Movie Review ~ Montana Story

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two estranged siblings return home to the sprawling ranch they once knew and loved, confronting a deep and bitter family legacy against a mythic American backdrop.
Stars: Haley Lu Richardson, Owen Teague, Gilbert Owuor, Kimberly Guerrero, Asivak Koostachin, Eugene Brave Rock, Rob Story, John Ludin, Kate Britton
Director: Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Rated: R
Running Length: 113 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  Pre-pandemic, theaters would have been able to dedicate room for a small movie like Montana Story.  It might not have played in the theater with the most seats or drawn as many viewers on opening weekend as the big studio film that occupied the other screens down the hall, but the target audience would eventually have found their way.  In today’s climate, the movie-goer that is right for this quiet picture will have trouble locating a showing in their area…if it’s even playing at all.  That’s a shame, too, because as promising as the box office returns have been for old-fashioned fare like Top Gun: Maverick and Downton Abbey: A New Era, the age of the tiny indie has all but vanished.

In that same breath, I’ll also admit that perhaps Montana Story is a bit too quiet for its own good.  The story of siblings reuniting at their family ranch as their divisive father lay dying in the next room is not easy to warm to.  It’s a chilly film for early summer that’s beautifully captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Enola Holmes) but only sporadically possesses the kind of forward momentum to keep the bitter winds from blistering your skin. 

On the outskirts of Montana, Cal (Owen Teague, Mary) arrives at his father’s sparse ranch after the patriarch suffers a debilitating stroke that has left him all but brain dead.  As his father is tended to by a nurse (Gilbert Owuor, No Man of God) and a long-time family friend/worker (Kimberly Guerrero, The Glorias), Cal has several significant decisions to make about the future of the farm and finances.  Erin (Haley Lu Richardson, Split) comes into the mix, Cal’s older half-sister, who hasn’t been heard from in nearly a decade, ever since she argued with her father and then disappeared overnight.

Wounded by her past, Erin finds a means of repressed salvation she can control after learning of Cal’s plans to put down a horse he can no longer care for.  Deciding she’ll take ownership and bring the horse back with her out East, Erin uses this new distraction to distance herself from the conflict she’ll never fully resolve with her father.  As the siblings reconnect and discover where life has taken them both, they’ll find new understanding in the power of letting go of the past so they can be free to carve out a future of their own design.

Writer/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have gathered a solid cast together for their tale that gets off to a good start but spins its wheels after about an hour.  I enjoyed the early scenes between Teague and Owuor, easy-going conversations that revealed small details of each that didn’t feel like the clear exposition they were.  Richardson comes in red hot, wound up with angst and trepidation at the situation she will find, which creates an exciting amount of energy.  Sadly, Richardson can’t easily maintain that level of performance, and pretty soon, every performance has flattened out like the prairie that stretches out before them.  It’s never quite a secret where the film is headed, but I thought it would get there in a less mundane way.

Marketing for Montana Story encourages audiences to “See it on the largest screen you can find,” and with the movie arriving right at the start of the summer movie season, you can still catch this one in theaters if you’re quick about it.  It’s worth a look on that scale if you can make it happen, but it’s not one I’d move mountains to get to either.  There’s a splendid simplicity to the vistas captured on camera, but the actual film slips into a gray dullness that could send you snoozing if you aren’t careful.

Movie Review ~ Inherit the Viper


The Facts
:

Synopsis: For siblings Kip and Josie, dealing opioids isn’t just their family business — it’s their only means of survival. When a deal goes fatally wrong, Kip decides he wants out for good. But his attempt to escape his family’s legacy soon ignites a powder keg of violence and betrayal, endangering Kip, Josie and their younger brother.

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Margarita Levieva, Owen Teague, Bruce Dern, Chandler Riggs, Valorie Curry, Dash Mihok

Director: Anthony Jerjen

Rated: R

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I’d imagine had Inherit the Viper been released 10 or 15 years ago it may have been received a tiny bit better than it does in 2020 when its dark tale of an already fragile family dynamic torn apart by drugs feels more than a little also-ran.  It’s hard to watch the movie and not think of the countless other television series, true-crime documentaries, and other analogous indie films that have covered the same dingy terrain and done it better.  That’s not to say there isn’t room for other stories with similar themes to be told but there has to be something that sets it apart from its genre siblings and Inherit the Viper sadly doesn’t have anything fresh or revealing to add.

Things don’t get more cookie-cutter than the elements that make up the setting, players, and plot of the film, scripted by Andrew Crabtree and directed by Anthony Jerjen.  In the Appalachian mountain area (think West Virginia, because if one movie about the opioid crisis is set there, they all have to be), a family that has grown up in the shadow of their father’s drug trafficking have continued the family business to keep themselves afloat.  Kip (Josh Hartnett, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) is beginning to grow wary of the dangers that come with the territory, having decided to settle down with his pregnant girlfriend (Valorie Curry, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2).  That doesn’t sit too well with his hard-nosed sister Josie (Margarita Levieva, The Diary of a Teenage Girl) or their younger brother Boots (Owen Teague, Mary) who has just returned home after a long absence.

As Kip is planning his exit, Josie and Boots are just getting started thinking of making their individual moves to the next level, each for their own personal reasons.  Unable to get close to anyone to have a family of her own, Josie is carrying on an affair with the married local lawman (Dash Mihok, Silver Linings Playbook), partly as an unspoken pact for him to look the other way.  Never accomplishing anything on his own, Boots struggles to escape the impression he rides the coattails of his siblings and family name by entering into a risky deal that puts his family and his life at risk.  A series of unfortunate events affecting the siblings set into motion decisions that will force them to question how strong their family ties are.

While this sounds like the makings of a film with some grit, Jerjen’s direction doesn’t have any momentum to it so it just sort of lays there and refuses to build up to anything substantial.  Even an ending that Crabtree intends as eye-opening lands with the smallest of bangs because up until that point we’ve cared so little about the characters it’s hard to muster up much emotion for what happens next in their lives.  On the good side, Hartnett and Levieva feel like they are giving the kind of performances that should be in a movie with a better script while the puzzling appearance by Bruce Dern (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) as a crusty bar owner feels like a phoned in favor.

Blessedly short at 90 minutes, it feels longer due to the slow pacing and development.  The long and the short of it is that there simply isn’t enough to the plot to warrant a feature length film.  Had Crabtree and Jerjen trimmed this to be a short film, I’m imagine they’d fix the problems that made this one unavoidably dull.  The more you stretch something that’s already thin, the bigger the holes become.  Inherit the Viper is a good title for a subpar film.

31 Days to Scare ~ Mary (2019)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family looking to start a charter-boat business buys a ship that holds terrifying secrets once out on isolated waters.

Stars: Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Jennifer Esposito, Stefanie Scott, Owen Teague, Michael Landes

Director: Michael Goi

Rated: R

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: There’s a myth in Hollywood that winning a Best Actress Oscar puts a kind of curse on your career for a period of time after you take home the statue.  Most of those who hold some sort of stock in this cite Halle Berry as the prime example of the jinx with the actress starring in a seemingly endless series of flops and non-starters.  After all, her two headlining movies out of the gate after winning her award were Gothika and the notoriously reviled update on Catwoman.  I mention this because we may want to expand this dark cloud watch to the Best Actor Oscar as well because of recent Best Actor winner Gary Oldman setting sail on the high seas with this well-intentioned but ultimately listless horror film.

Unfulfilled with his days working on a tourist fishing boat for a company he doesn’t own, David (Oldman, Darkest Hour) seeks out a cruiser he can invest in to start an excursion business he can manage the way he chooses.  His wife Lisa (Emily Mortimer, Mary Poppins Returns) wants him to be practical with the little savings they do have, so she’s wary when he’s drawn to a ship in bad shape.  As the audience, we know David and Lisa should steer clear of the ship, having been treated to an earlier introduction to the vessel where we get an bloody idea of how her last crew wound up.  David remains resolute and soon, along with their daughters Lindsey (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3) and Mary (Chloe Perrin, Jurassic World) the family has restored the ship and are taking it for a maiden voyage.

Of course, this is when strange things start to happen on board and this is one reason you’ll be glad the movie clocks in at a scant 84 minutes, including credits.  See, the ship might just be under a witch’s curse, having been a Puritan vessel that carted women accused of witchcraft to their watery graves.  Now, a spirit seeks to inhabit the soul of a family member…maybe young Mary.  The family and two crew members aren’t too far out to sea when they experience visions of death and burned corpses, are possessed by an evil host, and just generally go a bit nuts, all culminating in a life or death battle during a particularly nasty storm. The close quarters provide little wiggle room for changes of scenery and the vast ocean horizons give the sense of solitude and just how alone they truly are.

There’s a framework set up in the script from Anthony Jaswinski (who wrote the far more enjoyable Kristy and The Shallows) that takes the air of surprise out of things from moment one.  Opening with one of the characters being interviewed by an officer (Jennifer Espositio, Don’t Say a Word) about the events that happened on the ship, you know the ending already and start to work backward from there.  That unfortunately robs any suspense from the rest of the film and even a last minute, um, Hail Mary, can’t save the awkward plot device.  I never understand why a movie will take this approach without turning it into something more interesting and upending our expectations.  I kept expecting Jaswinski to treat this musty old contrivance with a little more flair – instead I was left feeling this was an early script he dusted off and sold without tinkering with it before turning it in.

Looking at Mary from a 1,000 feet level, one has to wonder how it attracted Oldman in the first place.  Though featured prominently on the poster and billed first (obviously), there’s precious little for Oldman to do for much of the movie, relegating co-star Mortimer to do a fair amount of the heavy lifting which she does admirably.  I kept feeling that wherever the action was taking place, Oldman was on a different deck of the ship, oblivious (or off filming another movie?) to what was going on.  It’s certainly a well-made film that has a clear atmosphere established; television director Michael Goi also served as cinematographer, which I’m guessing added to the film feeling efficiently produced.  The only scares are of the jump variety and Goi at least keeps the movie interesting to look at – I just wish the port of call was a bit more alluring.