Quickie Reviews: Wish Upon; A Ghost Story; City of Ghosts; The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

For those who don’t go bananas over blockbusters like War for the Planet of the Apes, there are some alternatives out there. But, be careful what you wish for.

Wish Upon
This creepy horror movie from the director of Annabelle starts out with a fair amount of promise, but quickly deteriorates into a dud. It stars Joey King (White House Down) as Clare Shannon, a High School teen whose widower dad (Ryan Phillippe) gives her an old Chinese music box that he found while dumpster diving. She’s able to decipher enough of the Chinese lettering on the box to know that it will grant her seven wishes. But for some reason, she doesn’t clue into the second part of the message, which basically warns that for every wish, there’s a blood price to be paid. So she starts making the typical teen wishes (to get the shallow stud muffin to fall in love with her, to be rich, to be popular, etc.) and people die. Gruesome, twisted deaths. Oops.

 

A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story stars Academy Award winner Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) draped in a white sheet with eye-holes that resembles a kid’s makeshift Halloween costume. But this is not a kids’ movie. It’s no Ghost either, so don’t be expecting to see any sexy pottery scenes set to the strains of Unchained Melody. This Ghost Story is ethereal, slow, meditative and weird. When Affleck’s character, known only as ‘C’ is killed in a car crash (that we don’t witness) at the end of his driveway, he leaves the morgue and returns to his Texas farmhouse to console his bereft wife, ‘M’ (Rooney Mara). But he can only watch passively as she and others come and go from the house and gradually slip away. The film is marked by long silences, ambient sounds of the wind and chirping birds, and an epic shot of Mara sitting on the kitchen floor eating an entire pie. For some, this will be art – like a Terrence Mallick movie (Tree of Life, Knight of Cups, etc.). Those who know my taste in film know how much I love Terrence Mallick movies. And how much I love sarcasm. A Ghost Story is not my cup of tea, at all, but philosophic cinephiles rejoice — this film is probably for you.

 

City of Ghosts
This ghost story is all too real. City of Ghosts is a documentary that tells the story of the RBSS, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.” The group was formed by several activists turned citizen-journalists who risked their lives to stand up to ISIS after the Islamic State took over their hometown of Raqqa, Syria in 2014. The documentary is a bit slow and unwieldy but the story itself is certainly an important one. In addition to showing how ISIS has gone about brainwashing children, cutting off communications with the outside world, controlling the narrative in Raqqa and randomly executing people, the films also touches on the immigrant/refugee experience in Europe as some members of the RBSS attempt to continue their work in exile.

 

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography
Unless you’re a photography buff and have actually heard of Elsa Dorfman, the ‘b’ in The B-Side could very well stand for ‘boring.’ Elsa is certainly a character, and her story and her pictures are interesting, but not interesting enough to sustain an hour plus of screen time. Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (The Fog of War; The Unknown Known) takes the audience along for a tour of Elsa’s backyard archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts as she prepares for retirement. Elsa’s claim to fame is her use of the Polaroid Land 20×24 camera. It takes really big pictures. For 35 years, Elsa has captured what she refers to as the “surfaces” of her subjects, including families, beat poets, rock stars and Harvard notables. She likes to show them as they appear on the surface (i.e. rather than capture some deep window into their souls). If you’re into photography, a bit of Polaroid history, unique forms of artistic expression and/or have heard of Elsa Dorfman, then by all means, check out the B-Side.

 

 

For lively discussion about these films, check out the ‘Cinema Clash with Charlie and Hannah’ podcast (now available on iTunes!).

 

2 Comments

  1. Jill Boniske, July 22, 2017:

    I tried to watch the Elsa Dorfman flick, being a photographer myself. But I was bored! I usually love Errol Morris, and he can be very quirky, but this was just one long name-dropping slog. Perhaps I’d like to see a show of her work, but this is no way to get to know this photographer

  2. Hannah Buchdahl, July 22, 2017:

    Good to know it wasn’t just me! I guess I should amend the last sentence of my review. Sorry to hear that even a photography buff found it boring.

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