Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The end of Ex Machina

I've been meaning for several days now to write about the 50th and final issue of Ex Machina, which came out last week, and every time I sit down to do it I find myself drawing a blank. I have a feeling that Ex Machina is a series that will be more impressive when read all in one sitting, although I have no idea if or when I'll get around to doing that. I generally love the work of Brian K. Vaughan, and I was riveted all the way through the end of Y: The Last Man and his stint on Runaways. And a lot of times I was riveted with Ex Machina, too, but this last issue feels like sort of a letdown, and it's left me less enthused about commenting on it. The previous issue, 49, in which main character Mitchell Hundred essentially defeats the bad guys and saves the day, was a more satisfying ending, even if the whole idea of the 50th issue is pointing out how false endings like that are.

The problem is that Vaughan rushes through what could have been years of additional plot points without giving them their proper consideration, and then just kind of ends things without exploring the ideas he's just introduced. I'm all for ambiguous endings and leaving some things unexplained, but it seems like Vaughan is deliberately introducing tons of new developments here with the express purpose of then not exploring them. Like the last issue of Y, this issue jumps ahead in time to show what happened to the main character years after the primary events of the series, but unlike the lovely epilogue of Y's final issue, the end of Ex Machina doesn't provide extra emotional resonance or a sense of possibilities for the unseen future.

That's not to say it's terrible, of course. Vaughan is still great at writing dialogue, and he created distinctive enough characters over the previous 49 issues that they easily still hold your interest even as they head off in weird, unexpected directions. And the art by Tony Harris is typically excellent, especially on a two-page spread showing all the alternate versions of Mitchell Hundred over various timelines. One thing I liked about the series overall was that its mythology turned out to be relatively simple and was revealed in a fairly straightforward way, and Vaughan was as interested in political nuances as he was in grand sci-fi concepts. Here, the mythology becomes a sort of grandiose monster, and the politics do too, in a way, and neither one really fits. As a whole, Ex Machina was a solid, enjoyable series that started more slowly than some of Vaughan's other work but maintained a consistent tone and pace. That the ending turned out to be disappointing doesn't make me any less eager to read what Vaughan writes next (whenever that is).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Triskaidekaphilia: 13: Game of Death

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The 2006 Thai film 13: Game of Death mixes together familiar elements from the Saw franchise and extreme reality-TV parodies like The Running Man and Series 7: The Contenders, and it does so in an occasionally intense and exciting way. There are too many abrupt tonal shifts for the movie to be as powerful as it could have been, though, and the plot pretty much falls apart at the end, which sappily ties all the seemingly random horrific trials back to the main character's childhood in a way that feels manipulative and unearned. Still, there are plenty of moments along the way that allow the movie to live up to its U.S. release under the "Dimension Extreme" banner.

Game of Death isn't quite a horror movie, although it puts protagonist Chit (Krissada Terrence) through some pretty gruesome stuff, including a scene in which he eats an actual plate of shit (John Waters would be so proud). A demoralized salesman who's just lost his job, Chit gets a mysterious phone call telling him he's been selected for a game show that starts right that moment. The seemingly omniscient voice on the phone knows everything about him and sees everything he does, and tells him that if he completes 13 challenges, he'll win 100 million baht, or about $3 million (thanks, Google). It starts with merely killing a fly, but soon escalates to shit-eating and other extremely unpleasant tasks, and naturally murder shows up eventually.

Director Chukiat Sakveerakul lurches from tense thriller to wacky comedy in the film's first half, with a jarringly jaunty score that sounds very out of place. The result is that moments that should be suspenseful are instead goofy, and that undercuts the later seriousness of the film. There are also some dodgy special effects (most notably a really fake-looking decomposed body) that jolt you out of the story, along with the aforementioned sappiness. But the visceral revulsion of watching Chit try to down that plate of shit, or the pain of seeing him agonize over how far he will go to get the money he needs for a better life -- those are conveyed effectively, and Sakveerakul definitely knows how to push the audience's buttons. He just has a tough time figuring out which are the right ones to push at the right times.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bette Davis Month Bonus: June Bride (1948)

I spent the entire month of April writing about Bette Davis movies, but just because I've watched and reviewed 30 Bette Davis movies so far this year doesn't mean that I'm going to stop recording every Bette Davis movie on TCM that I haven't already seen. So I figured I might as well continue to write about them here.

June Bride is not exactly a great one to start on, though; it's a completely forgettable, often strained and really dated romantic comedy with Davis as the editor of a women's magazine and Robert Montgomery as her ex-boyfriend, who goes from being a glamorous war correspondent to getting stuck writing a fluff piece about a Midwestern family wedding and working for the woman he dumped. Davis and Montgomery have little chemistry (they didn't get along at all), and their banter is weak, although Davis does a good job as the assertive career woman who's moved on from being tossed aside, and she gets in a few zingers. There's a clever scene early on in which Linda (Davis) and Carey (Montgomery) go to her apartment after a night of drinking, and they duel over whether he's going to be able to seduce her by alternately turning on and turning off all the lights in the place (she turns them on, he turns them off). It's relatively subtle and well orchestrated.

Unfortunately, once they leave New York for Indiana to work on the magazine piece about the wedding, the banter takes a back seat to lame gags about city vs. country living and a whole bunch of subplots about the Indiana family members that carry no weight whatsoever. Tack on a rather icky resolution that involves celebrating the quickie marriage of a 17-year-old girl (plus Carey at one point giving said girl a spanking, portrayed as normal and completely justified) and of course Linda's abandonment of her career in favor of marriage, and you have many of the worst qualities of '40s romantic comedies, and not nearly enough of the redeeming ones.