Forty-three years since our last recording! Alastair’s gone on holiday and Nick’s about to do the same, so they recorded this back around when they did MFV #42. Hope it’s better than nothing. There’s some chat about two novels to start: the original The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Also a short audio clip recorded during the brief Team MFV trip to the Nine Worlds convention.

Our main timeless feature this episode is a double recommendation: first, to vibe with the upcoming Defenders series, Nick suggests Daredevil: Born Again (11:06), the classic tale of one man against bottomless crime noir adversity by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli.

Then Alastair brings one of his all-time favourite films: Withnail & I (30:36), the classic British dark comedy starring Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann.

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Is this episode the meaning of life? We lead off this week by discussing Netflix zombie-suburbs series Santa Clarita Diet and Kameron Hurley’s epic book of essays The Geek Feminist Revolution.

In bigger, longer segment news: we cover Christopher Nolan’s new war-fight epic Dunkirk (6:26) and the intense psychological horror movie It Comes At Night (24:37). Then we return to the work of Warren Ellis for new Netflix video game adaptation Castlevania (34:48).

And finally, it’s Alastair’s recommendation from last episode: famously future-predicting Channel 4 sitcom Nathan Barley! The Guardian article mentioned during this article can be found here.

And if you want to do our listener survey and potentially win a £20 Amazon voucher, you can still do it at this link!

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Forty-one days since our last accident! Nick and Alastair have not only taken in some culture this week (specifically the comedy of Daniel Kitson and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy), they’ve also delved into the exciting new field of cultural hot-takes, as they discuss Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the first female Doctor Who (6:07)!

But that’s only a quick digression before our pop-cultural main events: Spider-Man: Homecoming (11:04), the latest big-screen Marvel-endorsed outing of Nick’s favourite superhero, and the beginning of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones (26:45).

And then we pop back to revisit Preacher (41:07) as it starts its second season – has it improved since we covered the pilot in MFV #8 and the whole first run in MFV #14?

Finally, Nick recommends the first volume of sci-fi robots comic Descender (52:32) by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, which is excellent and unfairly snubbed by the Hugo Awards (as he moaned about during his recent appearance on Radio Free Fandom, the new podcast from occasional MFV guest Claire Rousseau).

Finally finally, as mentioned during the show, we’re doing a listener survey and one randomly drawn listener will win a £20 Amazon voucher by taking part. So click anywhere on this whole sentence to get involved with that. (No, this isn’t any kind of advert/sponsored thing, we really are just curious what our listeners actually like.)

babydriver-xlarge_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqeo_i_u9APj8RuoebjoAHt0k9u7HhRJvuo-ZLenGRumAThe big 4-0! For this milestone, time to revisit some old friends, as Nick finally finishes Alan Moore’s Jerusalem and Alastair returns to Ben Aaraovitch’s Rivers of London world in comic form.

They’ve also seen Edgar Wright’s ice-cool car-musical Baby Driver (9:51) and, at long last, can discuss a whole new series of Doctor Who (25:01) at length. (which, oh, they definitely do.) We discussed the start of series 10 back in MFV #35.

Also, another revisitation, as they check back with magical Image Comics series Curse Words (49:22) to see how the first storyline ended, after our initial review in MFV #29.

curse-words-01Finally, time for some serious synth-pop of the soul with Alastair’s latest recommendation: You And Me Against The World by Apoptygma Berzerk (58:45).

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orange-is-the-new-black-season-5-teaser-041217-920x584Our first deleted chunk for a while – turns out we can bang on for hours about Orange Is The New Black, as it’s one of our favourite shows. So here’s a short chunk cut from MFV #39 where we get a bit overly specific about our favourite characters and how they’re used in the fifth season.

Hear our full OITNB discussion in the episode here, along with Orphan Black, American Gods and more!

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 (55:17) 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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