Tag Archives: Margarita Levieva

Inherit the Viper (2019, Anthony Jerjen)

Inherit the Viper is an unfortunately titled but acceptably mediocre crime drama about rural siblings Margarita Levieva, Josh Hartnett, and Owen Teague running an opioid business. Levieva’s the merciless boss, Hartnett’s the reluctant muscle, Teague’s the enthusiastic but uninvolved teenager. Everything’s going fine—well, outside the occasional fatal overdose for customers—until Teague decides he’s got to go into business for himself. Only he’s not very bright and his idea is to steal his family’s product to sell on the side, forcing Levieva (who wanted to get Teague involved) and Hartnett (who didn’t) to make some tough, momentous decisions. Renewed interest from local law enforcement (Dash Mihok) and a justifiably enraged recent widower (Brad William Henke) complicate matters.

So, a fairly standard family crime drama.

Andrew Crabtree’s script throws a lot at the characters but in targeted bursts. Viper never overreaches. Crabtree and director Jerjen never do anything they aren’t sure they can successfully execute. The film’s got some great production values—Jerjen, cinematographer Nicholas Wiesnet, editors Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda put some drone shots to great use for establishing shots, showcasing the desolate, failed rural community. Jerjen’s composition for the talking heads scenes, which are most of the film until the final third or so, is usually the same parallel shot, giving the actors each their space. Even though Jerjen’s got the patience for the talking heads and showcasing the actors (really, the film often plays like a demo reel for its stars more than a serious dramatic effort), he never gets in close enough to really look. When Levieva finally shows her humanity, when Hartnett finally shows his fear, Jerjen doesn’t have any way to help the actors rise above the script, which is fairly pat as far as character motivation and development go. Both the script and the direction posit the characters as somewhat tragic, even though the point of Levieva is she would reject that tragedy and it would be consuming the soulful Hartnett, who has a much better understanding of the world—ostensibly due to his time in Iraq War II, but more because the script needs it—than his peers.

Well, except of course how the film then positions other people as the good folks just facilitating the opioid ring without actually getting their hands too dirty (special guest star Bruce Dern plays a bar owner and friend of the family’s absent, smalltime crook dad).

Instead of Levieva or Hartnett, the film focuses on Teague. It’s both a trope—the child grows up—and the most economical. Hartnett getting more of a focus would mean more to do with pregnant girlfriend Valorie Curry and, even though the film starts spotlighting Levieva, she barely gets any character development throughout. And, when she does, it feels like the film’s trying too hard. Because to transcend the material, the script would need to be better and there’d need to be more of a budget (the film looks great, moves well but it’s obviously streamlined as can be). Jerjen does what he can with the constraints the production’s got and it works. The drone shots do get tiring by the end but more because they never really impact how the narrative plays; they’re always technically solid. Especially set against Patrick Kirst’s score.

For over half the film, Viper acts like it isn’t going to rest the whole thing on whether or not Teague can carry it through the third act to the finish, then it hands it off to Teague and, sure, he can get it to the finish but… not spectacularly. It’s a pass and no pass situation. Teague passes, adequate, no reason to rejoice.

Levieva’s the film’s best performance, even with her character going off some rails in the third act. Hartnett’s good, but it’s a propped up majorly supporting role; Teague’s not compelling enough, Hartnett picks up the slack for it. It’s unclear whether Jerjen would be able to do more. He’s got a lot of technical chops as a director and he’s pretty good with the actors, but Viper never seems thoughtful enough. Jerjen’s successfully realizes the script but without any imagination. It’s like he’s too good, technically, to have to be inventive.

Inherit the Viper—the title’s even worse once you find out what it means—isn’t bad, it’s just rote, even with its cast’s solid efforts.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Jerjen; written by Andrew Crabtree; director of photography, Nicholas Wiesnet; edited by Gordon Antell and Kiran Pallegadda; music by Patrick Kirst; production designer, Tracy Dishman; costume designer, Emily Batson; produced by Michel Merkt and Benito Mueller; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Margarita Levieva (Josie Conley), Josh Hartnett (Kip Conley), Owen Teague (Boots Conley), Valorie Curry (Eve), Dash Mihok (Kyle), Chandler Riggs (Cooper), Brad William Henke (Tedd), and Bruce Dern (Clay).


For Ellen (2012, So Yong Kim)

I’m not sure what’s more incredulous, director Kim thinking she’s Bob Rafelson or her thinking her For Ellen lead is Jack Nicholson.

Besides the inept, predictable rip-off (or homage) of one of Nicholson and Rafelson’s more famous moments, the only thing distinctive about For Ellen–besides some great photography and location shooting–is Shaylena Mandigo as the title character. Kim gets an exceptional performance out of Mandigo, who’s seven or so. In her scenes with Dano, Mandigo acts circles around him. It’s embarrassing for Dano.

Other than those scenes, Dano is the whole show in Ellen. One has to assume Kim has him ad-libbing some of the more inane exchanges. He’s a struggling musician (it’s never clear if he’s any good, doesn’t seem like it), who travels from Chicago to an undisclosed small midwestern town to sign his divorce papers. There he mets his daughter (Mandigo) for the first time.

But for the first hour, the film’s mostly Dano wandering around. He hangs out with his weird, small town lawyer (Jon Heder in a thankless role). Dano’s not just unlikable, he’s boring. Director Kim must have really thought he was giving a better performance than the one she put on film. Or video. You get the idea.

As for Kim… her composition is great. Her dialogue’s awful, but her direction of talky scenes is good. She tries to be very cute with the exposition, which flops.

Ellen’s got nothing to offer except Mandigo and cinematographer Reed Morano.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by So Yong Kim; director of photography, Reed Morano; edited by Bradley Rust Gray and Kim; music by Jóhann Jóhannsson; production designer, Ryan Warren Smith; produced by Gray, Kim and Jen Gatien; released by Tribeca Film.

Starring Paul Dano (Joby), Jon Heder (Mr. Butler), Jena Malone (Susan), Margarita Levieva (Claire Taylor), Julian Gamble (Mr. Hamilton), Dakota Johnson (Cindy) and Shaylena Mandigo (Ellen).


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Adventureland (2009, Greg Mottola)

I hate Adventureland. I mean, it’s a rather good film, but I’m going to have to say nice things about Ryan Reynolds now and so I hate it. Reynolds has a small but significant role in the film and he’s fantastic, bringing humanity to what should be a common character. I cringed at his name in the credits then proceeded to love his performance. So I hate Adventureland.

Greg Mottola’s film isn’t revolutionary. It’s a coming of age story. But there’s a lot of nice nuance to it. It’s a post-college coming of age story, set in 1987, but nothing like a movie from 1987. Then there’s the whole undercurrent of anti-semiticism, which gets a specific scene, but not a lot of notice–the film’s primary three characters are Jewish (I’m just guessing with Jesse Eisenberg’s character, as it wouldn’t make much sense if he wasn’t) and they have this awkward relationship with the Catholics they work with. Mottola doesn’t establish it, he just later refers to it–it’s part of the ground situation, something everyone knows about and the viewer has to get caught up on immediately. It’s beautiful. Or Eisenberg being the youngest guy drinking at the bar. It just goes on and on.

But what Adventureland is all about, what makes it singular, is Kristen Stewart. I’ve been a fan since Speak–though I’ve never gotten around to seeing any of her films–and Adventureland is something of a showcase for her talent. Mottola seems to realize Eisenberg’s problems can’t carry an entire film, so he juxtaposes it with Stewart and her situation. Her situation is slightly more singular than Eisenberg’s and, even if it weren’t, it’s clear Stewart would be amazing in more pat scenes. Fingers crossed Stewart doesn’t let the paychecks of Twilight-like malarky sway her from doing good films.

So what about Eisenberg, the film’s ostensible lead? He’s great too. He’s nothing compared to Stewart, but he’s great. He’s got a great way of delivering Mottola’s dialogue–there’s always this thoughtful pause. It’s impossible to imagine the film without this cast.

Martin Starr’s solid as Eisenberg’s sort-of friend, Matt Bush hilarious as the childhood friend Eisenberg has outgrown (another one of Adventureland and Mottola’s lovely moves). Bill Hader has what would be the most traditional comedy role and he’s funny. It works.

Mottola’s direction is excellent. His strengths as a filmmaker more than make up for the film running about five minutes too long, maybe seven.

But I still hate Adventureland for making me say nice things about Ryan Reynolds.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Greg Mottola; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Anne McCabe; music by Yo La Tengo; production designer, Stephen Beatrice; produced by Ted Hope, Anne Carey and Sidney Kimmel; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan), Kristen Stewart (Em Lewin), Martin Starr (Joel Schiffman), Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Margarita Levieva (Lisa P.), Jack Gilpin (Mr. Brennan), Wendie Malick (Mrs. Brennan) and Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell).


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