(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ever since director Terry Gilliam visited Israel last March, I've been looking forward to his new film, Tideland, which he spoke about during a meeting with Israeli film fans. The movie, just released in the US, has received reviews as negative as any I've ever seen. Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post: "Terry Gilliam's Tideland stinks like its centerpiece: The propped-up, drug-stuffed corpse played by Jeff Bridges. It's trashy and disgusting - and those are the best parts." A.O. Scott, a New York Times critic usually far more restrained than Smith, agrees with him on this one, also mentioning the fact that Bridges's character dies early in the movie: "After a while I started to envy him, since duty required me to stay alive and awake for two hours during which misery masqueraded as whimsy and vice versa."
For both critics, that misery was intensified by a plot turn that includes the sexual exploitation of a child. In a note as to why the film received the rating it did, Scott writes: "Tideland is rated R. It has drug use, gruesome deaths and extremely icky sexual implications."
Smith concludes with the damning words: "It's tempting to call this the worst movie ever directed by a major filmmaker, but I'm not so sure that title applies to Gilliam anymore." I recently saw Gilliam's 12 Monkeys again on DVD, and I think just the legacy of that film and Brazil should be enough to earn Gilliam a permanent place in the "major filmmaker" pantheon, but it's jarring and very surprising to see how critics have savaged this movie.
NO LIVING director has generated more controversy than Roman Polanski (best known for Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist), who was also in Israel recently to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at this summer's Jerusalem Film Festival. While few would dispute his talent, some feel he should not have received this honor and a similar one from the European Film Academy (to be awarded in December) because of the 1977 case in which he pled guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. He fled the US pending sentencing and has never returned, not even to accept the Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in 2002. If he were to return, he would be arrested.
So it makes sense that a documentary will soon revisit the circumstances of his arrest and trial. Marina Zenovich, a former actress, is making the film, which examines the possibility of misconduct on the part of the judge who tried Polanski's case. The New York Times reports: "Ms. Zenovich said her feelings toward Mr. Polanski, as well as those of her mostly female crew, have vacillated in the course of their work. 'You love him one day,' she explained. 'You hate him the next. I tell some people I'm doing this and they say: "That pedophile! That child molester!" But all my research leads me to believe he's misunderstood and endlessly fascinating."
We'll have to wait and see when the documentary, currently untitled and unfinished, is released.
AT FILM FESTIVALS, it makes sense to attend only films you won't have an opportunity to see anywhere else because they aren't commercial enough to get a distributor. But sometimes you just want to see something fun. That's why I headed for Little Miss Sunshine (the big hit from last year's Sundance festival) when it was screened at the Haifa International Film Festival. It's playing Saturday night at 10:15 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, and will open next week throughout Israel, so you'll be able to see it lots of places, but the main thing is - see it.
The funniest movie I've seen in years, it's a road-trip story about a dysfunctional family that head off to take the seven-year-old daughter to compete in a beauty pageant. It stars Greg Kinnear as the father, a motivational speaker whose career is flagging, Toni Collette as the mom who enrolls her daughter in the pageant against her better judgment, Alan Arkin as the grandpa who snorts heroin in the back seat, and Steve Carell as the suicidal professor uncle, depressed because his rival Proust scholar Larry Sugarman has won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and he hasn't. But the real standouts are Abigail Breslin as the would-be Miss Sunshine and Paul Dano as her alienated, silent brother.
It's a rare American comedy that doesn't go for the lowest common denominator.