Saturday, 30 April 2016

Spaced Episodes XI-XIV: So Long, and Thanks for All the Geeks

And so we come to the end of this series of Musings with the final four episodes of Spaced. I know that the Spaced Musings have been overwhelmingly positive but it's not my fault that Spaced was such a great show. But maybe I'll find something to criticise in this final installment, who knows.

Full Disclosure: Like last week I have to say that I've never watched season 2 of Spaced before. So until I've reached the end of the review and have seen the final episode, I won't know how the series ends. Hopefully it provides a satisfying payoff, we'll just have to wait and see.

"You may attempt to dramatically satisfy me."

Episode XI - Help

We open with Damien the head of Dark Star comics as he calls in his secretary to announce they need a new title, all ominous and swirling cigarette smoke. They run through a list of possible names before settling on Tim, who pitch his comic to them last year. Inter-cut to Tim blowing pixelated bad guys away in first person shooter I recognise but can't remember the name of... oh well.

Daisy doesn't seem to take the good news that Dark Star comics have asked Tim for a portfolio of his work all that well. It's almost like she's jealous of the potential success he might have or afraid he will take the opportunity to move on to the next stage of his life. But that would be petty, wouldn't it?

Okay, the joke where Tim knees down to pray and it is revealed that he was praying to a poster of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty gold. I'm currently rewatching Buffy at the moment, so it was anice meta moment for me.

"For thou art the Chosen One and thee only will stand alone against the forces of darkness. Amen."

Due to her reaction to his opportunity to become a comic book artist, it's uncertain whether Daisy intentionally meant to put Tim's caricature of Damien which he had removed from his portfolio back in to sabotage Tim or whether it was a simple accident made when she wasn't thinking. Because of her general thoughtlessness, I'm inclined to believe it was the later but who knows.

Of course Tim finds out and doesn't take it especially well. Daisy tries to defend herself saying that she was only trying to help but as Mike points out, Tim's just really angry at her because she has jeopardised his future. Regardless of her intent, her thoughtlessness does effect other people.

Tim and Mike chase after Tyres who is delivering Tim's portfolio, Daisy goes on a jog with Marsha, while Brian puts on a suit to meet his mom for lunch - she thinks he's a lawyer. Hijinks enuse! Tyres has already delivered the portfolio so that's a bust but Mike has an idea how to get it back.

I really forgot how many Matrix references were made in the early 2000s. 

Brian is trying to impress his mom by making her think he is a successful lawyer who makes all the money and is successful and stuff. He also pretends not to know Marsha when she jogs by which is a bit of a dick move. Not cool Brian.

At the same time Tim and Mike are infiltrating Dark Star comics to get back the Damien caricature with Tyres' help and some walkie-talkies. They manage to get to Damien's office but it's locked. Brian in the meantime has let his mother know he is an artist, which she takes remarkably well. She's totally cool with him being whatever as long as he isn't gay...

Moving on from random homophobia, Tim manages to get inside Damien's office by the ventilation shaft. Meanwhile, Daisy and Marsha are exhausted after their competitive jogging but then Colin the dog runs into the road towards Brian on the other side. Brian saves Colin but then...

The suspense is killing me. That face though.

Damien's car hits Daisy but it's okay. Tim gets back the caricature and also scores a date with Sophie, Damien's secretary. He apologises to Daisy for shouting at her earlier and everyone goes home happy at the end of the episode. Hijinks resolved.

Episode XII - Gone

Let's do the time jump again as we start the episode with Tim and Daisy running down a street in Camden late at night before being stopped by some young looking thugs who are going to beat them up for some reason but cut back to "Six Hours Earlier".

Tim is getting ready for a date with Sophie as Daisy is making chicken stew with that most exotic of spices, oregano. Sophie calls in to cancel since she has to work late but Tim thinks she is cheating on him with her boss. Luckily Mike knows just what to do and slaps him in the face. Daisy decides to take Tim out so he feels better.

Enter Brian to wax lyrical about how women are the true creators since all men do is destroy things. Women have a bond so unknowable to men since their menstrual cycles can sync up if they are together for long enough, you see. However Mike has the perfect response here too as he informs Brian that men share a telepathic bond unknowable to women.

Mike takes Colin for a walk but then loses him, enlisting Brian to help find him since no man or dog gets left behind. Tim bumps into some college kid in the toilet at the pub who wants to buy some weed off him but brushes him off.

They run into the college kid and his group of young thugs outside the pub and they demand the weed, which Tim had given to Daisy for safe keeping. In a case of wacky mix-ups, Daisy hands them the oregano by accident.

We also get Marsha's tragic back story that is too tragic to relate here but trust me that it is a tale of Olympian proportions. Tim realises that he forgot his keys and runs back to the pub when they are cornered by the young thugs. Cue slow motion gunfight. Tim and Daisy escape and make it home safe.

They all just had the chicken stew with the "oregano" in it.

Episode XIII - Dissolution

I've been spending to much of this review just recapping the events of the past two episodes. Therefore I wanted to get into some analysis for the last two episodes. Just so we know a basic outline of what went on, here's the plot summary of this episode on IMDb:
Marsha still thinks that Tim and Daisy are a couple, and when she sees Tim kissing and flirting with Sophie, she gets suspicious. Later that night at Daisy's birthday dinner, Marsha tell Daisy that Tim is cheating on her, which Daisy replies with the truth about their relationship. Marsha, humiliated after realizing that she's the only one who didn't know the truth leaves the restaurant and moves out of the flat.
Okay, analysis. The first couple of scenes have this recurring joke which is just expertly executed and a perfect example of how to use juxtaposition of sound and image for humour. So many comedy series or films forget that television and film are audiovisual media and sacrifice the visuals for dialogue or don't use sound in funny ways (and no I'm not talking about wacky sound effects).

On their night out at the pub, Brian and other people are taking pictures of the group enjoying themselves intercut with shots of Brian in a darkroom developing the photos while a horror movie sound effect is heard. Then this overly dramatic and ominous choir music plays as he looks at the finished photos. The music implies something nefarious is afoot which completely contrasts with the relatively innocent act of developing photos of your friends and fun times at the pub.

The horror. The horror.

The same highly intense dramatic choir music plays when Marsha spies Tim and Sophie making out outside from her bedroom window. It subsequently punctuates that moment when Mike watches Tim dance on the sidewalk before he confronts him about how his relationship with Sophie is causing him to forget his friends. Also Tim missed his promotion to Sergant. Not cool, Tim.

In each one of these instances, the complete disconnect from the mundaneity of the scene being played out visually and music better suited for an apocolyptic battle or horror film comes together for a perfect audiovisual joke which can only be done in the media of film or television. I've told you guys, I love Edgar Wright, right?

Another fantastic visual joke is that Marsha confronts Tim that she knows what he is up to and cut to the shot of Tim and Sophie making out. Tim asks if Mike told her and cut to a shot of the birthday cake Tim got Daisy in the shape of a typewriter. Throughout the exchange, it keeps cutting to what each thinks the conversation is about to heighten the misunderstanding.

The horror. The horror.

Whereas other shows would have a similar exchange where characters think they are talking about the same thing but actually are each thinking of different things for comedy, they wouldn't use the visual cues. But because the camera also zooms in on the making out and typewriter cake to highlight the misunderstanding, it heightens the comedy of the exchange.

The episode covers quite a bit too, Daisy grappling with getting older on her birthday as well as her dislike of Sophie because of her unstated feelings for Tim, Mike's disappointment in Tim, Brian and Twist breaking up, Marsha's feeling of betrayal... a lot happens. Which sets things up nicely for the season finale and final episode ever of Spaced.

Episode XIV - Leaves

We open with an Oasis b-side since you can't get more British than that before we see that the house is for sale. Marsha obviously didn't take being lied to by Tim and Daisy very well. The show then gets super-meta as the first scene post title credit is an exact reenactment of the scene where Marsha shows Tim and Daisy the flat in the first episode.

Realising that they need to apologise to Marsha and try to convince her not to sell the house and break up the flat, Tim and Daisy try find her. They go to Brian but he isn't coping with expressing his emotions that well at the moment and isn't even aware the house is for sale. They then go to Mike for information.

And he has scones with jam inside! They find out Marsha is living with her daughter Amber and head to Amber's flat. Meanwhile Daisy noticed Colin wandered off into the neighbour's and she goes after him. She kinda just lets herself in and what she lets herself in for is a horror movie spoof.

"Oh my god! Yet another horror movie spoof!"

Essentially Colin has been cheating on Daisy with the elderly neighbour lady next door since Daisy hasn't been treating him right and that's very important in a healthy relationship. Plus the neighbour has a widescreen TV so no real competition.

Tim and the rest don't have much more luck with Marsha who doesn't buy Tim's the "family of the 21st century are friends" speech or his apology and still wants to sell the house. They are really showing the hurt of Marsha's betrayal. Also Sophie is leaving to Seattle so she can work for Marvel.

As is apparent from the title of the episode, the theme of this episode is people leaving. Life doesn't stand still and things change. For a show that was all about how people either wander aimlessly or are stuck where they are, it's appropriate the last episode would focus how everyone leaves.

Even when they are family.

Anywho, Mike and his army buddies hikack a tank to do something spectacular to convince Marsha not to sell the house. Which of course means a Say Anything moment as Tim holds a boombox above his head John Cusack style to warm Marsha's heart because over the top gestures always work.

However Daisy has done a runner to get some distance and sort things out, and is waiting at the train station. But Tim also has to see Sophie off at the airport. A nice touch is that when Tim tries to call Sophie to let her know he needs to stop Daisy, John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" plays when we cut to Sophie blow-drying her hair.

Skip to the end, Tim gets to Daisy with Colin (who's come back), Mike drops off a letter from Tim to Sophie before she leaves, Marsha moves back in, Twist a hit in Manchester's gay scene, Brian's art is flourishing, and everyone is happy. It might be sappy but it was a real satisfying end to a fantastic series.

All is right with the world again.

Notable Pop Culture References:

The Sixth Sense "someone got hurt" exchange - even featuring Olivia Williams
When Sophie calls and speaks to Daisy, she's holding a Buttercup PowerPuff Girl doll
Tim obviously has a Judge Dredd poster on his bedroom door.
"Clever boys." reference to "Clever girl" in Jurassic Park
The sound effect while Brian is developing his photos is from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The dramatic choir music I kept mentioning is "Ave Satani" from The Omen
The ending of "Dissolution" is a perfect homage to Empire Strikes Back
The opening scene of "Leaves" is a nod to The Royale Family title sequence

Friday, 22 April 2016

Spaced Episodes VIII-X: Reality Strikes Back

The saga continues with the second season of Spaced (or the second series if you're from the UK, in which case, hi!). Once again we join Tim and Daisy as they try navigate the uncertainty of their aimless twenties in turn of the millennium London.

Full Disclosure: I'm not as familiar with the second season as I was with the first. This isn't because there is anything wrong with the second season or I think the first is better or something. I just never watched it. Sometimes things just turned out that way.

"Art never just turns out that way. True art like Season 2 is vibrant and free of cliche." - Brian probably

Episode VIII - Back

The first episode back starts with an introductory sequence just in case you forgot who the characters were since the season one ended. They do this neat trick where the shot holds on the character and they wobble the picture as Tim delivers expository narration on the character. I don't think I described it all that well but it's a cool visual effect that ties nicely into the tone of the sequence.

Tim's expository narration is intercut with Daisy's narration for a book she is trying to write. She had spent the past couple of months travelling over Asia trying to find herself after she sold some articles and inherited some money from her dead auntie. And she comes back to find that Mike has been sleeping in her room.

He didn't make that much of a mess.

When Tim asks for photos of Daisy's trip, she doesn't have any but rather recorded her travels with a video camera... on tape. Ah, 21st century technology at its finest. Also a nice touch is that right before Tim asks to see her photos, the screen flashes with a flashbulb sounds off like an old timey camera as it cuts from Daisy to him. Damn you Edgar Wright and your expert directing touches!

Daisy heads downstairs to catch up with Brian who is enjoying life way too much for a tortured artist. His relationship with Twist has been going quite well and they are enjoying quite the healthy sex life with an appropriate leather aesthetic.

Tim and Mike are watching the same skateboarding fails video from season one and once again Wright uses the reactions to the video to punctuate the scene that actually plays out, namely Daisy telling Marsha about Stephen, a Time-Lord she met on her travels.

He really is the Master.

Stephen is nabbed by the agents from the Matrix, one of which is Mycroft Holmes so you know things are serious. They are looking for something in Stephen's bag but he switched it out with Daisy's and so she becomes their target.

Honestly it's quite refreshing to see a parody of The Matrix don't doesn't feel tired, like the innumerable bullet time parodies which came out in the early 2000's, and is actually still funny removed from the source material.

They are about to take Daisy away but then Marsha shows up like a wine-soaked deus ex machina to show them the video which shows Stephen swapping out his illegal bag for Daisy's. All is well, aside from Daisy's post-holiday blues.

"What? I will write for and appear in both Doctor Who and Sherlock? That is the sound of nerd credibility."

Episode IX - Change

A window breaks with a clash of smashed glass and the thump of a heavy suitcase landing on the lawn outside. Tim, Daisy, Mike, Brian, and Colin the dog are abruptly awoken by the disturbance above their heads. Marsha's daughter Amber has moved out.

Tim then doesn't have the best day as he is fired from his job at the comic book store by Bilbo after shouting at a young boy for wanting to buy a Jar-Jar Binks doll since the child obviously had no soul. Tim still hasn't gotten over The Phantom Menace even though it has been 18 months since it came out. To be fair to Tim, we still haven't gotten over The Phantom Menace and it's been 17 years.

Over to Brian who is having trouble finding inspiration for his painting due to his happiness in his relationship, even though he has been approaching the canvas in different ways.

However he does seem to get his groove back when he finds out his uncle has just died. Fueled by grief and pain, he attacks his canvas with delicate strokes of his brush in a creative frenzy. As a tortured artist he needs to feel tortured in order to art. Such is his curse.

Daisy and Tim go to the Job Centre to try get some money. Tim is lucky since he found a sympathetic employee who understood the negative impact The Phantom Menance had on people's lives and works something out for Tim. Daisy not so much since she hadn't claimed the dole in the three months she was on holiday.

Tim manages to get a job in Bilbo's doppelganger Derek's comic book store while Daisy has some trouble getting a job since she doesn't know what type of work she could do. Daisy's desire to be a writer but her total aimlessness is quite real to me.

So many people have dreams or aspirations but don't actually know how to achieve them or don't do what they need to get there. And Daisy is one of the few television characters who exhibits this reality and I identify with that.

This is my reaction to the question "What kind of work can you do?" too.

Marsha hits on Mike who she's made her new lodger and then gives Brian inspiration by telling him that he needs to be miserable in order to paint and that the conflict between his happiness and his art must make him inconsolable.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate Julia Deakin's performance as Marsha here? Because she is hilarious. This could so easily have been an annoying character and while Marsha is a little one-note, Deakin's gives her a real presence and totally sells the character.

End of the episode, Tim's got his old job back, Mike's got his own room, Brian is naked in the garden, and Daisy got a job in a book shop. All is well.

I'm just gonna leave this here.

Episode X - Mettle

Robot Wars! I remember watching that show as a kid, people building dangerous little robots to attach other dangerous little robots with axes and saws. It was great. They even namedrop Sir Killalot. Ah, the early 2000's.

By the way, Tim and Mike built a robot in case that wasn't clear. They have a rivalry with Dexter who also has a robot which they beat in the regionals to qualify for the quarterfinals. Dexter wants a rematch but Mike declines. Dexter isn't happy about this.

Robot war is hell.

Oh, that thing I said about all being well at the end of the last episode? Well they're not. Well, that is. Daisy has been fired from three jobs in as many weeks. She's not real good at the whole 'keeping a job' thing. She gets a job in a kitchen run by Nurse Ratched, sorry I mean her boss Tina.

Brian also has his arc going this episode where he is the last minute replacement to put on an exhibition but is facing insecurity about his art and if people will like it. Funnily enough, whereas in the last episode Marsha gave Brian creative inspiration, in this one she inadvertently shattered his confidence.

Mike and Tim's robot is sabotaged by Dexter and his goon in the night. But they resolve to rebuild it before the quarterfinals. This kicks off the what I'm gonna call the "getting shit done montage" as Mike and Time rebuild their robot, Brian resolves to paint his arse off, and Daisy is determined to wash all the dishes she can to pulsating music. It's a pretty funny and effective montage.

The show is over.

What I also like about it is that everyone is taking charge. Much of the first season was focused on inaction, not doing things whether due to apathy, lack of direction, or simple laziness. It nice to see these guys take action and be determined to get a goal accomplished.

Daisy gets a heavy dose of reality when Tina informs her that all the staff at Neo Nachos are writers and she isn't special or the only creative one. While Tina is obviously the villain here, this is an important message to tell. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own narrative that we forget that other people are also creative and struggle to do the things they want to do too.

Tim and Mike have a rematch with Dexter at Robot Club. I really wish I could say more but the first rule of Robot Club is that you do not talk about Robot Club.

So that was the first half of the second season of Spaced, join me next week for the last installment of the Spaced Musings as we look at the final four episodes.

Notable Pop Culture References:

Tim's voice-over is Goodfellas' "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster"
Pulp Fiction with the pop tarts and Daisy finding the gun as Mike comes out of the bathroom
Darth Vader's funeral pyre when Tim burns his Star Wars memorabilia
The Karate Kid training montage
Bilbo's office front door is the TARDIS
The A-Team - Marsha puts a cigarette in her mouth and says "I love it when a plan comes together"
Derek quotes Obi-Wan Kenobi "You've just taken your first step into a larger world"
Daisy's two halves are Sandy pre and post transformation in Grease
The Neo Nachos kitchen is just the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ward
Robot Club is of course Fight Club

Friday, 15 April 2016

Spaced Episodes IV-VII: The Wrath of Tim

Here we are with the second half of the first season of Spaced. Having introduced and established the characters within the first three episodes, the remainder of the first season focuses on the characters adapting to changes in their personal relationships and making important life decisions.

The pop cultural references continued unabated of course. In this installment of the Spaced Musings, let's check out the next four episodes as battles are began and chaos reigns until epiphanies are had as the first season ends.

"Aren't you glad we've been introduced?!"

Episode IV - Battles

The fourth episode opens with Daisy breaking up with her long distance boyfriend Richard due to her success as a writer. By which I mean Richard breaks up with Daisy since he's meeting new people and doesn't have space in his life for her. Also, she's been getting off with other people behind his back. Again Edgar Wright does a nice little camera pan to reveal the real situation.

Talking about nice little camera pans, there another bit of classic Wright camera work where Daisy is telling Tim about the breakup after he asked her. The camera turns in on her for a close up while she weepily talks about her feelings, just to a quick head turn back to Tim who is playing video games since she said she was "fine".

She did say she was fine.

The juxtaposition between the slow dramatic close up and abrupt cut to Tim emphasises the humour of the moment. It also emphasises that these aren't the nicest characters in the sense that they aren't particulate empathetic and are a little self-centred.

To be fair to Tim, he is dealing with stuff following his own breakup with Sarah, which he isn't handling that well. Unless it is considered healthy to repeatedly drown Lara Croft. As he tells a paint covered Brian,
Tim: Well, I just got a letter from my ex-girlfriend, three months late, explaining why she dumped me. It was full of "You'll always be special" and "I'll always love you" platitudes designed to make me feel better while appeasing her deep seated sense of guilt for running off with a slimy City boy called Duane and destroying my faith in everything.
Brian: So it didn't really work, then?
Tim: No, it made me wanna drown things! You've got some paint on you.
This is the problem I have reviewing Spaced. I just end up dissecting every scene and line of dialogue so I don't get anywhere. Since I've got three more episodes to do and I've barely got into this one, I'm gonna do more of an overview approach from here on end. Alright?

"Alright then." - Duane probably.

So in this episode, Daisy gets a dog to deal with the emotional hole she's feeling following her breakup while Tim faces off Duane, his ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend, in paintball. I think this episode might have Wright's first ever lock and load montage but as anyone who has watched Hot Fuzz knows, it definitely wasn't his last.

I forgot to mention the homoerotic tension between Tim and Mike before because it is so blatant that it's almost above mentioning when you occasionally get lines of dialogue like this,
Paint ball player: I've always fancied myself as a bit of a soldier.
Tim: I've always fancied myself.
Mike: I've always fancied you.
Tim: Not here.
Moving on, basically this episode is supposed to show how different people deal with their grief, Daisy does it by finding something to fill the void while Tim does it with the violence of paintball.

"Both are equally valid." - Duane probably.

Episode V - Chaos

Daisy has developed a nearly unhealthy obsession with Colin the dog due to her emotional dependence following her breakup. This is difficult for Tim because of his phobia of dogs but at the same time he understands that Daisy has had a hard time and does feel better while Colin is around.

This shows some emotional growth for Tim as he puts aside his own feelings for Daisy, possibly due to his cathartic paintball confrontation with Duane in the previous episode. We also get to see more of Bill Bailey as Bilbo Bagshot, Tim's boss at the comic book store, in this episode and more of Bill Bailey is always welcome.

Bill Bailey: Who's my character?
Edgar Wright: You play a comic book store owner named Bilbo Bagshot and...
Bill Bailey: No, that's enough. I've got this.

Tim and Brian have a Star Wars marathon as part of a cultural exchange since Tim went to an art museum with Brian but on his way to buy popcorn for the marathon, Tim bumps into an evil and suspicious man on the pavement.

There's a nice early dig at Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (remember this show came out in 1999 before we had all realised just how unforgivably atrocious that film was) with the "Three Good Star Wars movies later..." scrolling text.

Also, fun fact from IMDb, the song that plays as Tim, Daisy and Brian have just finished watching the Star Wars trilogy, is the Ewok song which plays in the final scene of the original version of Return of the Jedi sung by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. They couldn't get permission to use John Williams' Star Wars end credits score so their composer came up with a tune and they sang the Ewok song over it.

They had no idea of the horror that awaited them.
Attack of the Clones wouldn't be out for another three years.

Colin is then abducted by the evil and suspicious man while Tim has takes him out for a walk. Apparently the evil and suspicious man is a vivisectionist and the gang has to arrange a rescue mission to break Colin out of an animal testing lab.

I quite liked this bit. Not sure why exactly but there was something quite gratifying in seeing this bunch of misfits and oddballs pull off an Ocean's Eleven style heist/rescue mission. Spoiler Alert: They get Colin back.

Oh, and can we talk about Marsha's intense lady boner for Brian? This has been a running joke throughout all the episodes so far but it seems way more intense in this episode. Maybe her sexual innuendos are more blatant or something but they really went for it in this episode.

"I could really go for it, you know what I mean Brian." - Marsha probably

Episode VI - Epiphanies

And so it has come to this, the clubbing episode. Tim's friend Tyres invites Tim and Daisy to go clubbing with him. Tyres often speaks in high-octane flurries of words jam-packed with a hundred adjectives and back by a pulsating rave beat. As a bike messenger, he's a worker man and won't miss any opportunity to diss Tim and Daisy for their more artsy career choices.

It seems that the emotional growth I thought Tim had undergone in the previous episode hadn't been so much a growth as a momentarily blip on his emotional radar. When Daisy observes that he is still hung up over Sarah, he snaps at her quite aggressively since he's so touchy about it.

They invite Brian to join them as they go clubbing but he's hesitant due to a traumatic 1980s clubbing event involving a punch to the head and the Dexys Midnight Runners' "Come On Eileen". Also he says he is busy painting with his penis, obviously to avoid the cliche of using his paintbrush, and doesn't want to go.

Suffice to say he goes.

Before I felt like I writing too much an every scene and needed to take an overview approach but now I feel like I'm glossing over so many things. There are just so many jokes and humorous minor story-lines crammed into each episode. I haven't even mentioned how Mike was banned from the Rough Ramblers canoe club following a failed Eskimo roll or the recurring joke involving Tim and Mike's childhood flashback.

Anywho, the club scenes feel like being at a club. Pulsating music, flashing lights, things happening. Brian's arc comes to a satisfying close in the club with a repeat of his earlier transgression of knocking someone's drink out of their hand but instead of a punch to the face and "Come On Eileen", this time he gets a bear-hug set to rave music.

Also, Tim apologised to Daisy for snapping at her earlier in the episode which was nice. This shortly devolves into a compliment-fest as they say how talented they both are. I like how Tyres leaves the club at the end of the episode, his work done.

And what fine work it was. Mike become a hardcore UK raver.

Episode VII - Ends

Here we are, the final episode of Spaced's first season. Or if you're from the UK, the last episode of the first series of Spaced. Naturally we open with shots of people falling doing Tim's natural mode of transportation, skateboarding. Ah, the late 1990s and early 2000s, when watching skateboarders bail real hard was the only version of a fail video they had.

Tim gets a call from Sarah who wants to see him for some reason. The cuts to skateboards eating concrete after Daisy comes up for different reasons Sarah might want to see Tim and Tim's reaction to the skateboarders is a nice touch. Not that that is surprising at this point, the whole season has been fill of nice touches.

Moving on, Sarah says she has split with Duane which makes Tim jubilant since he thinks that means she'll want to get back together with him. Obviously, this causes Daisy some distress since she thinks Sarah is manipulating Tim and leads to an exchange of catchphrases/idioms such as "Don't judge a book by his cover" and "Do you believe in life after love?".

We all know Cher believes.

They also finally reveal the mystery that we had been trying to unravel the entire season, the tragic backstory of how Mike and Tim became friends. I won't spoil it here for those not yet caught up for fear of ruining the reveal but suffice to say it involved a tree and was greatly satisfying.

There's is a lot more Mike in this episode which I'm happy about since I love Nick Frost so more Mike is always good. He is trying to get into the Territorial Army since he was banned from the regular army after commandeering a tank to invade Paris. Like most Paris invasions, Mike's invasion was cut short due to a stop at Disneyland Paris, then called Euro Disney.

Back to nice touches, Tim lashes out at Daisy for not supporting him in regards to his relationship with Sarah and she hands a brutal take-down which is mirrored by Nina in Tekken kicking the other character's ass.

If only every argument had such a clear winner.

Follow this fight, Daisy tries write but gets interrupted by Marsh bringing gifts of wine and backstory. She and Brian had a thing before but it was only to pay his rent. Daisy then settles in to write but properly this time, and for the first time the whole season.

Also Brian and Twist go out on a date which turns out real well, so hooray for them. Tim and Sarah also go out on a date but theirs doesn't end well, so hooray for them. Sarah wanted him back but he declined. Daisy meets up with Tim at the pub and he describe his moment of clarity,
It's like when you have an orgasm on your own. Lyin there watching some porn movie you bought on a drunken, lonly night in SoHo. And you're lyin there, everything is really great. You're getting totally turned on by these absurdly graphic images. Everything seems so right, then Ppett. Bingo! You wake up. You're lyin there sweatin, despreatly lookin for the tissue, which you just know is still in your pocket. And the remote control which is somewhere on the floor. It's like walkin in on yourself. You know, 'What you doing?' That's how I felt tonight. Sitting here, feeling my heart miss a beat everytime the door opened. What the fuck are you doing.
They then finish the episdoe dancing to a pub band performance of Louis Jordan's "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" and honestly I can think of a better way to end the season.

Notable Pop Cultural References:

Psycho shower scene theme (again) while Tim mimics frightened girl's pose in Evil Dead II poster
Bonus Evil Dead II reference - After the lock and load montage Mike says "Groovy"
Instrumental version of the Baywatch theme plays during a flashback scene
The Nutcracker plays whenever we see Colin the dog
So much Star Trek, just all the Star Trek
The Shining in the flashback to Tim's step-dad who was a nice guy
The A-Team theme music plays while Mike is raving in the club
"He who dares, wins" Del Boy's catchphrase from Only Fools and Horses
Tekken obviously
I like to think they're referencing Tom & Jerry with "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby"

Friday, 8 April 2016

Spaced Episodes I-III: The Nerds Awaken

Spaced was a British sitcom directed by Edgar Wright and written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. It ran for two season of seven episodes each from 1999 to 2001. It chronicled the story of Pegg's Tim and Stevenson's Daisy, who pretend to be a couple in order to get an apartment in London, and their friends.

Really the show focuses on the directionlessness that people can feel in their twenties as they try to figure out what they want to do with their lives, form new relationships, and come up with ways to waste time. It also featured surreal fantasy sequences and innumerable allusions to pop culture, particularly science fiction and horror films, but also comic books and video games.

It kinda tips you off right away since its logo is a tribute to the horror science fiction film Alien.

A number of people might know Wright and Pegg as the pair who brought us the perfect Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, that is Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End. I've written before how that trio of films makes up the sole perfect unconventional trilogy in cinema history (the only perfect conventional trilogy is the Toy Story Trilogy.

Those films are beloved cult classics, each one paying homage to a specific genre of film, zombies, buddy cop, and invasion film respectively. And each one is filled to the brim with pop cultural references, witty dialogue, inventive editing, and just the smartest jokes. So I thought it would be a good idea to see where they started and they started with Spaced.

With these guys.

Since I'm reviewing the first three episodes in this post, I'm gonna break it down by episode rather than do it in a clump. The idea is that I'll be able to comment more clearly on each episode instead of just giving my general impressions. Here we go.

Episode I - Beginnings

Right from the offset Wright's trademark quick editing and visual humour are on display. The first episode begins with what looks like Tim and Daisy having a break-up as the camera cuts from Tim down on the street and Daisy in her bedroom window as they speak.

However it is revealed that Tim was actually talking to his girlfriend of five years Sarah and Daisy was talking to some (homeless?) guy she apparently had a drunken one night stand with. Which clears up the comedic disparity in Tim's pleas and Daisy's dismissive replies -
Tim: It's been five years, you know? Five years!
Daisy: I was, I was drunk.
"You think I'm unemotional, don't you? I can be emotional. Jesus, I cried like a child at the end of Terminator 2." - So did we all,Tim. So did we all.

I'm not gonna to try mention all the memorable quotes or clever moments since there are just too many, from The Shining and Scooby-Doo references in their new flat, to the smart montage of Tim and Daisy sitting at the same table in a cafe while "Getting to Know You" from The King and I plays.

This episode also has my favourite piece of dialogue ever:
Tim (talking to Daisy): You're scared of mice and spiders, but oh-so-much greater is your fear that one day the two species will cross-breed to form an all-powerful race of mice-spiders who will immobilize human beings in giant webs in order to steal cheese.
The editing is so quick and the direction is so sharp, with the witty pieces of dialogue flying here and there, that it's real easy to miss everything on first viewing. At the same time, it never feels cluttered and the episode does a good job of introducing the primary characters, even when we don't get to spend a lot of time with them.

We really only see Tim's best friend Mike and Daisy's best friend Twist in short cutaway intro scenes where we're told their names and primary character traits - Mike's is a weapons expert and Twist is into fashion. by which they mean Mike is using a slingshot and Twist works in a laundromat. And that's enough to go on.

We do get some time with Marsha, their new landlady who Tim and Daisy have to convince they are a couple and their downstairs neighbour, Brian. Brian is an artist.

Episode II - Gatherings

The second episode starts with a dream sequence and unlike the dream sequences in Batman V Superman, this one actually has a point. Tim dreams his ex Sarah is in his new fully unpacked flat with him before his alien monster costume attacks him. He then wakes up to find no Sarah in his new still to be unpacked apartment and then he attacks his alien monster costume out of frustration since he is still getting over Sarah.

Then there is a scene where Daisy is ostentatiously is trying to write but really is trying to put off writing as much as she can by procrastinating, mainly by bugging Tim they should finish unpacking. This leads to a nice bit of editing which shows a close up of Tim and Daisy's faces as they lie on their backs smoking while their dialogue suggests they just had sex...

Tim: Mmm, I''m glad we did that.
Daisy: We had to.
Tim: It was inevitable.

Only to zoom out and reveal they cleaned up the apartment. I like this since it not only plays on the dynamic between the two characters but also the trope of obvious will-they/won't-they sexual tension relationships in sitcoms and television shows.

Daisy decides to throw a party so she doesn't have to write. This is kinda a thing for Daisy, she wants to be a writer and be considered an intellectual but doesn't actually want to put in the hard work or even know how to get started.

The party also acts as narrative technique to get all the characters together in a room so they can all introduce themselves to each other. But let's just say that the party isn't quite a success since it turned out to be one of those Time-Warp and dip parties where no one has a real good time.

We've all been there.

Episode III - Art

And so we come to the episode which gave Wright and Pegg the idea for Shaun of the Dead, their first feature film and a cult favourite. The episode pivots around Tim's drug-induced illusions that everyone is a zombie after playing Resident Evil 2 on Playstation 2 on cheap speed all night.

On a side note, it's kinda quaint that when Daisy asks Tim if he wants anything from the shops, he says "porn". She says she isn't gonna buy him porn but it's funny how in only seventeen years, the idea of buying porn from a dairy seems completely antiquated and from another time.

Also in the episode, Daisy has an interview for a woman's magazine "Flaps" while Brian is invited to an art exhibition by his former artistic partner Vulva. Of course when I say invited, I mean Brian received a blank page with only the word "Come" on it because modern art.

I mentioned the zombies, right?

One thing that is apparent is that Daisy isn't the nicest person. Not because she's mean or a horrible but because she is so self-absorbed and vapid that she doesn't really consider other people. For example, she gets a couple of rejection letters and moans to Tim she wants to see her boyfriend Richard in Hull but completely forgets about him the second she sees the letter from "Flaps" about the interview.

She only wanted to see Richard, or moan to Tim about seeing Richard so they could talk, as a means to feel better about herself not because she actually wants to. To be fair to Daisy, Tim isn't that nice at times either, evident when Brian is talking to him about Vulva and Tim asks Brian if he's gonna go, as in leave his flat.

However for context, this is the art that Brian and Vulva made together.

I realise this review has been largely enthusiastic but to be honest there is little to criticise here. The show is pretty great and unlike some television shows Spaced started off strong and fully formed. On to the next four episodes.

I decided to start a list of pop cultural references I notice as we go along. I know I'm gonna miss a lot of them so I'll limit it to two or three notable ones from each episode.

Notable Pop Cultural References:

The Shining twins in the cupboard
Tim and Daisy dressed like Shaggy and Velma followed by the Scooby Doo theme
"If we have it, they will come" from Wayne's World 2 
Tim builds a mountain out his mashed potatoes like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Their refridgerator is CAL-9000, a distant ancestor of HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Psycho shower scene musical theme when Daisy gets paranoid after taking a spiff
Obviously Resident Evil 2, he plays the game throughout the episode

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Announcement from Another Star: The Spaced Musings

Having wrapped up my series of Musings on the films of Charlie Kaufman, I thought I'd head straight into another series of Musings, this time on the TV show Spaced! Spaced was a British sitcom directed by Edgar Wright, my favourite director, and was written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. It ran for two season of seven episodes each from 1999 to 2001.

Much of the humour, storytelling, and editing techniques displayed in the show were then used, arguably to greater effect, in Wright and Pegg's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy and Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs the World.

"Say what?"

Since there are only 14 episodes and I don't want to spread it too thinly reviewing a single episode at a time, I'm going to review Spaced over the course of four posts. These four posts will review several episodes at once and will breakdown as follows: the first 3 episodes, the next 4 episodes, the next 3 episodes, the final 4 episodes. Hopefully this will work out fine.

On a completely unrelated note, remember how I said I was writing a short novel a while ago? Well, the website for that novel has launched!

Actually it launched last month and I forgot to mention it. For those of you who have forgotten, The Zeppulian tells the story about the fastest and grandest ship in the galaxy after it was stolen by two people who didn’t know how to fly it. 

Published in pieces as I write them, check out the first installment here: Chapter 1 - Part 1: Zo and Qin.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Being John Malkovich: The Puppetry of Being

And so here we are with the final Kaufman Musing. Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman's debut film and first success. It's been a long 6 weeks but we got right to the end with the beginning. And after the misstep that was Human Nature last week, it will be nice to close off these Musings with a great Kaufman script.

And Being John Malkovich is a great Kaufman script. I was worried that it wouldn't hold up on the re-watch but I was surprised to find that it's still as fresh and inventive as on first viewing. I was also surprised to realise how much I forgot about the movie.

The opening scene is a puppet dance. I forgot there were even puppets in this movie.

I think the majority of this review is just gonna be me realising how little I remember the movie. Which is odd because I liked this movie. When I thought in my head about Being John Malkovich, if I was ever thinking about Being John Malkovich for some reason, I'd think things like, "That's a good movie" and "I enjoyed that".

However I don't think I could tell you what happens in the story aside from there's a portal into John Malkovich's head. I mean, I forgot there were puppets and puppets are all over the place in this film. The main protagonist played by John Cusack is a puppeteer. He puppets for a job.

The puppets are a metaphor because John Malkovich's body becomes a puppet subject to the whims of whomever is inside his head. I'm not sure if that was obvious since the film was very subtle with its abundant use of puppets.


True to form, Kaufman's puppeteer protagonist is rather unlikable. He's scruffy and kinda squirmy-looking, but he's really a misunderstood soul trying to make art in an uncaring world that doesn't pay him any attention - you know, an artiste. He's also the type of guy who apparently doesn't have a second thought about cheating on his wife, played by Cameron Diaz.

That's another thing I forgot about this movie, Cameron Diaz is in it. Sure, they fizz up her hair and dress her in frumpy clothes to try to make you not notice it is Cameron Diaz but you can't hide that a Cameron with that much Diaz no matter how fizzy her hair or frumpy her clothing. It's just not scientifically possible.

The first act of the movie has no Malkovich in it but does have a lot of puppets and animals in it -Cameron Diaz's Lotte has a lot of pets, it's her quirk. She wears frumpy clothing, she's nice, and she has a lot of pets.

For some reason if you type "being john malkovich cameron diaz ape" into Google Images, this also shows up.

So the basic plot of Being John Malkovich is that a struggling puppeteer named Craig finds a portal into the mind of John Malkovich in the office he works in on the 7&1/2 floor of the Mertin Flemmer building. He strikes a partnership with Maxine, a woman who also works on the 7&1/2 floor that he develops an obsession with, to monetize 'being John Malkovich'.

However Diaz's Lotte goes into Malkovich while Maxine is on a date with him and she and Maxine form a rather unusual relationship where they see each other but only while Lotte is in Malkovich. This causes Craig to become insane with jealousy and he locks Lotte up in their ape cage, they have an ape cage, and pretends to be Lotte inside Malkovich to sex up Maxine. But Craig can take Malkovich over completely instead of just look out his eyes and experience what he's feeling.

Craig, as Malkovich, use Malkovich's fame to kick off his puppetry career and becomes a celebrated puppeteer. Maxine aware that Craig is in control acts as his manager but gets withdrawn as she grows increasingly pregnant. Pregnant with Lotte/Malkovich's child, not Craig/Malkovich's.

Some stuff happens, some old people who want to live on the vessel that is John Malkovich trick Craig out of him, while Maxine and Lotte raise their daughter together. Oh, and Craig is trapped in the mind of their daughter, watching the world through the eyes of his lover's child...

"That's fucked up, yo" - Might not be an actual quote.

The reason I rattled off a synopsis of the film is twofold. One, it's to highlight just how crazy and inventive the script is. Again this is a film that opens with puppets and includes a portal into John Malkovich's mind. Second, it's so I can state for the record that I forgot everything single thing about this film that didn't include "portal into John Malkovich's mind" and "7&1/2 floor".

Quick side note, the 7&1/2 floor thing is interesting since Being John Malkovich came out 2 years after the first Harry Potter novel but the script would have been written around the same time. No real comment to make here since I'm not sure why the idea of platforms and floors existing in fractions was a thing at the time but apparently it was.

"I think I would prefer a magical train platform than a floor with low overhead." - Maxine, probably

Back to things I forgot about Being John Malkovich. I forgot about the weird Malkovich love trianle with Lotte/Malkovich, Maxine and Craig/Malkovich. I forgot about the ape cage. I forgot about the old people. And I forgot that Craig is actually the bad guy.

To be fair, at first the movie wants you to think that Craig is the protagonist. The film opens with him and we are introduced to everything through his eyes since he is the introductory character. His actions drive the plot, particularly in the first half.

Who, me?

However, there is a shift around the mid-point of the film or so where he becomes the antagonist of the film for the real protagonist, Lotte. I would pinpoint this shift around about the time he locks her in a cage and pretends to be her inside Malkovich while making love with Maxine. That would probably be the point where he stops being the 'good guy' in any sense, not that he was particularly likable to begin with.

This is interesting to me since I like the way in which Kaufman is playing with our expectations, first with what we expect of our protagonists and then by showing that the people we thought the story was about are really the villains of their own story, not the hero.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Musing Rating: 5 Ratings

The type of film that is so thought-provoking that you completely forget everything about it.


Being John Malkovich Wikipedia page