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‘Isabelle’ Suffers From A Split Plot

‘Isabelle’ is a creative psychological horror film, but one that suffers from trying to work in two very different sides to the same plot.

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Isabelle is a creative psychological horror film directed by Robert Heydon, but one that suffers from trying to work in two very different sides to the same plot. This low-budget Canadian film revolves around a couple going through an incredibly rough time following a stillborn baby, but it also follows a couple being haunted by a neighboring ghost. Adam Brody and Amanda Crews star as Matt and Larissa Kane, leading us through an experience that consistently gets derailed by its split plot.

The opening creates an uncomfortable atmosphere as we get very dark, mostly obscured shots of what appears to be a female figure — though from the twisting and blurry camera and the dark lighting it’s not immediately clear. Psychological horror should be able to make the viewer uneasy, and it’s little things like this that can add up to an enjoyable experience. Following this image, a door is suddenly opened, light floods in, and the movie truly starts. Isabelle certainly does things right at times, and some scenes create atmosphere well.

Isabelle

Larissa Kane has a meltdown.

The two main actors in Isabelle put in work, and at times contribute well-crafted sides to their characters.Adam Brody especially does a great job of being a lovable and comedic figure early on, and his casting comes as a great choice. After the opening scenes leave him in grief along with his shell-shocked wife, his demeanor changes — it has more weight to it, even though the brief scenes of him and his wife enjoying themselves are plainly set up to knock down.

Larissa’s decline in mental health — as well as whatever dark energies are affecting her — could stem from either her intense trauma from losing a baby, or through her having been clinically dead for a full minute. The film sets up multiple angles, and here is where Isabelle really suffers. Early on it feels as if the story is split into two: a tale of a couple moving in next door to some sort of cursed family, and a woman whose miscarriage and brief time spent dead seem to have attached some sort of demonic presence onto her. When playing with the latter, the film feels strong, but with the former, it feels weak and misguided. A prime example of the gap between the two sub-stories of the film as they’re building is when Larissa wakes up and walks to the baby’s room. She sits in the rocking chair and comforts a teddy bear, imagining it’s her baby. It’s a very sad and very real scene, but is immediately cut away from in order to show some sort of creepy religious room in the neighbor’s house.

Isabelle altar

The shrine in the Pelway house, an unfortunate distraction to the other side of the film.

Despite coming out with some competent psychological horror, Isabelle feels divided. It would have benefited greatly from a tighter focus, perhaps exploring the idea of Larissa’s brief death and miscarriage more. The Isabelle Pelway demonic entity side of things is certainly interesting, but not nearly as much as the rest, and the frequent flitting back and forth interrupts pacing at times. However, the final leg sees the Pelway side of things really pick up, and it finally intersects well enough. It’s unfortunate that portion of the story stumbles so hard early, as the payoff is a decent end for the rocky beginning. The finale is a unique approach to a cliched ending, and it works quite well. Unfortunately the main antagonist of the film doesn’t look all that frightening or imposing, obviously influenced in some regard by the ‘Japanese ghost girl’ look, but not really finding effectiveness with it.

There are things that Isabelle does right,some of which quite well, such as a realness and weight to the breakdown of both Matt and Larissa Kane. Their tragedy plays an integral part to the story, and most of the shining moments from the actors come from these moments. Amanda Crews does a great job when she’s portraying Larissa lashing out and not accepting help, not wanting to let go of the baby she lost; why do a complete u-turn that makes her unnaturally inquisitive and absorbed by who the neighbors may be, entirely losing the character built up in past scenes? Adam Brody doesn’t put in the performance of a lifetime, but pulling back into his shell after his wife miscarries is played well, and whilst it’s not all that subtle, it’s a nice touch to have him show such a protective and determined side after discussing how his mother’s departure affected him as a child.

Isabelle cemetery

The Kanes bury their child, a form of closure for them.

All in all, Isabelle is an uneven film; what’s good is really well done, but the first three-quarters of the movie feels very split. Approaching horror themes through the lens of pregnancy, miscarriage, and near-death experiences is a fantastic and not often explored area, but working in another side of things takes focus away and feels out of place until close to the end. The acting is also sometimes well done and sometimes not, just as the rest of the film is. This could come down to writing, or possibly the actors themselves, but too often we see characters flicker between two completely different sides, as Isabelle can’t make up it’s mind on what storyline is more important.

Shane Dover is a Melbourne, Australia based freelance writer contributing to Japanese punk news site Punx Save The Earth, punk publication Dying Scene, Diabolique Magazine and Goomba Stomp. Not just a fan of punk music, he's spent most of his life obsessed with the horror genre across all media, Japanese cinema, as well as pop culture in general. He plays music and writes fiction, check out his Twitter (https://twitter.com/Karzid) for updates on those projects. Follow him on Twitter, and check out his work every Wednesday on Dying Scene.

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is Noah Baumbach’s Best Film to Date

TIFF 2019

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Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 12, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Don’t Be Sad ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ Never Made it to Manhattan

Spend this rainy day playing a board game or something

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Rainy Day in New York

You do not come to late-era Woody Allen for anything resembling true originality. He is the drunken piano man, riffing off the same old hits in the same old bar, hoping that nostalgia will hit a chord with somebody. As in Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine, or even Irrational Man, his output over the last decade can still bring up moments of true inspiration and fresh-feeling angles on the same old tales, even if the plot-lines feel somewhat familiar. In the best humanist cinema, like that of Rohmer or Ozu, this repetition can make you see the same thing in a slightly different way. The same cannot be said of A Rainy Day in New York, a film so derivative it feels like it came out of an auto-generator, making me feel nothing but contempt for the waste of so much talent. If you are an American Woody Allen fan sad that this movie never made it to Manhattan, there’s honestly no need to be.

Timotheé Chalamet stars and narrates in a performance so poor that he must be happy this film hasn’t released back in the States. He plays Gatsby Wells, a student at upstate Yardley College, a place he detests yet tolerates because his beloved girlfriend Ashleigh (Elle Fanning) — heiress to a rich banking empire in Tucson — also studies there. As a writer for the University paper, she gets the chance to interview famous director Roland Pollard (Liev Schreiber), giving them the possibility to explore New York together. Yet when they arrive there, a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and fear of missed opportunities keeps them perpetually apart, handing them the chance to explore romance with others — including old flames, movie stars and, of course, high-priced escorts. 

Although his first name is Gatsby, Wells better resembles the other great male of 20th century American literature: Holden Caulfield. Like the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, he is born of massive privilege, shunning his supposedly phoney origins while still visiting the fanciest hotels and drinking in the fanciest bars. There is perhaps some kind of interesting modern portrait of New York privilege in here, but Woody Allen is simply not the right director for the material. It’s like asking a jazz pianist to bash out a techno tune. 

And just as Allen’s blinkered view of New York blinds him to the real world and its contemporary concerns, Chalamet’s nostalgia act cannot find a way to escape Woody’s wooden writing. The sensitive, pretentious, sensual young man who turned in such a deeply felt performance in Call Me By Your Name could be a natural fit for a Woody Allen character, if only he actually leaned into what makes him a great actor instead of trying his best Woody Allen imitation. While some actors can do Woody Allen well (Kenneth Branagh is uncanny in Celebrity, while Larry David is great in Whatever Works), Timotheé Chalamet has neither the studied talent to impersonate well, nor the arrogance to put his own distinctive stamp on it. Elle Fanning is similarly dire; playing both an intrepid, impetuous journalist and a thick floozy, she carries neither the charm nor the wit to make her a compelling co-lead.  

A Rainy Day in New York

I don’t blame either actor; they’re young, and there’s a feeling that they weren’t given much direction. In fact, almost every aspect of A Rainy Day in New York feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and under-thought. This is a film so lazy that it even recycles the ending of Midnight in Paris, perhaps hoping that the audience developed amnesia since 2011. Even Allen’s trademark eye for Manhattan is missing. Filming here properly for the first time since 2009, the city no longer seems like much of a character by itself, and instead comes off as it would in a generic TV Christmas Movie. 

While Allen’s early 00s work — easily his worst period — is characterised by its TV-movie lighting, his collaborations over the past ten years with cinematographers such as Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris, To Rome With Love), Javier Aguirresarobe (Blue Jasmine), and Vittorio Stororo (Cafe Society, Wonder Wheel) elevated his films’ look considerably, even when the writing may have been lacking. Sadly here, the legendary cinematographer behind Apocalypse Now and The Conformist — despite what seems like his best efforts to light generic hotel rooms with warmth and vibrancy — cannot save A Rainy Day in New York at all, which feels even more rushed and cut-to-pieces than usual. This is really only for die-hard Woody Allen completists; casual minds need not bother.

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