oitnb5Thirty-nine, yet also two! Nick and Alastair cover two TV shows beginning with O and ending in Black for the second time (see also: MFV #10), but first, Alastair’s seen Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle, a serious documentary about the housing crisis, while Nick’s read some Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comics.

orphan_black5Then it’s down to business with the start of Orange Is The New Black season 5 (9:55), followed by a big look back at the whole of American Gods season 1 (27:18) and a little check-in with the first episode of Orphan Black’s final season (43:26).

quantum-and-woody-omnibus-top-100864-640x320Last but definitely not least, Nick recommends Quantum & Woody by Christopher Priest and Mark Bright, the mismatched-buddy-superhero comic that influenced much of his style, taste and sense of humour. Will Alastair dig it?

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Thirty-eight painful coughs to go! Nick andwonder woman Alastair are back (despite Nick’s laryngitis struggles) to talk about their Team MFV trip to The Bugle live show and Alastair’s solo jaunt to Field Day.

Not to mention their reviews of eagerly awaited inspirational superhero film Wonder Woman (8:34), monster-metaphor-mash-up movie Colossal (25:19) and episode one of The Handmaid’s Tale (37:40), the depressingly relevant TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel.

blade-runnerFinally, what did Nick think of noted sci-fi classic Blade Runner (50:16)? With his malfunctioning vocal systems, did it hit too close to home?

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twin peaks the returnThirty seven minutes in heaven! Nick and Alastair begin on a pleasingly literate note, looking back on MR Carey’s The Boy On The Bridge (follow-up to his previously-praised The Girl With All The Gifts) and From Hell, classic Jack The Ripper graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.

alien covenantBut the big story this fortnight is Twin Peaks: The Return (8:59), the much-anticipated new series!And if you want more Peaks-casting, you can try the Diane podcast, as recommending by Nick basically every time Twin Peaks is mentioned on MFV.

If that wasn’t enough nostalgic reviving for one episode, Nick and Alastair also saw Alien: Covenant (28:23), the eighth film in the long-running franchise! And Mindhorn (43:19), a new British comedy about nostalgic revivals!

my_dad_wrote_a_pornoBut our heroes step into the modern world eventually with My Dad Wrote A Porno (52:54), the popular podcast about self-published erotica.

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Warning: Spoilers for Hannibal, Legion and 2001: A Space Odyssey (although that film came out in 1968 so why haven’t you seen it?)

We have all seen a film or TV show that has taken an odd turn, like a bizarre dream sequence or a really strange twist. The work of David Lynch is known for its oddness; his show Twin Peaks is a perfect example of this. Sometimes it’s more than just a strange scene or character. Sometimes the entire tone or story of a particular work is presented in a way completely counter to how we see reality.

There are lots of reasons for this. In real life, people don’t spontaneously break out into song or dance, but in a musical it’s a handy way of showing how a character thinks or feels, as well as being entertaining to watch. Satire is another example of where the reality we are shown is markedly different to ours, to make a point and to be funny.

Legion TV show

Sometimes this goes further and the films or TV shows can only be described as “abstract”. Abstract art, to borrow a phrase, is notoriously difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it.

The Tate gallery’s website defines Abstract Art as: “Art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead use shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect.” It’s easier to explain with examples. The work of Henri Matisse is abstract. If that went over your head, then think about the films of Nicolas Winding Refn. Still not with me? The TV show Hannibal is quite abstract. You’ve not seen Hannibal, then Legion? That’s a good show.

Looking at how abstraction (the process of being abstract) is used makes it clearer. Abstraction can be used to explain the emotions associated with a scene, instead of the specific details. Take Refn’s film The Neon Demon, the unusual visuals show the audience when protagonist Jesse (Elle Fanning) is feeling frightened, alone or powerful. Using lighting, music and shot construction in an abstract way to show how a character is feeling is clearer than relying solely on performance and is subtler than having a voice over or the character talking to camera.

the Neon Demon

Showing what a character is feeling, instead of what is literally happening, is common in ballet. In Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, following the death of Mercutio, there is a dance where the dancer playing Mercutio pulls away from Romeo, who reaches out for him. Mercutio is already dead in the plot and is not supposed to be actually doing this. The dance shows how Romeo feels about the recent death off of his friend and drives the next scene where Romeo confronts and then kills Tybalt. Abstraction is used to communicate how the character feels, so that we can understand his actions.

This is works because we think visually and film/TV (as well as ballet and painting) is a visual medium trying to convey non-visual ideas. A book can seamlessly take you inside a character’s head and tell you their thoughts, but film and TV need to work a little harder.

Abstraction also makes it possible to dramatise plot events that take place inside a character’s heads in an accessible way. These plot changes may not be related to their emotions, as in the Romeo and Juliet chase. My favourite example of this is the TV show Hannibal. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has a unique mental condition that allows him to understand horrific murders and the thoughts of killers. Being consistently exposed to such horror makes Graham mentally unstable and he fears that he is losing his mind, which is not helped by the manipulation of his psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen).

Hannibal TV show

As Graham navigates a world that is so disturbing it would unhinge the most stable of individuals, his unique mental condition means that his perception of reality becomes distorted. We see this distortion reflected literally in visuals, in the set design and music used in the show. The strange things that Graham sees are not true in a literal sense, but from his perception, they are.

As an audience, we understand Graham’s mental state through the abstract visuals. The personal, or inner, conflict of Hannibal is Graham questioning his own sanity, which is shown to the audience using abstraction.

Another example is Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica, which portraits an actual ballet of the Spanish Civil War. Battlefield photography existed since the American Civil war seventy years earlier, but it could not accurately show the intense horror that the Nazi war machine inflicted on the small Spanish town. Picasso instead shows a twisted and distorted nightmare that conveys the suffering of the people, more efficiently than showing what it would have literally looked like.

Guernica

Abstraction can also be used to show the non-tangible content of a scene rather than what is physically happening. In the TV show Legion, when the story literally goes inside the head of protagonist David (Dan Stevens), we understand the complex mix of emotions, memories and mental health conditions found there.

In a book, their nature could be described without visual reference, but sight is the main sense the mediums of film and TV rely on. In the words of the Tate, this is not an accurate depiction, but it does use “shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks” to get across what it’s like in poor David’s head.

David is also sharing his mind with a malevolent, psychic being that torments him. This being, the Shadow King, has no physical form and cannot be rendered visually in a literal way that does him justice, but he can be rendered in an abstract way so that the audience can understand the effect this being has on David. As with Hannibal, David’s mental state is central to the dramatic tension of the main plot and the plot is developed with an abstract approach.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The same is true of the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where David Bowman (Keir Dullea) enters the alien monolith and is transported to another dimension. This process transforms Bowman physically and expands his mind. Again this is conveyed to us through abstract images and music so that we can relate to something that we cannot literally know.

So what have we learned? Abstraction is a way of showing how people are feeling or interacting with things that are not tangible. Not every show or film that has an element like this uses abstraction. Star Wars has the Force, but it is shown to us literally. I have no real understanding of what the Force is or what it is like to use it. This is not necessary for the story Star Wars is trying to tell, but if a future Star Wars director wanted the audience to understand what it was like to use the Force then abstraction is one tool that is available.

Abstraction also makes the show or film visually interesting and different from the straightforward visuals of most shows. Let’s not forget pretty pictures are nice to look at. The Neon Demon or 2001 are memorable because they are so distinct. However, the visuals do more than create mood or style, they are integral to telling the story itself.

Next time you’re watching something a little strange, ask yourself: is this what is literally happening or is something else going on?

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-wallpaperThirty six more chances to win! This fortnight, Nick finally watches premium telly classic Deadwood, while Alastair saw Bunch of Kunst, a documentary film about his beloved Sleaford Mods. Also: how has their Mod listening progressed since the album review in MFV #31?

Most excitingly, though, it’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (8:10), the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film of the year! After that, almost as anticipated, it’s the first episode of American Gods (23:57), Bryan Fuller’s weirdly angled TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel.

gorillaz humanzNext, Nick’s taste in music takes its turn for a pasting, as they review new Gorillaz album Humanz (33:58).

Lastly, a truly inevitable recommendation section, as Alastair pitches some classic Doctor Who (47:20) – specifically, the Tom Baker story Genesis of the Daleks.

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doctor-who-series-10-capaldi-mackie-bill-tardis-heroThirty five, dirty lies! The recommendations section is a little recycled this time, as Nick talks the second book of Alan Moore’s Jerusalem (last mentioned in MFV #30) and Alastair revisits Spaceship now it’s coming to BFI Player (fully reviewed in MFV #18).

But it’s on to new frontiers after that, as Doctor Who (6:10) starts its first new series since the podcast began! And then The Fast And The Furious 8 (23:09), Nick’s first ever encounter with this ridiculous franchise! Including a philosophical diversion as Alastair starts to wonder about how to review blockbusters! Including a mention of this article about films and ketchup by Helen Lewis.

ultimate-spider-man-3And then another callback with the podcast’s third Better Call Saul (39:06) segment to mark the start of season three. (Previously: MFV #2 and MFV #6.)

Lastly, but most importantly, what did Alastair think of Ultimate Spider-Man (50:09) by Brian Micheal Bendis and Mark Bagley, the favourite Spider-Man comic of Nick, a massive Spider-Man fan?

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SPOILERS NOTE: Aiming not to spoil individual plot points, but may talk about the structure of the film and How It Made Me Feel enough to constitute spoilers for some. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely re-share this on social media after the film comes out.

Saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 early last night, thanks to excellent recent podcast guest Chris Brosnahan having a spare ticket, and came away thinking: wow, that film sure loves itself.

Or to be more specific: it loves its predecessor, 2014’s very own Guardians of the Galaxy, and it wants to show that love by giving you more of that good time, maybe directly homaging a few sequences if you don’t mind. And it’s hardly bad for films to have some confidence – as Chris himself pointed out on Twitter later, Suicide Squad last year had no confidence in a single direction, and collapsed into an incoherent mess as a result.

Whereas GOTGV2 remembers its neon space action comedy style and hits it squarely throughout, almost to a fault – sarcastic banter, serious moments undercut by comedy a second later (seriously, James Gunn loves that particular comic beat), a message about banding together as outcasts and the full awareness that Groot will steal every scene he’s in.

Seriously, look at him, he's so adorable.

Seriously, look at him, he’s so adorable.

The confidence sometimes spills into indulgence, in both revisiting the first film and the overlong CGI climax at the end. That massive showdown feels retro, if it’s possible to feel nostalgia for two years ago – the last couple of Marvel films showed signs of realising less is more and scaling back the computer-generated smashy-smash.

The plot, though, is the main reason this is probably destined to be seen as a lesser sequel – it’s not that there isn’t one, but it never feels that urgent, preferring to ramble around the universe, putting characters through fun scenes along the way.

Movies (especially Marvel/DC/other extended comic universe ones) are in an odd place right now with their serialisation – they want the same character attachments as TV and comic books, but it doesn’t come as naturally to their format. They arrive in one big hit every few years, and because of that wait, both studios and (let’s face it guys, we’re the problem too) audiences expect them to Drop The Bomb every time.

What I’m saying is: Guardians The Second feels like a fun mid-series episode of a TV show. Some antics, banter, a few subplots edge forward, everyone gets a chance to hang out and expand their characters a little. You see those guys again, feel warm inside, they seem cool, can’t wait to see them get mashed into an iron maiden in the season finale.

No, dear reader, not a typo, this image is meant to be here.

No, dear reader, not a typo, this image is meant to be here.

This will sound like damning with wispy anti-praise, but the film it reminded me of most was Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (Dead Man’s Chest, Me Hearties), which I quite enjoyed at the time. Later soured by its sequel, which resembled being left in a blank void to die with only the world’s most annoying man for company, but still. They just wanted to spend more time with those pirates in that small harbour, doing more jokes about rum. So it is too with Guardians – although it’s much better, I think.

And I like comics and TV shows, I’m alright with movies leaning that way, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t weaken them a little as films.

So yes, don’t get me wrong, I liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In an increasingly grim world, it was a fun detour into a simpler time. As long as you like the characters and sense of humour, there’s plenty for you here. Hopefully in Vol 3, having demonstrated his command of this universe, James Gunn will add something new into the mix.

 

Free Fire 2Thirty-four episodes clean and counting! Nick and Alastair kick off with talk about brief recent encounters with kid assassin comic Deadly Class, by Rick Remender and Wes Craig, and apt podcast-based crime novel Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski.

Then it’s time to get down to business with Ben Wheatley’s warehouse gun battle movie Free Fire (6:51), followed by a check back with highly acclaimed X-Men-related TV series Legion (20:15). Did it keep that weird quality up for the whole season? If you want to hear our first encounter with Legion, travel back in our mindscape to MFV 28.

old guard 1Thirdly, it’s the first two issues of The Old Guard (36:31), a new comic about immortal soldiers by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez.

Lastly, what did Nick think of classic movie Run Lola Run (46:50)? And if he’d seen it at a slightly different time, would his whole opinion change?

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power rangersThirty-three Power Rangers is less than it takes to change a light bulb! Time to review the new Power Rangers movie, and to do this epic justice, Nick and Alastair bring in mighty morphin’ mega-fan PDT, co-host of RangerPod and The Mostly Made-Up Doctor Who Episode Guide! Before getting stuck into the dinosaur meat, they quickly discuss such random intake as Designated Survivor, Ghost in the Shell (not the new one) and the recent Flash/Supergirl musical crossover episode!

PowerRangers-old-schoolThen, at around 8:28, it’s time to morph all the way and get stuck into Power Rangers in some detail. Could the film meet everyone’s expectations? What did PDT think of epilogue comic Power Rangers: Aftershock? Is Alpha 5 still annoying? Which Ranger is the Wolverine of the franchise? All this and much, much more.

If you enjoyed PDT’s appearance here, check out RangerPod and The Mostly Made-Up Doctor Who Episode Guide on their respective websites or iTunes/other podcast apps, and/or follow him on Twitter as @PDTSaysThings!

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iron-fistThirty-two tiny punches and a big stab! In a shortened episode (because they’ve moved the Power Rangers review to a separate special, admin fans), Nick and Alastair quickly cover some classic material, with H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited.

Then it’s into less-than-classic territory with Marvel’s latest Netflix/Defenders series Iron Fist (7:01), before recovering with excellent comedy-horror liberal nightmare movie Get Out (23:52).

get outLastly, what did Alastair think of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (35:13)? Is it good for anyone, or did Nick’s love of comedy music blind him to the truth?

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