One of the greatest perks to attending the SXSW festival is having the opportunity to view world premieres of films. Over the past two days I've had the pleasure of catching the first-ever showing for two of my festival favorites. First up is Small Town Crime, a comedic thriller from the minds of California-born sibling writers and directors, Eshom and Ian Nelms. The film bridges a taut story with immense acting talent, namely Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer and the Oscar-nominated SXSW favorite, John Hawkes, to create a uniquely pleasant movie experience.
An alcoholic ex-cop (Hawkes) awakes in the middle of a field after an evening of binge-drinking and somehow avoiding a DUI. As he climbs back into his car and begins driving away, he soon discovers the body of a pretty young woman on the side of the road. The man's former police instincts take charge as he dives deep into an unauthorized investigation of the girl's murder that uncovers a small-town secret which puts him and his adopted sister's family (Octavia Spencer) in grave danger.
Brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms craft an amusing and suspenseful tale that satisfies on many levels. Channeling their inner Coen brothers, the siblings utilize moments of comedic levity to fill the gaps between a remarkably-paced game of cat & mouse. Veteran performer John Hawkes has always been a personal favorite of mine, and once again he offers a multi-dimensional lead character that resonates with the audience. He's certainly flawed, but his passion and overall kind-nature help form an instant bond between him and the viewer. Joining Hawkes is the always capable Octavia Spencer who also puts her emotional prowess on full display. It would be unjust to ignore some other fantastic supporting turns which come from Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson and Clifton Collins Jr., all of whom infuse a heavy dose of humor that adds a vital element to the film. Small Town Crown checks-off nearly all the boxes and unfolds as a well-scripted and superbly-told thriller that stands as one of SXSW's finest offerings this year.
Stars: 3 stars our of 4
Lola Kirke first caught my eye in Noah Baumbach's 2015 indie-comedy, Mistress America. Even standing alongside the versatile indie starlet, Greta Gerwig, from scene to scene, Kirke's performance jumps off the screen and immediately commands your attention. The same can be said for her latest work in Aaron Katz's new L.A. mystery, Gemini, which completely reaffirms that Lola Kirke is an emerging star.
Jill (Kirke) is a personal assistant and best friend to her famed Hollywood-celebrity boss, Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz). Throughout the course of the day, Heather's odd behavior ultimately makes mortal enemies out of her now ex-boyfriend, and a filmmaker whom she leaves hanging out to dry. Therefore, when Jill returns to the actress' home the next day and finds her dead body on the floor, she becomes the lead detective's (John Cho) number one suspect in a sea of possible murderers, prompting her to manipulate her appearance and dig deeper into the mystery herself.
Aaron Katz delivers another fine piece of filmmaking with his latest feature, Gemini. Katz's direction continues to embolden itself with every subsequent project. It's been an absolute pleasure to watch his progression as both a writer and filmmaker, which culminates into this new career-best effort thanks to brilliant performances and a clever screenplay that propel his overall vision. Leading star Lola Kirke possesses a hypnotic ability as a performer, one that takes you on her chaotic journey through Katz's smartly written murder mystery. Zoe Kravitz also provides an exceptional supporting turn by molding a complex and conflicted character. Gemini swiftly navigates through a bleak Los Angeles backdrop, disjoint from all the glamour and glitz of Tinsel Town, in order to tell a truly unique story. And despite the film's mildly unsatisfying finale which leaves a little to be desired, this twist-filled "whodunit" tale still proves to be completely worth the ride.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4