For a re­view of “Sleight,”

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By day, Bo ( Ja­cob La­ti­more) is a street ma­gi­cian, wow­ing passersby with truly im­pres­sive sleight of hand for tips. By night, he slings party drugs in the clubs and on the streets of L. A. But all the time, he’s the pro­tec­tive guardian of his sis­ter, Tina ( Storm Reid), just two or­phaned sib­lings against the world. In “Sleight,” cowriter/ di­rec­tor J. D. Dil­lard and co- writer/ pro­ducer Alex Theurer have cre­ated an un­likely su­per­hero ori­gin story, ex­e­cuted with the style, themes and bud­get of in­de­pen­dent cin­ema.

The cen­tral con­flict of “Sleight” re­volves around Bo’s com­pet­ing liveli­hoods. Magic is his pas­sion, a call­ing so strong that he has sub­jected him­self to phys­i­cal ex­tremes. In­spired by a Venice Beach il­lu­sion­ist he en­coun­tered as a kid who had carved a hole in his hand for an il­lu­sion, Bo be­lieves that any­one can do a trick, but the per­son who’ll do any­thing is the true ma­gi­cian. A Hou­dini poster il­lus­trates his in­spi­ra­tion to push him­self to the limit for his craft.

But sell­ing drugs pays the bills for Bo and Tina, a side hus­tle that has sucked him in far deeper than he ever imag­ined. His boss, An­gelo ( Dulé Hill), has started to rely on him in ways that test Bo’s moral­ity and iden­tity, and go­ing against the boss is far more dan­ger­ous than even Bo wa­gers. Also, Bo’s re­cently met cute com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dent/ cup­cake sales­girl Holly ( Sey­chelle-Gabriel), and he doesn’t sus­pect she wants to date the lo­cal drug dealer.

The magic is the set­ting and the soul of “Sleight,” while the drugs of­fer stakes and dan­ger to the story. At times, the drug sub­plot can feel a bit over­wrought and in­au­then­tic; as com­mit­ted as Hill is, it’s hard to buy him as the ruth­less and cold- blooded An­gelo, and the bud­get lim­i­ta­tions are a bit clearer dur­ing those scenes.

But Dil­lard and Theurer pull off the most im­por­tant thing in the film— the char­ac­ter and his jour­ney. La­ti­more shines in this lead role, and “Sleight” is a star- mak­ing per­for­mance for this on therise ac­tor. The high stakes of his en­tan­gle­ment with An­gelo force Bo out of his com­fort zone, and he re­lies on his skill with magic to slide out of some sticky sit­u­a­tions. How­ever, it be­comes far more than just an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion, and as Bo pushes him­self to the limit, he makes a break­through from the kind of sleight of hand magic to what seems to al­most be real magic.

The film leaves the su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments just am­bigu­ous enough, only hint­ing around the edges at the pos­si­bil­i­ties of what could be. It’s a smart move for a film that’s grounded in a gritty re­al­ity about a kid strug­gling to make ends meet in a tough world that hasn’t been fair to him. But the wisps of real magic that dance around the edges of “Sleight” im­bue the film with a fresh, ex­cit­ing dy­namic.

In their fea­ture film debut, Dil­lard and Theurer have ef­fi­ciently uti­lized their re­sources to demon­strate a deft con­trol of char­ac­ter and tone that leaves you want­ing more from Bo’s story, and cu­ri­ous about what the film­mak­ers could do with a big­ger project. “Sleight” fuses su­per­hero story with a tough com­ing- of- age tale, and it en­livens and el­e­vates both gen­res into some­thing new and dif­fer­ent, while herald­ing the ar­rival of La­ti­more as a star.

“Sleight,” a WWE Stu­dios re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage through­out, drug con­tent and some vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 90 min­utes.

“Amer­i­can An­ar­chist”

There are as many dif­fer­ent ways into a trou­bling doc­u­men­tary film sub­ject as there are sub­jec­tive def­i­ni­tions of a fair shake.

The in­trigu­ing, bluntly con­fronta­tional “Amer­i­can An­ar­chist” speaks to both those truths. It comes from di­rec­tor Char­lie Siskel, codi­rec­tor of the ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­taryas- de­tec­tive- story “Find­ing Vi­vian Maier.” He’s also the nephew of the late Tri­bune film critic af­ter which Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Cen­ter is named.

Siskel’s sub­ject here is Wil­liam Powell, the man who wrote the no­to­ri­ous 1971 best­seller “The An­ar­chist Cook­book” in fit of brazen rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­fi­ance when he was an an­gry, dis­il­lu­sioned 19- year- old look­ing to make his mark. Culled from mil­i­tary man­u­als and other sources he found, among other places, in the New York Pub­lic Li­brary, Powell of­fered a wealth of prac­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion about how to make TNT and other ex­plo­sives at home. Along­with the recipes, “The An­ar­chist Cook­book” is packed with sen­ti­ments along the lines of: “Re­spect can only be earned by the spilling of blood.”

He never lived it down. Powell earned rel­a­tively lit­tle money fromthe book’s pop­u­lar­ity. When copies of what he refers to, eu­phemisti­cally, as “the cook­book” started turn­ing up in the homes and apart­ments of ter­ror­ists and mass mur­der­ers, from Columbine to ISIS, the au­thor’s guilt and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion pushed him away from Amer­ica. For decades he and his wife worked around the world as ed­u­ca­tors and school ad­min­is­tra­tors, fo­cus­ing on chil­dren with spe­cial needs.

Siskel se­cured Powell’s co­op­er­a­tion for a se­ries of in­ter­views at his home in ru­ral France. Across four days in June 2015, the film­maker ques­tioned Powell on the touchy sub­ject of the book, its bloody legacy and its au­thor’s cul­pa­bil­ity. Var­i­ously dodgy, wrench­ing, testy and sober­ing, Powell’s an­swers of­ten don’t an­swer much. But Siskel keeps ham­mer­ing on his sub­ject, or tar­get, un­til things get in­ter­est­ing.

At the Venice Film Fes­ti­val last year, where Siskel’s doc­u­men­tary made its world pre­miere, the film­maker told me: “I have a lot of em­pa­thy for Bill. We all make youth­ful mis­takes. His just hap­pened to play out in a way most of ours don’t — pub­licly, and with se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions.” Siskel said that go­ing into the project, he hoped Powell would “be will­ing to look back at his life and face him­self, by par­tic­i­pat­ing in this film.” Things be­came “ad­ver­sar­ial,” he ac­knowl­edged, which is easy enough to dis­cern in the fin­ished prod­uct. “But he wanted to be pushed.” Powell died the year af­ter the in­ter­views with Siskel.

“Amer­i­can An­ar­chist” has a tone that’s at times not so much in­quis­i­tive as ha­rangu­ing. In the years be­fore his death Powell dis­owned the book, though if an au­thor can be equal parts in de­nial and in con­fes­sional, that’s the Powell we see here. Did “The An­ar­chist Cook­book” qual­ify as a le­git­i­mate if provoca­tive pub­lish­ing phe­nom­e­non, or was it sim­ply an ob­ject les­son in the dan­gers of free speech? Did Powell take too long to speak and write about his re­grets? There’s a mo­ment in “Amer­i­can An­ar­chist” when Ochan, Powell’s wife, notes that “we all do dumb things. But not every­one prints them in a book.”

Writ­ers or not, we all carry our for­mer selves in­side of the peo­ple we be­came, and are be­com­ing still. Siskel’s movie — flawed, some­what lim­ited but never dull — makes Powell eat his words and then, in metaphor­i­cal terms, write the restau­rant re­view.

“Amer­i­can An­ar­chist,” a Grav­i­tas Ven­tures re­lease, is not rated. Run­ning time: 80 min­utes.


Wil­liam Powell stars in the doc­u­men­tary “Amer­i­can An­ar­chist.”

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