Tag Archives: Dermot Mulroney

Twisted Game

Agent Game

by Tori Hanes

In his third feature film, director Grant S. Johnson dives into the unrewarding cinematic web of United States bureaucracy. Agent Game centers around a group of expendable CIA officers scapegoated in a coverup and forced to fight the government for their lives.

While not entirely pro-United States, Agent Game makes the assumption that the audience shares a universal respect for their government. While this approach might have worked until the 2000s, it’s unrealistic in today’s age of information and dissent.

Governments’ relationships with their societies change, and a film that doesn’t reflect that shift puts itself at a disadvantage. Ultimately, Agent Game never climbs out of the ideological valley it begins in. 

The acting is, at best, uninspired. At its worst, it’s incompetent. This does not entirely seem to be the actors’ fault. Though perhaps verging on hyperbole, it looks like the actors were only given single takes. It’s hard to conjure another logical explanation for why, at points, it seems that they’re performing the lines for the first time. 

The only performances that manage to break into a believable space come from Jason Isaacs and Dermot Mulroney, who play two uncommonly moral CIA agents. While bouncing off of each other, they’re able to find the grit and realism Agent Game overwhelmingly lacks.

Though certainly not intended, Mel Gibson’s character ironically breaks up the monotony of the dull narrative. Supposedly the mastermind behind a twisted government operation, Gibson plays more like a parody of himself than a commanding force. The strangely elongated pauses and conviction behind cheesy quips make for moments of unintended comedy gold.

The story revolves around two separate but connected missions, confusingly paced and set non-chronologically. It seems the director and writers started with a fairly simple concept and decided the plot was too easily understood, so they created unnecessary and underdeveloped roadblocks in the narrative.

Ultimately, if there was even a hint of self-awareness, this film could be an enjoyable ride. Instead, it spends its energy trying excessively hard to distract you from its faults. 

Bill (Jason Isaacs) laments about his place in government morality, and his line perfectly encapsulates the takeaway of the film: 

“Looks like we’re not the good guys anymore.”

Were we ever, Agent Game?

Their Own American Dream

Hard Luck Love Song

by Rachel Willis

Working from the Todd Snider song, “Just Like Old Times,” writer/director Justin Corsbie (with co-writer Craig Ugoretz) brings the lyrics to life with his debut feature film, Hard Luck Love Song.

Basing a film on a song isn’t unheard of, but it isn’t very common either – probably for a lot of reasons. The biggest one being most story songs rely on character tropes to allow their listeners to connect to the characters. In this case, the antihero and the hooker with a heart of gold.

And even then, a film can succeed in adapting a song to the big screen if the background story and characters are fleshed out in believable ways. Unfortunately, Corsbie and Ugoretz don’t pull this off.

I find it hard to believe that in this day and age anyone could be hustled playing pool – didn’t everyone see Color of Money? But apparently, the scam still flies –because when we meet Jesse (Michael Dorman), it’s the way he makes his living. New to town, living in the Tumble Inn, Jesse is seeking to work over the locals.

There’s some slow action in the first half of the film. A pool tournament that starts as a montage begins to drag as the final three games play out between Jesse and Rollo (Dermot Mulroney). After a particularly ill-advised hustle, Jesse’s celebratory scene is indulgent and tacks on to an already slow opening act.

The story starts to pick up when an old flame (Sophia Bush) enters the picture, nearly halfway through the film. However, this is also when the movie begins to take on a different life, setting a new tone and coming closer to the meat of the song on which it’s based. If the film had continued to set a new stage in each act – treating each piece as a vignette in Jesse’s life – this may have worked. However, when elements of the first act are reintroduced into the final act, it’s jolting.

The third act is the least satisfying segment – relying heavily on stereotypes and songs to carry it along. It’s also when the film goes completely off the rails. Had the tone of the story not been so serious throughout, perhaps the conclusion could have landed more skillfully. As it is, the tonal shift is so abrupt that it feels as if we’re watching another movie altogether.

If you’re unfamiliar with Snider’s song, a live recording plays over the end credits. You’ll wonder why the filmmakers set such a serious tone when you hear Snider’s playful rendition. Perhaps if more of the song’s humor had made it into the film, the result would have been more satisfying.

Through the Looking Glass Darkly

The Blazing World

by Hope Madden

Creepy twin stuff, Udo Kier, alternate realities—yes, The Blazing World. I am in.

Co-writer/director/star Carlson Young takes us on a strange journey as Margaret Winter, haunted twin who lost her sister ten years ago. Struggling to get by, she relents and visits her needy mother (Vinessa Shaw) and difficult father (Dermot Mulroney), who are packing up Margaret’s childhood home for sale.

And that is the last normal thing that happens.

Working with cinematographer Shane F. Kelly (Boyhood), Carlson conjures a beautifully melancholic world, one that almost seems like our world but only if you squint. The colors and music suggest a vibrant but eerie dreamscape, the ideal spot for Margaret to lose herself – and maybe find her sister.

The title suggests Margaret Cavendish’s 17th Century feminist utopia, but Young’s script (co-written with Pierce Brown) takes only the loosest inspiration. Rather than the tale of a woman learning to lead in another realm, this The Blazing World reimagines one life’s greatest traumas as fantastical games to be overcome.

Carlson herself does a solid job of shouldering heroine duties, and she surrounds herself with talent. While Shaw and Mulroney deliver wild and eerie performances, it is Udo Kier you’ll remember best. Of course it is! As gamesman, devil and guide, he charms in his wearily creepy way.

Young’s writing can’t quite keep up with her knack for casting, though. While several scenes in and of themselves stand out spectacularly, and the weaving together of the various images creates a strange and intoxicating flavor, the underlying story is just too slight and the metaphors somewhat tortured.

Sex and the Sitter

Deadly Illusions

by Rachel Willis

Something I’ve learned from movies is that if you’re going to hire a nanny, expect some professional lines to be crossed.

Such is the dynamic between Mary (Kristin Davis) and Grace (Greer Grammer) in writer/director Anna Elizabeth James’s erotic thriller, Deadly Illusions.

Mary is a novelist with a series of successful murder mysteries under her belt, but she hasn’t written a new one in a while. Her publisher is desperate to bring her back to pen a new addition. Mary’s reluctant, until her husband’s serious financial blunder makes the decision for her.

But who will take care of her kids while she writes? Enter sweet, innocent nanny, Grace.

The film’s set-up is slow to get going. It’s light on the eroticism and doesn’t feel like much of a thriller. The first act plods along, dropping the pieces into place as if aware we already know where this is going to go. It’s not a very compelling watch.

Things heat up in the second act, though not by much. We’re still waiting for the water to boil. The initial relationship between Mary and Grace quickly crosses into inappropriate territory. Mary takes Grace bra shopping and enters the dressing room with her. It’s predatory, though it seems the movie wants us to feel Grace is the aggressor in the scene.

As we simmer through, Mary’s creativity begins to interfere with her reality. As she loses herself in her new novel, she fantasizes about inappropriate activities with Grace. Or do those things really happen?

Things get weirder, and several clunky red herrings are dropped into the mix. This movie wants to keep us guessing, but it’s never enticing enough to make much of an impact.

Along for the ride is Dermot Mulroney as Mary’s husband, Tom. Mulroney is a capable actor, but doesn’t have much to do here – though his contribution to the film is more than that of the children whom Grace is hired to care for. You might forget Grace is a nanny and not Mary’s personal assistant.

Davis and Grammer have some fun with their roles, and their dynamic is curious if not entirely convincing. Grammer doesn’t have the chemistry with Davis that we need to be caught up in their relationship.

There are moments of enjoyment as the situations get stranger and the mystery more absurd, but overall, Deadly Illusions inspires more tedium than thrills.