an upscale family not far from Leo's home.

Interesting and provocative when dealing with its themes involving the social responsibilities of modern housing, the film is unconvincing and contrived. Despite the best efforts of LaPaglia and Davis, who deliver sensitive, well-nuanced performances, "Architect" suffers from over-the-top design and shaky construction.

Frank Scheck

Hair High


NEW YORK — Animator Bill Plympton's unique brand of anarchic, gross-out humor is very much on display in his feature-length spoof of high school romances and gothic horror tales. The story of a perfect teen couple — a head cheerleader (Sarah Silverman) and star quarterback (Dermot Mulroney) — whose romance becomes unglued thanks to the arrival of a geeky new student (Eric Gilliland) who comes between them, "Hair High" plays like a demented, animated cross between "Grease" and "Carrie."

Plympton's distinctive, hand-drawn style can be a little tough to take at feature length, and this film, like his previous full-length efforts, again demonstrates that narrative is not his strong suit.

But there's no denying the hilarity of the sight gags on display, from a sexually rampaging chicken mascot at a high school football game to a biology teacher literally throwing his guts up to an army of decomposing bodies rising from their watery graves.

As usual, Plympton's animation is definitely not for the kids, with a preponderance here of ribald and vulgar visuals that are not for the squeamish.

This effort features, for the first time in Plympton's oeuvre, a plethora of name performers providing the voices. Besides the aforementioned, other notables lending their aural talents include Keith and David Carradine, Martha Plimpton, Craig Bierko, Justin Long, Matt Groening and Ed Begley Jr.

Frank Scheck