Writer-director Aaron Katz still gets pigeonholed as a progenitor of the mumblecore movement, that umbrella term that conjures wobbly framed scenes of directionless 20-somethings' meandering, natural-seeming relationship talk. That reputation does a disservice to the centrality of place, of thoughtfully composed exteriors, in Katz's work. Los Angeles serves as the setting of his latest, Gemini, a shimmering, unlikely detective story. Katz and his director of photography, Andrew Reed, relish the transitional sequences, marveling over neon-accented vistas in which palm trees and skyscrapers overlap.
They tell a story, too. It centers on Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke), assistant to movie star Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz). Heather's existential quandaries inspire one of those never-ending nights for Heather: An old-fashioned leads to a drink at Jill's place leads to K-town karaoke leads to Chinese food out of the carton and lying-awake ruminations on Scream and life and ambition. Heather is found dead from five gunshot wounds, and Jill emerges as the lead suspect for Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho, his mane as opulent as ever). In response, the innocent Jill dyes her hair and sets out to crack the case herself. Katz incites suspense not through typical crime-genre conventions but through uncanny, off-kilter details and contradictions that create a general aura of uncertainty. And for all the sharp-witted conversations and pinpoint performances, Gemini most impresses as a piece of clean, confident visual storytelling, with compelling physical action in visually gripping and legible tableaus -- and this is supposed to be the guy who invented mumblecore?