Read on for some short reviews of films playing at Sundance: "Hounddog," starring Dakota Fanning, is a cliched stab at Southern Gothic with echoes of Faulkner, and "The Nines," starring Ryan Reynolds, is a trippy, thought-provoking meditation on the nature of creation.
"Hounddog" has been one of the most talked-about films at Sundance, particularly because it has been suggested that it’s a movie in which talented Dakota Fanning branches out; however, to quote the titular song, "They said you was high class/ Well, that was just a lie." "Hounddog" is from the overheated and overacted school of Southern drama, filled with stereotypical characters, pseudo-poetic dialogue, and heavy symbolism ("Hounddog"’s biggest deviation from formula is that it features a killer R&B band that plays into the dead of night, presumably on call should 12-year-old girls need help with their personal problems). Fanning stars as Lewellen, a girl obsessed with Elvis who lives with her no-good father (David Morse) and her strict grandmother (Piper Laurie). She plays the character as a cross between an innocent child and a wise strumpet; as a whole, "Hounddog" seems conceived simply to give her a role to flex her pre-teen acting chops.
The film has generated its share of controversy due to a scene in which Fanning’s character is raped (it’s handled without exploitation). Kiddie porn it isn’t. Unfortunately, "Hounddog" isn’t much of anything. It doesn’t really resonate as a coming-of-age story, a family drama, or an exploration of the 1950s Southern experience, leaving precious little left but the controversy. Ultimately, "Hounddog" is pretty mangy.
"The Nines" is one of those movies that will be the subject of endless interpretation; personally, I just enjoyed the ride. The film is a three-act meditation on reality and the nature of creation with apocalyptic and quasi-religious overtones. In each of its chapters, Ryan Reynolds plays some sort of creator, be it an actor, TV writer, or videogame designer; Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy each vie for his attention and throw his world into flux in various ways. Like "Mulholland Drive," there’s an ominous tone and a sense that everyday events may hint at something harrowing. All of the actors are fine, particularly Reynolds, who shows impressive range throughout. "The Nines" is a solid head trip.
Check out our full Fundance at Sundance coverage!