This Is a Movie Review: ‘Gemini’ is a Satisfying Light-and-Dark Neo-Noir

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CREDIT: NEON

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho

Director: Aaron Katz

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Easygoing, Friendly Profanity and a Bloody Crime Scene

Release Date: March 30, 2018 (Limited)

What if you suddenly discovered that your life has turned into a movie? That’s essentially the same question as: what if you found yourself in the most extreme and unusual of circumstances? As one character in the neo-noir murder mystery Gemini puts it, the most likely culprit is the one with the motive, the opportunity, and the capacity. And there just so happens to be a perfectly creepy guy who fits all the criteria. But if this is a movie, then it might be the craziest, least obvious suspect who turns out to be the culprit. Occam’s razor may give you the right answer nine times out of ten, but that other 10% is where lies the basis for exciting, unpredictable films. Gemini is kind of enjoyably self-aware about that, but only as much as it can be when its leads are a couple of way-out-of-their-depth young adults.

Heather (Zoë Kravitz) is a young actress who is burnt out by the business in her twenties. The presentation of her world is vague to the point that we never get a full sense of just how famous she is, but we do know that she is enough of a star to have a sizable Instagram following and overaggressive fans approaching her in diners. Gemini could have just been a hangout movie depicting the carefree days of Heather and her assistant Jill (Lola Kirke), who are referred to as “freaky, fucked-up best friends,” the kind who “kill each other all the time.” But really, their friendship is genuine and supportive, and while they may keep secrets from each other, that is to be expected when living in a mostly empty mansion in a populous but often lonely city and working in a frequently soul-sucking industry. So when Jill finds Heather dead by gunshot wound, what should be a personal tragedy instead plays out as a hazy detour into purgatory.

If this were a film about millennial self-actualization, Jill would probably be a total boss, and Heather would be right by her side for the majority of the runtime. But instead, Jill does her best to adapt to her new noir status quo. She does some fine investigative work of her own and her psyche holds up well against the withering glare of the lead detective (John Cho, giving an intense performance marked by enigmatic motivation) who clearly suspects that she might be the killer. But she also has moments of silliness, like adopting a disguise that really doesn’t help her out in any capacity, and she gets called out for that pointlessness. Overall, writer/director Aaron Katz pulls off a remarkable tonal balance, utilizing Keegan DeWitt’s jazzy trip-hop score and Andrew Reed’s oppressive cinematography to firmly establish the devastation inherent in the premise while also maintaining a comedic lightness drawn from basic truths of characterization and performance. There is a lot of self-confidence on display here, and that goes a long way.

Gemini is Recommended If You Like: Mulholland Drive, Nerve, References to ’90s pop culture touchstones

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Blond Wigs

This Is a Movie Review: The Tom Cruise-Starring Biopic ‘American Made’ is a Rollicking Indictment of Governmental Abuse of Power

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright Olsen, Domhnall Gleeson, Caleb Landry Jones, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, Lola Kirke

Director: Doug Liman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for High Stress Profanity and a Quick Sex Montage

Release Date: September 29, 2017

Did Barry Seal live the American Dream? The marks of such an achievement are all there. The former TWA pilot rose from relatively modest means, married a beautiful woman (Sarah Wright Olsen), had three beautiful kids, was enriched by his own government, used those riches to move his family into a huge plot of land, and now Tom Cruise is playing him in a biopic. But if this is indeed the American Dream, ideals are not immune to being warped by the harshness of reality. Spoiler alert for a true story: Barry dies at the end. He still manages to accrue an insane streak of good luck, and the deadliest parts of his story are filled with mythic iconography, but his example is a stark reminder that this country’s greatness is not always so straightforward as it purports to be.

As American Made portrays him, Seal is an opportunist, but the opportunities come straight to him, from sources that are pretty hard to say no to. A mysterious CIA agent (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up out of the blue and offers him a deal to fly reconnaissance missions and then act as a courier to the Latin American political figures that the U.S. government covertly supports. His presence leads him into the clutches of Pablo Escobar and the Medellín cartel, who strongarm him into smuggling their product. You might think this would be the end of the road for Seal, but the U.S. is kinda-sorta allies with the Medellíns (anything to oppose the commies!).

Seal’s smuggling does attract the ire of just about every major American law enforcement agency, but he keeps sliding free. While the bulk of his work is illegal, it is also mostly government-sanctioned, even when the CIA erases his existence from their files. Ultimately, though, his government – the same one that made him very rich – hangs him out to dry. As the affairs in Latin America ultimately lead to the Iran-Contra scandal, it becomes unavoidably clear that the highest echelons of government are populated by international geopolitical criminals. And yet it is the Barry Seal’s of the world, who nominally remain private citizens, who bear the bulk of the suffering. True, he chooses to play his part and is not exactly the most upstanding person, but he is never really free to live as he pleases. His life looks pretty fun, but it is not hard to notice the gross abuse of power underneath that slick veneer.

With American Made and 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, director Doug Liman is now a specialist in subverting the aura of Tom Cruise. If you know nothing of the actor’s personal life, it is pretty much impossible not to be charmed by him. And even if you do know about the Scientology shenanigans and all the rest of it, he still might win you over a bit despite yourself. Cruise cranks the charm at full throttle to get Seal out of so many sticky situations, but it only works if the powers that be say so. American Made shows that his star still shines on but also that he (just like the myth of the American Dream) only endures because powers greater than any one individual allow it to.

American Made is Recommended If You Like: Top Gun, Re-evaluating Top Gun, Deconstructing Tom Cruise, Narcos

Grade: 4 out of 5 Kilos