I think novels beat film at storytelling any time. Unless a movie resorts to voice-over, it is stuck on the surface of things, while a novel can go as deep as the writer chooses.
So, if I’m going to be held on the surface of things, I damn well want visual style. (A corollary to this is that if a film has enough visual style, I can enjoy it for the eye-candy alone.) Hence my love for director Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Even when Gilliam directs a major flop storywise—like The Brothers Grimm—it’s still fine to look at.
And speaking of The Brothers Grimm, while it was in production, Gilliam was simultaneously working on another movie: the tiny-budget, limited-release Tideland. Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s excellent novel of the same name, Tideland is the story of a little girl whose junkie parents both die, leaving her stranded on a remote farm in Texas--and also stranded in her vivid imagination. It might not seem that empty, bright countryside would agree with Gilliam’s visual inclinations, which tend toward the dark, the cluttered, and the baroque, but he finds plenty of opportunities in attics, burrows, sheds, and the mind’s eye. And even on the vast prairie, the sun still goes down...
The movie features a stunning performance from child actress Jodelle Ferland, who plays the protagonist Jeliza-Rose and also does the voices of doll-heads Sateen Lips, Glitter Gal, Baby Blonde, and Mustique. (The doll-heads, who live on Jeliza-Rose's fingertips when they are active, are some of the main characters.) Janet McTeer plays a truly disturbing and disturbed neighbor, Jeff Bridges is a sad, beat-down, pitch-perfect loser, and Brendan Fletcher plays a jittery retarded neighbor hunting The Monster Shark.
Basically William Faulkner on mescaline, but moved a little further west. Decidedly not for all tastes. But unlike so many of my favorite films no one has seen, this one's out on DVD.
PS. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, with a couple of exceptions, the critics loathed this film. Of course, the critics also loathed Kubrick's 2001 and Renoir's Rules of the Game when they came out.