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Wednesday , July 17 2019

Slick ‘Gemini’ stays surface level – ‘Wilderness’ examines King’s challenging final yrs

Writer-director Aaron Katz’s “Gemini” is a very stylishly executed and well-cast attempt at a Lynchian neo-noir that doesn’t really work. Glum and meandering, the Los Angeles-set mystery about a Hollywood starlet and her assistant starts off promising enough but trudges along aimlessly to a deeply silly and maddening end.

Heather Anderson is the name of the starlet/actress/whatever in question played with otherworldly coolness by the otherworldly cool Zoe Kravitz. We never see her acting, just sort of existing in the moody milieu of LA’s middle section, the 1920s-style apartment buildings and strip mall parking lots of Koreatown and the tonier hills to the north. She and her assistant Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) may as well be in their own little world, connected to the outside through cell phones and text messages and one stray paparazzi, Stan (James Ransone), who follows them around.

We meet Jill fielding a phone call from Heather’s aggrieved recent ex-boyfriend Devin, who casually threatens to kill Heather for what she’s done to him. Heather arrives shortly after, wonders who it was and kind of rolls her eyes when the message is relayed. Her mind is elsewhere, namely on the project she’s about to bail on. Only she’s not actually going to break the news to the director, Greg (Nelson Franklin). She’s going to make Jill do it.

And like a good, underpaid assistant, Jill tells Greg that the deal is off, which he takes poorly and leaves. Pretty shortly after they get another call from her agent who also threatens to kill Heather for what she’s done. And a grade-A creep of a fan lingers a little longer than anyone is comfortable with. Showbiz, right?

We don’t get much context about how famous Heather is. Her presence is enough to get a movie made, and her absence is enough for it to be called off. She has at least one Instagram superfan and there’s that one paparazzi. But for someone who appears to be extremely wealthy and well-known who is scared all the time and has just had two people express their desire to kill her, it’s unclear why she wouldn’t at this point just hire some personal security or even, say call the police. This is a mystery this film is not interested in solving.

It’s much more dramatic and odd, I guess, to ask your assistant for her gun and then go with her and your secret (pop star?) girlfriend, Tracy (Greta Lee) at a Neon-soaked club and drive home to your empty house and continue telling your assistant that you’re scared but not do anything about it beyond that.

In the morning, Jill leaves to do another meeting on Heather’s behalf and returns to Heather’s home to find the gun out and a dead body on the ground. In shock, Jill starts calling Heather’s friends to tell them she’s dead. The detective, Edward (John Cho), who speaks only in folksy vagaries, thinks Jill did it, so naturally Jill goes on the run across L.A. in a silly disguise and bad blonde wig (which I believe we’re supposed to think is her hair) to try to prove her own innocence.


Kirke is always watchable and a good presence on screen, but so much about “Gemini” is so contrived that here she looks a little lost in the story at times. There also isn’t much urgency or tension created as she bops around between fancy L.A. bars and homes collecting clues and trying to evade the detective.

The pieces of a good film all seem to be there, and Katz and his regular cinematographer Andrew Reed clearly have a sharp eye for great shots, but it’s unfortunately missing a binding and compelling story that would bring it home.

“Gemini,” a Neon release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “pervasive language, and a violent image.” Running time: 92 minutes. Two stars out of four.


When a figure is as fundamental to our history and national identity as Martin Luther King Jr, is there anything left to learn about him?

Actually, it may be precisely because King is such a towering figure in our collective memory that we tend to focus on a few big moments — Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma and of course “I Have a Dream” — and let the rest fade into history, leaving us with more myth than man as time goes on. That’s the argument behind the new HBO documentary “King in the Wilderness,” a fascinating and poignant look at the less-examined final years of the man’s life, timed for the 50th anniversary of his death.

It’s a compelling argument: Google a list of King’s iconic moments, and it’ll likely skip the years between 1965 and his 1968 assassination. Young people today are familiar with that iconic 1963 speech at the March on Washington, but much less so King’s blistering 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York, excoriating US involvement in Vietnam.

It was an agonizing moment for King, who felt he could no longer stay silent about the war but risked fury from across the political spectrum — including from some associates in the civil rights movement — by getting involved in the fray. In “King in the Wilderness,” directed by Peter Kunhardt, we learn King wrote much of the speech in friend Harry Belafonte’s apartment, filling yellow legal pads and tossing crumpled pages into the trash — only to be secretly retrieved by Belafonte. The speech, feels Rep John Lewis, another King friend interviewed here, was the best he ever gave: “He literally poured out of his heart the depth and essence of his soul.” Yet King was vilified by many afterward, and felt both betrayed and abandoned.

Like that nugget on Belafonte “swan-diving” into the garbage pail, this film is filled with fascinating bits of information, culled from hundreds of hours of archival footage and countless photos. It veers from the very public to the deeply personal, including heart-wrenching scenes of King’s father collapsing with grief over his son’s coffin. A friend, Xernona Clayton, describes using the powder compact from her purse to fix the mortician’s messy work on King’s jaw, to the relief of his widow, Coretta. She also describes how, leaving for the airport with King for that fateful Memphis trip, she watched as his children — who were accustomed to their father traveling — strangely tried to block him this time, saying, “Daddy, please don’t leave!” She says King told her: “When I come back, I’ve got to change my habits.”

The film takes off, chronologically, just after the events so beautifully captured by Ava DuVernay in her Oscar-nominated “Selma.” The following year, 1966, we find King increasingly on the defensive about his essential ethos, non-violence. In a telling scene, King marches in the South alongside fellow activist Stokely Carmichael, while a reporter walks between them with a microphone, eliciting competing visions: Carmichael is talking “black power,” and King is talking non-violence. (AP)

We witness King’s eye-opening experiences in Chicago in 1966, marching against segregation in housing and encountering outright hatred in the streets, with people brandishing “White Power” and swastika signs, and yelling racial epithets. One disturbing photo shows a young white child yelling angrily at the demonstrators, wrapped in a swastika banner held by the adult with him. “Chicago was a huge awakening for him,” Belafonte notes, describing King’s shock at encountering racial hatred similar to anything he’d seen in the South.

In these later years, comments friend Andrew Young, King was increasingly despondent that he was, in his own view, not doing enough — even that “somehow, he wasn’t good enough to be the leader.” At one point, we learn, he was offered a job as interim pastor at Riverside Church, but could not see taking a break from his life’s essential work. It was, Young says, almost as if King felt that death would be the only escape from his work.

At the very end of King’s life, though, there was lightheartedness. At home in Atlanta just before leaving for Memphis, Clayton says, there was a joyful family afternoon, with food and laughter and music. (King informed Clayton, “I’m a good singer, did you know that?”) And Young, who was with King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, says that just before he was shot, the two of them happily tossed a pillow around.

“It was the happiest I had seen him in a long time,” he says.

“King in the Wilderness,” an HBO release, is unrated. Running time: 111 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four. (AP)

By Lindsey Bahr

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