Films I Neglected To Review: Not Starting The New Year With A GrudgeBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/04/20 01:47:16
Please enjoy short reviews of "He Dreams Of Giants," "Madchen in Uniform" and "Moving Parts."
Considering the fact that Gilliam's film was completed and released, it might be expected that "He Dreams of Giants" might come across as slightly anti-climactic in comparison to its predecessor. While it is true that the outrageous misfortunes that befell Gilliam the first time around are not on display here and the end result is closer to the standard-issue making-of documentary that Fulton and Pepe were hired to make in the first place, the film reveals that this production was hardly a walk in the park either. We see Gilliam trying to bring his vision to the screen while contending with a budget roughly half the size of the one he was working with the first time around, the usual array of production snafus and, most importantly, trying to shake off the dust of several years of inactivity and make a film that will live up to expectations--especially his--while proving his naysayers wrong. As a making-of film, it is perfectly fine but "He Dreams of Giants" is ultimately more valuable as a portrait of artistic obsession in practice as we watch Gilliam struggle to overcome a constant string of obstacles armed with nothing more than his merry giggle and his sheer determination to finally complete a project that has dominated (and derailed, some might argue) his life and career for nearly 30 years. Uncharacteristically for any Gilliam-related project, the film ends on a high note with the triumphant premiere at Cannes and does not hint at the subsequent legal and distribution woes that eventually led to the entire American theatrical distribution of the film (which proved to be his most inspired and satisfying work since "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") to consist of a one-night special event presentation. Who knows--maybe Fulton and Pepe decided to save that material to complete the trilogy.
Although the film was slightly overshadowed during its original release because it came out at roughly the same time as "The Blue Angel," "Madchen in Uniform" soon became a cult favorite and a key influence on LGTBQ cinema for being one of the first films to deal sympathetically with the concept of lesbianism despite being censored or outright banned throughout the world. Intriguingly, the film still feels pretty transgressive when seen today, although the sexuality of the characters now seems tame in comparison with the notion of a romance between a teacher and her 15-year-old student. Beyond that eyebrow-raising conceit, the film is still fascinating to watch, partly because of the startlingly forthright way in which it deals with sexuality and partly because it happens to be an engrossing story that has been expertly presented by director Leontine Sagan and beautifully acted by Thiele and Wieck. I can only presume that this reissue is being undertaken in advance for an eventual blu-ray release but if you get the opportunity to see "Madchen in Uniform" on the big screen, you need to take it. Funny--the first must-see film experience of the 2020s turns out to be an offering from 1931.
"Moving Parts" is one of those movies that has so many things going for it in its first half that it becomes increasingly frustrating to watch it commit any number of inexplicable unforced errors in the second. On the plus side, director Emilie Upczak wisely recognizes that the material involving Zhenzhen as she becomes increasingly aware of the hidden costs to her and her brother for her desire for a better life will be more effective if stripped of any potential melodramatics and she finds just the right low-key manner for observing Zhenzhen and Wei as things go downhill for them. Unfortunately, having set things up so impressively, Upczak mucks things up by going for a far more melodramatic tone in the later scenes that transform it from a fascinating character study into just another potboiler thriller. More damaging, she spends too much time on the story of Evelyn (Kandyse McClure), a prosperous young woman who runs an art gallery, contends with her homeless brother and becomes involved with Zhenzhen's travails before making a not-so-shocking discovery involving her own sleazy father. This material has nothing to do with the central story of Zhenzhen and seems to have been included solely to bump the film up to its barely feature-length running time. It is too bad because when Upczak sticks to her central story and character, "Moving Parts" is gripping and fascinating but when it switches gears, the whole thing ends up more or less grinding to a halt.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|