Between the Promise and the Payoff Falls the Shadow: Movie and music reviews

Between the Promise and the Payoff Falls the Shadow: Movie and music reviews July 5, 2017

It Comes at Night: This film is incredibly effective at creating tension and dread, and pretty aggressive about refusing to be a “story” in any conventional sense. Did you know that sometimes terrible things happen, due to pileups of bad luck and understandable choices? That is what this movie wants to give you. No character grows or changes (unlike in downer horror flicks like The Descent) and no questions will be answered by the end except, “Who will die?”

I know it sounds shallow to be all, “…What was the point of that?”, like, art doesn’t need to have a “point” exactly. But this movie uses a ton of directorial skill (that truck trip through the woods!) and acting ability (including some genuinely grueling depictions of anguished grief), to give you… some awful things that happened.

Moscow Never Sleeps: Interlinking stories of contemporary Moscow life, made by an Irish writer/director. There were some elements here which would ordinarily really work for me, and almost did–the use of humiliation, for example, and the scenes in which a humiliated person reconciles or semi-reconciles with their assailant. It did feel slight, though. We get only small slices of everyone’s story.

Lots of great aerial shots of the city. My Russian friend noted that there’s a scene here which borrows from Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, but with a nasty twist ending. She also found the ubiquitous binge drinking kind of stereotypical (along with the indoor wearing of headkerchiefs!) although I make no judgments there, and am always down for cultures whose first emotional resort is alcoholism.

To the extent that the film is trying to make a point about Russia and Russians, I think we get a) political corruption, b) total absence of religion (unlike in e.g. Tycoon: A New Russian), c) Moscow is gorgeous from above, and d) men are bad.

The Hollow Crown: Richard II: This was fun! I’d never seen Richard II, unless taking a class from Harold Bloom counts (zing!). Ben Whishaw actually played the King as less theatrical than I expected. He comes across as someone who deeply believes that he is protected by God. It’s an almost prosperity-gospel view of monarchy, where his anointing means he will succeed. And so he’s shattered when he fails. Maybe… maybe you should have tried fearing God, at some point?

Loved the use of outdoor settings you can’t do on a stage. The Death’s-court-in-the-skull scene was amazing. The outdoor scenes and nature shots add to the feeling that this is a play about England, the land, not about England-the-concept. In Henry V foreign battles really matter and you’re supposed to root for the away team. In Richard II the Irish wars matter for their effects on England, the isle, and your emotional center of gravity is kept much closer to home.

Too much Christ imagery at the end. Whatever you find in the text, fine, but you don’t have to add any. And, too, if you’re going to make Richard II St. Sebastian you cannot then immediately turn around and make him Jesus. Pick one!

This was really effective at making you feel shock and disgust at Richard’s actions, but horror at his deposition. Man, by the time you play the “I am the divinely-anointed King!” card, you need to accept that you’ve already lost. That is a form of authority you can reinforce, through your bearing, but not a form you can deploy.

The Mountain Goats, Goths: Songs about aging goth musicians and their inevitable returns to their inescapable hometowns. The first song, “Rain in Soho,” is genuinely phenomenal and you should seek it out. It might be one of my very favorite MG songs. Sinister, urgent and spooky; phenomenal lyrics transforming Scripture into veiled threats (“We played for you but you would not sing/No one was gonna get away with anything,” and that is not even close to the most intense example). No friends closer than the ones we’ve lost….

The other songs are variable in quality but there’s nothing that approached “Rain in Soho” for me. I did really enjoy the hints we get of that real ’80s sound, hints of glockenspiels and synth. I enjoyed the complex interweaving melodies of “Unicorn Tolerance” although I don’t like these lyrics and suspect if I understood them I’d like them less; I like the depressing, relentless drumbeat of “Stench of the Unburied.” And in “Wear Black” we get Izzy Ortiz’s great lounge anthem, the background tune for her beach blanket brooding.

What I didn’t really care so much about are the characters and stories here. I love return-home stories (and “Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds” is probably my second-favorite song) but a lot of these songs are about people looking back on their careers, either contented or resentful. And what they’re contented or resentful about is the career itself, the music and the success, the artistry or the top spot on the billing. Contrast this with “The Ballad of Bull Ramos,” where the career nostalgia is suffused with love of and gratitude for the people in the guy’s life. I don’t know, the stories here felt less urgent than the ones in the best MG songs. Also there’s a lot of John Darnielle’s high-pitched breathiness and man, a little of that goes a long way for me.

That said, I liked this better on second listen than on first, and I’ve found that their albums grow on me. (I really love the final section of “Heretic Pride” now, the Tianchi monster through the prom queen caught in the high beams.) So if you’re into Goth nostalgia and you like the Mountain Goats anyway, give this a spin. And honestly, even if neither of those things apply to you, try out “Rain in Soho.”


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