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Column Fri Oct 02 2015

The Walk, The Martian, 99 Homes, Mississippi Grind, Prophet's Prey, Shanghai & Partisan


The Walk

I'm guessing that your attitude toward The Walk will change the closer you get to its breath-stealing final 40 minutes. The story of high-wire artist Philippe Petit seems almost tailor made for director and co-writer (along with Christopher Browne) Robert Zemeckis and his skills as a filmmaker who knows how to use special effects to tell a story without calling attention to the effects. Going back to the Back to the Future films, and continuing through Forrest Gump, Contact, Cast Away and even his previous film, Flight, Zemeckis works best when he's blending the visual trickery with deeply human characters. While I certainly don't find his string of photo-real animation works — A Christmas Carol, Beowulf, The Polar Express — unwatchable, I also rarely revisit them.

But The Walk is a unique story because Petit (played here by the amiable Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is, in a way, himself a cartoon character, in that he pulls off feats of balance, physics, geometry, and sheer will-power that don't seem humanly possible. Perhaps for that reason, Zemeckis has chosen to paint him as a highly animated, larger-than-life being even when he's not on a high wire. Perhaps that's accurate and it may even be appropriate, but have Gordon-Levitt as Petit spending a great deal of the film narrating the film — quite often looking directly at the camera, standing in the torch of the Statue of Liberty, seriously — seems like an exercise in joviality that comes across as simply trying too hard to get our attention. And considering we know that this film ends with Petit walking on a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center eight times (with stops for tricks along the way), force feeding us how much of a performer he is off the wire hardly seems necessary.

That being said, once the months of plotting and training and figuring out the details of how to get a 450-lb. metal cable across from one tower to the other and somehow stabilize it are complete, the movie absolutely soars — to a height of about 1,350 feet over the early morning traffic and crowds of New York City. Even knowing what you're walking into as a story, including how the stunt ends, Zemeckis's skill as a storyteller still manages to extract as much suspense from the journey as possible. And nothing can quite prepare you for the way you'll likely react seeing the Twin Towers in all their glory back on the skyline of Manhattan. Even just seeing Petit walk up to the structure at street level for the first time and touch it gently, as if he's making friends with it, is quite moving.

With the towers still being technically in the final weeks of construction, those early moments on the roof seem all the more dangerous, as if some of the bare beams and other construction materials aren't secure enough to play on the way Petit does when he first ascends just to admire the view. Many may not realize or remember just how much time Petit spent in New York before making The Walk, surveying security guard shifts, construction schedules, which elevators went where. He also gathered a rag-tag group of locals to join his small French crew (that included his new girlfriend Annie Allix, played with the proper amount of skepticism by Charlotte Le Bon), and neither group was particularly reliable, with most being deathly scared of getting caught and going to jail (they were trespassing to make this happen, of course), and Zemeckis doesn't miss an opportunity to portray the supporting team members as a slightly milder version of the Keystone Cops.

Since The Walk was adapted from Petit's own account of the events in his book To Reach the Clouds and he was a technical advisor (including being the person who taught Gordon-Levitt how to actually walk on a wire), I'm going to assume that much of what happens in the film is accurate to a point. (I strongly encourage you to get your hands and eyes on the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man On Wire for the facts-only version of this story.) But the set-in-France first half of the film feels more like a version of Petit's journey as set in some kind of mythological context. The colors seem brighter and exaggerated, the way one moment in his life flows into the next is like you're reading the children's version of his journey. Or perhaps more to the point, the film feels like Zemeckis is attempting to ape the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which may sound glorious in theory, but he falls exceedingly short.

The key moment in Petit's early life and training was meeting the master of the wire, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who not only helps Philippe perfect his on-wire work but also guides him through the world of performance, playing to an audience, and most importantly, how to pull this particular walk off without dying. The scenes between them are certainly fun as well as the highlight of the Paris half of the film, but then we have to contend with the rest of that first hour, which includes a sappy love story, a somewhat fleeting glimpse of Petit as a juggler and street performer, who sets up a low-level rope in public places when he can, before the police arrive. Eventually we get to him assembling his core French crew, including a guy who is afraid of heights and (naturally) ends up being his key assistant during the towers walk.

Perhaps even more than I did with the recent Everest, allow me to fully encourage you to take in The Walk as an IMAX 3-D experience, or at the very least, see it in 3-D. I can't imagine watching this film any other way. The walk itself (or the "coup," as Petit refers to the whole event) is a staggering feat that will likely give you vertigo or stun you into total silence with its gorgeous execution — likely a combination of the two. Zemeckis essentially allows the wire walk to take place in real time, allowing us to experience every step of Petit's eight times across. He got bolder with each pass, to the point where he did a few nerve-wracking (for us) bonus stunts — like laying down on the wire with the bar across his chest — and even allowing himself a brief glimpse at the gathering crowds below (we are told looking down is the ultimate no-no for people in Petit's profession). Petit may not tumble, but I promise your stomach will.

In the same way I never condemn a good film for a bad ending, I feel the power of The Walk's final act (including a last line that will linger with you long after you leave the theater) is such an improvement over what comes before it that the over-ambitious opening is mostly forgivable. Knowing how the story ends won't matter in the slightest; it certainly won't keep you from feeling the tension of every step Petit makes. The film is also a magnificent and touching tribute, not just to New York City, but to an era in the city's history that can never be recaptured. The case was always made that most New Yorkers hated the way the Twin Towers looked when they were first built, but that Petit's crossing somehow made them essential. If you're interested in a chronicle of events, go to the documentary as fast as you can. But if you want the step into the experience of Petit's accomplishment, The Walk will get you there, even if there are a few unsteady steps at first.

The Martian

No one involved in either the story of The Martian nor the audience watching it is more aware of how ridiculous the situation is that astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself than Watney. And we know this because Watney jokes about it constantly, turning what is a certain-death scenario into a story that celebrates and encourages unparalleled hope, bravery, creativity, intelligence and camaraderie. It's science fiction that puts nearly all of its emphasis on science, that isn't afraid to bombard us with formulas, geometry, and physics and those that excel at figuring stuff out. Hell, Watney is a botanist, so we get a few lessons about growing things on a planet where nothing grows, mainly because there's no water (oops!).

Make no mistake, there are times when Drew ("Lost," Cabin in the Woods, World War Z) Goddard's screenplay (based on Andy Weir's bestselling novel) feels like one massive word problem, but that only adds wonderful detail to what is a very different brand of space adventure story. Set in the not-to-distant future, the story involves a manned mission to Mars with a crew comprised of Jessica Chastain (as team leader Melissa Lewis), Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie (as the token German). With a film featuring as many characters as The Martian, it's actually quite remarkable how there isn't a weak link in the cast (and we haven't even gotten to the team back on Earth). It probably helps that the film marks director Ridley Scott's return to extraordinary filmmaking after a few rough years and to science fiction, which has resulted in some of his finest accomplishments thanks to his emphasis on making things seem authentic and tactile.

When a freak sandstorm threatens to topple the crew's only way off planet, Watney is impaled by a nasty piece of metal and presumed dead. Lewis briefly looks for him, but she returns and the crew leaves Watney behind. He manages to drag himself back to the hastily left and well-stocked shelter, and immediately starts making plans, taking into consideration his food and water supply, available oxygen, and battery life in the rover. He constructs a means of manufacturing water, grow plants (well, a healthy supply of potatoes), and even figures out a means of communicating with NASA once again, all the while his crew mates are flying back to Earth, racked with guilt about leaving their fellow traveler behind.

While Watney is going through this process, he's also using small camera to record his process. It's a wonderful device, because if he succeeds, it will make an amazing documentary. But more importantly, it gives Damon a chance to narrate and dive into how his character's big brain is working; and quite often these passages are quite funny, as he comments on the lack of quality music available to him (he's apparently stuck with another crew member's terrible disco playlist and nothing else) and about just how damn clever his ideas truly are. Watney isn't the kind of character who lights up the screen with sheer charisma. Instead it's his simple, measured approach, a touch of sarcasm and skepticism, and a great number of crossed fingers. Damon could not have been better chosen for this part.

And he's only a part of what's going on in The Martian. Of nearly equal importance is the massive team of mostly familiar faces giving voice to the team at NASA, including Jeff Daniels as the NASA chief; Kristen Wiig as its head of public relations; Sean Bean as the crew's leader on the ground; Chiwetel Ejiofor as one of the mission specialists; and Mackenzie Davis and Donald Glover as lower-level NASA folks who just happen to may key contributions to the rescue mission to retrieve Watney.

The film boils down to a massive countdown (count up would be more accurate) to how long Watney can survive with his present resources. Even asking him to ration certain things 10 extra days seems excruciating, especially after being alone for a couple of years. The crew isn't told immediately that Watney is still alive because NASA is afraid that the crew will want to turn back, which they do, and then it becomes a question of whether it's worth risking the lives of the entire crew for one man. They decide it is.

The staging of the final rescue mission is pure insanity, and perhaps the only portion of the film that feels somewhat exaggerated, but honestly, at that point in the film, you're probably going to be willing to give the science of it all a little leeway. Nothing about The Martian feels slick or overdone, especially when it comes to the special effects, which barely register as effects at all. The temptation as a critic is to dive into a handful of stand-out performers or moments and call out their "specialness," but the truth is all of the actors are varying degrees of terrific, even beyond Damon's note-perfect work.

We seem to live in an age where certain groups see science and using one's brain as untrustworthy, and it would break my heart if audiences stayed away from this film for that reason. But The Martian has filled me with hope, so I'm going to just assume all of you have already purchased your tickets and are lining up as you read this. Enjoy this one immensely.

99 Homes

Even if you do it for the right reasons, making a deal with the devil is never more than that. This is the lesson learned quickly by Andrew Garfield in director/co-writer Ramin Bahrani's latest, 99 Homes. Garfield plays single father Dennis Nash, a contractor who is having trouble making mortgage payments when the housing market tanks and is visited by the local sheriff as well as realtor Rick Carver (a cutting, nasty Michael Shannon) when he, his son, and Dennis' mother (Laura Dern) are evicted from their home. The eviction procedure is shown almost in real time and might be one of the most dehumanizing things I've ever seen, as the family is given two minutes to collect anything valuable before the entire contests of the house are tossed onto the sidewalk.

In recent months, Carver has gone from full-time realtor to full-time representative of mortgage-lending banks who pay him to assist in the foreclosure and resale of the property. During the recent economic downturn, the man was practically printing money. His predatory behaviors are finely honed, but he also knows talent when he sees it. When Dennis crosses paths with Carver soon after the eviction, Carver hires the handy-with-tools Nash to help fix up foreclosed property, and before long Dennis becomes Carver's right-hand man, moving up to overseeing his own series of foreclosures. The men don't form a friendship exactly, but their mutual respect for each other's abilities is a close approximation of one.

A section of the film is nothing but Nash going through a series of foreclosures, and you can see the toll it takes on his spirit and soul. He seems especially heartbroken when he has to throw out one of his old neighbors, Frank (played by the great character actor Tim Guinee), who takes the bank to court — a case he should win until Dennis is forced to take action to ensure a loss. Dennis wants the money to buy back his original family home, the one where he was raised and where his son was as well. But the hotel where his family has been forced to stay becomes unlivable, so Dennis is eager just to get out of there, even if it means moving his family into a house from a recently evicted family, something his mother refuses to do.

Bahrani has always been the champion of putting characters on screen whose voices and faces are rarely seen in film. With Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo and At Any Price, the filmmaker looks at the working-class struggle in ways that are always hopeful to some degree, but still quite desperate. He celebrates small victories in their lives more than any director has since Satyajit Ray. In 99 Homes, his contempt for the rich getting richer off the suffering poor and heartless banks refusing to make exceptions in tough times seeps through every pore of this movie, and it makes this easily his angriest work to date. Before, Bahrani painted in nuanced brush strokes to tell his stories, but with this, he's tossing buckets of bile onto the screen, and it still looks great.

It's encouraging to see Garfield get back to the type of acting that was only hinted at in his early film work and on stage. Dennis is a desperate man who is manipulated and, in a way, seduced by a guy with ready cash, and the deals he makes hurt other people, as he is simply repeating what was done to him. He's a tormented and torn man who is so blinded by his desire to get his house back, he doesn't see the pain he's inflicting. The flaws in the Carver character are less about what is written and more with Shannon's nuanced performance. He adds a thin, barely perceptible layer of guilt to the man, but it never really takes hold in a way that makes us feel for him.

99 Homes is ambitious in terms of its emotional impact, and will likely result in many audience members wanting to burn down banks. Okay, maybe not, but I guarantee you that the next time you enter one, you're going to look around suspiciously and feel a wave of anxiety sweep over you. As with all of Bahrani's works, the film left me eager for the next one and curious about what group of people he'll place at the center of his story that have never been shown on the screen with such depth.

Mississippi Grind

When Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn first exploded onto my radar in 2010's Animal Kingdom, he became one of those faces I always looked for. Thankfully, so did casting directors, especially in the U.S., who landed him roles in films like The Dark Knight Rises, A Place Beyond the Pines, Killing Them Softly, last year's sadly overlooked Starred Up, and more recently in Exodus and Black Sea. He's very often cast as the unstable villain or some variety of flat-out asshole, but in his latest film, Mississippi Grind, he plays a far more complex and layered role as Gerry, a degenerate gambler desperate to get his life back on track.

Gerry owes money all over Dubuque, Iowa (you haven't lived until you've seen Alfre Woodard as a sinister loan shark, threatening bodily harm upon Gerry for money owed her), mostly from being an unlucky poker player. But that's the key to Gerry and those like him — to them, things like luck and fate are concrete things that directly influence the way they play. Chance doesn't exist to them; odds mean very little; skill is important, but not as critical as a streak or a good-luck charm. At one of these poker games, Gerry meets a younger, charming player named Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), who later pops up at the same bar as Gerry (something that Gerry believes is an absolute "sign" that they were meant to work together). The two concoct a plan to gamble their way down the Mississippi to a big poker tournament in New Orleans, with Curtis putting up the money and Gerry playing.

And as you might suspect, Mississippi Grind turns into apart gambling film, part road movie, with our heroes making detours and stops along the way that take them to visit old dancer friends of Curtis (played by Sienna Miller and Analeigh Tipton), as well as Gerry's ex-wife (Robin Weigert). As is often the case in the lives of men for whom winning isn't nearly as interesting as the risk of losing, the journey doesn't quite turn out how they expect. Even in their finest moments when things are looking up, both men hold in their eyes a look of quiet desperation, never letting us forget that parts of their lives have simply been lost to this disease. As the film moves along, we begin to discover what some of those lost pieces are and see the type of behavior that drove them away.

Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Sugar, Half Nelson) don't believe in half-assed character studies. They go so far into the terrifying depths of their characters that a part of you wants to turn away because it's too uncomfortable to witness. We've seen Reynolds try variations of this charismatic loser before, but usually for comic effect. In Mississippi Grind, it feels like part of a long con that Curtis is playing on himself — if he acts and looks the part, maybe one day he'll actually be that slick, confident player.

But the breakout performance comes from Mendelsohn, who really hasn't been given a leading role like this in an American film, and he simultaneously destroys and resuscitates your faith in humanity in his performance. One of the biggest debates I got into at Sundance this year (where Mississippi Grind premiered) about any film concerned Gerry's nature: is he an asshole trying to be better, or is he a decent guy who is forced to be an asshole sometimes because of his addiction? Mendelsohn is so good here, you can't tell, and it ultimately doesn't matter.

By far one of the strongest offerings I saw at Sundance, Mississippi Grind is a work that isn't in a hurry to get where it's going. But every turn it takes adds value and dimension to its characters, and that's what's most important. As much as I enjoyed the recent remake of The Gambler, when set up against this film, there's no contest (hell, even the original's screenwriter, James Toback, pops up in a nice cameo here).

Mississippi Grind isn't concerned with how cool Gerry and Curtis are; it just wants us to peek into their souls enough to know they are suffering, lonely guys. More importantly, their friendship turns into something real, and when given the opportunity to double-cross each other, there's a genuine conflict about doing so. It's rare that a film dives so deep into what makes its characters tick, but it seems to be something that directors Fleck and Boden do time and time again with a kind of nuance that is praiseworthy. The film opens today in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre.

Prophet's Prey

Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Amy Berg has a powerful history with making films that don't just explain an issue with you; they throw you head first into the subject at hand and force you to feel the immediacy of it. With works like West of Memphis and Deliver Us from Evil, Berg puts us right there with the victims of great injustices, who somehow managed to find the strength to come out the other side (although her most recent work, the Janis Joplin doc Janis: Little Girl Blue, which just premiered at Toronto, might be going after a different vibe). In the film that's hitting theaters now (and should be on Showtime fairly soon), Prophet's Prey, Berg sets her sites on the ongoing disgrace of the FLDS — Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — one of the largest Mormon denominations, whose members practice polygyny by marrying off their young teenage girls to older men.

The still-leader of this group is Warren Jeffs, who sits in a jail cell for the rest of his life, still running his church as its prophet whose instructions are more faithfully followed now than when he was free. But while he was in hiding from the FBI, he made the Most Wanted list, where his photo sat between Osama Bin Laden and James "Whitey" Bulger — good company, if you ask me. Berg gives us the history of the church through the eyes and words of author Sam Brower (who wrote the book on which the film is based) and Jon Krakauer (who wrote the preface of the book). If Krakauer's name sounds familiar, it's because he wrote the book Into the Wild and is featured in the mountain-climbing doc Meru; he's also portrayed as a character in the current film Everest. The two men drive around FLDS compounds in a truck pointing out surveillance cameras, church police following them, and hundreds of children scurrying to avoid being seen.

Prophet's Prey is about unveiling secrets, and much of this is done through high-ranking former members of the FLDS, including Jeffs' own family members, who tell stories of being thrown out of the church for unknown reasons, often being forced to leave their children behind. There are also stories of Jeffs compulsive ways as a sexual predator of both boys and girls when he ran the church's school while his father was the designated prophet. The film almost overwhelms with stories of misery, isolation, depression and occult-like brainwashing. The FLDS's current headquarters is in El Dorado, Texas, and there is a genuine fear of the situation there becoming another Waco situation, or worse, another Jonestown, a concern that is echoed by local law enforcement as well as Krakauer and Brower.

Prophet's Prey's most sinister moments come simply from listening to tapes of Jeffs' sermons, in which he speaks in a haunting monotone about facing death if the prophet is not obeyed. We also see glimpses of him in court, where he offers no testimony about his bad deeds, instead hiding behind the Fifth Amendment over and over again. The film's eerie score comes courtesy of Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, who also narrates. The cumulative impact of watching the movie is an ever tightening pit in your stomach, and overwhelming questions about where the line is between religious freedom and cult behavior hiding behind the guise and protection of religion. It's a harrowing, heartbreaking profile that will linger in you mind for a long time to come. The film opens today in Chicago for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.


I'm sure there's a story out there about why it has taken five years for director Mikael Håfström's Shanghai to make it to theaters stateside. The film played in theaters throughout Asia and the Middle East from 2010-11 and has been on home video in many parts of the world since 2011-12. I'm guessing it was in someone's contract that the film must play in theaters in the US before it can be released on home video, but still... five years?

And look at this cast: John Cusack as an American spy working in Shanghai in the months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and Chinese superstars Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat as Anna and Anthony Lan-Ting, a married couple who seem to run the Shanghai underground in a time when the Chinese city had a zone for every occupying nation involved in war at the time. Cusack's Paul Soames has some leeway in the city since America is not yet involved in the war officially, and he's posing as a Nazi-sympathizing reporter working for a British editor (Hugh Bonneville).

Also on hand are David Morse as Paul's real boss at the American's consulate; Ken Watanabe as the Japanese officer in charge of security in Shanghai; Franka Potente as the wife of a German diplomat and the woman Paul is sleeping with to get to her husband's top secret files; and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Paul's best friend and fellow spy Conner, seen almost entirely in flashback and whose death is one of the film's many mysteries that Paul is attempting to solve. It's certainly an impressive enough international cast to warrant a more timely release, and I suppose we should just be grateful it escaped at all from the often-crowded vaults of The Weinstein Company.

So how is the actual film? Not bad, actually. It plays out more like a film noir, in which we, the audience, already know what story's biggest secret is. All of the middle-of-the-night murders, talk of resistance fighters, love triangles, and strange alliances are leading toward Paul nearly figuring out that Japan is planning a large-scale attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor. There is no implication that this character knew and was ignored by higher-ups (that might be a little too conspiracy theory for American audiences), but it does make a lot of the film's machinations seem a bit superfluous and behind a smoke screen that covers an entire city, which doesn't mean some of it isn't enjoyable.

Working from a script by Hossein Amini, director Håfström (who also helmed Cusack in 1408, as well as The Rite and Escape Plan, both made after Shanghai) somehow manages to make things a bit too complicated and too simplistic at the same time. There is example after example how the allure of women steers men wrong and makes them do things that put the masses in danger just to save one lady friend. And honestly, the only times in this film where that theory holds up are moments involving Gong Li, who is not just pleasing to the eye but also the only woman in the film who gets enough screen time to prove to us that she's good as steering the many men under her spell in the direction she wants.

The plot about the dead spy twists and turns, while the search for resistance fighters in the city weaves around Paul's search for any number of people connected to his late friend. But none of it truly matters, because none of that is what the film is really about. To a degree, that works since we're looking around the corners and edges of these interpersonal mysteries to look for clues about Japan's intention to declare war in America. Once that happens, the only thing that seems to matter to anyone in this movie is how fast can they get out of Shanghai.

The film is beautifully shot by Benoît Delhomme (who went on to become director of photography on such films as The Theory of Everything), and the filmmakers do a credible job of capturing the vastness and separation that was in place at the time in Shanghai. A bit too much is over-explained, but with so many nations and characters at play, maybe too much is a good thing. Shanghai is no great piece of filmmaking, but it certainly doesn't deserve to be handled like toxic waste by its distributor. I think most audiences that are able to find it will be largely impressed, as well they should be. I would never ask anyone to see a movie just to send a message, but if you're curious about a film with a powerhouse cast like this and a unique look at the events leading up to America's involvement in World War II, this film will likely do something for you.


A film that manages to be deeply disturbing but impossible to tear yourself away from, Partisan is an Australian production about a closed micro-society filled with single mothers and their offspring, all under the largely positive influence of the protective, seductive Gregori (played by the brilliant French actor Vincent Cassel of Eastern Promises, Black Swan, Mesrine). As the film opens, Gregori is in the early stages of building his new community, when he seemingly wanders into a maternity ward and seeks out the one woman, Susanna (Florence Mezzara), who doesn't have any bedside flowers, let alone visitors. Whatever the reasons, she is utterly alone with her newborn.

The story jumps ahead 11 years, as Susanna's son, Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), is celebrating his birthday and we discover that he and his mother were the first to populate Gregori-land, located in some unknown corner of the world. As written by director Ariel Kleiman (his feature debut after several highly regarded shorts) and Sarah Cyngler, Gregori seems to be a genuinely thoughtful caretaker. He emphasizes education, physical fitness, doing one's chores, and a certain amount of discipline. He's not a fan of those who second guess him, but usually he is patient in setting someone straight. He's something of a more kind-hearted Fagin to Alexander's Oliver Twist, or so it would seem.

But before long, we start to learn of certain "errands" the children must run out into the world to provide for the group, and no one is better at these expeditions than Alexander. Not entirely surprising, the errands involve a certain amount of illegal activity and a great deal of cold-hearted violence, and as Alexander is maturing, he begins to question the bloody tasks. The film's tension levels escalate slowly at first, but when it becomes clear that a friendly game of paintball is a dress rehearsal for something far more sinister, ever aspect of this seemingly tranquil haven takes on an eerie, disconcerting hue.

While it's clear that Gregori would do anything to maintain order in the community, his affection for Alexander is genuine, and he does everything in his power — from friendly persuasion to outright threats — to keep the boy among the flock. Cassel has historically excelled at portraying menacing figures in a many of this films, but Gregori has more layers. As misguided as his efforts may be, he truly is looking out for these women and children, even if a few innocent outsiders must die to make that happen. Cassel isn't playing evil, but it's easy, even tempting, to see Gregori as such, especially when he puts his more sadistic side in full view when disciplining someone in the group.

The most fascinating moments of Partisan involve Alexander discovering, at a somewhat advanced age, the value of life. When another young boy refuses to eat chicken because he's discovered it's distant relative of the T-Rex and therefore wants to save the lineage (he apparently thinks the only chickens in the world are the few in this compound), Alexander is curious, both about the idea of protecting living creatures and the ferocity of Gregori's punishment of this other boy. It doesn't take long for Alexander to adjust his behavior when he puts others' needs before his own.

As strong as the acting is here, full credit goes to director Kleiman, who has a confident visual style and powerful minimalist writing that doesn't over-explain what exactly is happening in the film in one exposition overload. If you watch, you'll figure it all out soon enough, and the impact is far more chilling. Partisan has a great deal of twisted logic when it comes to violence, and it's all the better for it. Existential questions about the use and place of violence in the world have plagued humanity for centuries, and for far too long, films have made its use a very black-or-white issues. But this debut feature takes a bit more time than most to allow us to think a bit about consequences and learned behavior. It's a strong effort that you should seek out either in art houses or VOD. The film opens today in Chicago for a weeklong run at Facets Cinémathèque.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
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Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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Editor: Nancy Bishop,
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