Sundance Sales Go Wild; First Review of Dakota Fanning Movie 'Hounddog'

Sundance Sales Go Wild | 'Hounddog' Review | 'Dreamgirls' Dissed

Sundance Sales Go Wild

News Tuesday morning of two more sales at Sundance.

“Dedication,” a romantic comedy directed by actor Justin Theroux, is going to The Weinstein Company for an undisclosed amount.

TWC will partner with the smallish First Look Features. The movie stars former teen-queen singer Mandy Moore in her first real adult role.

Moore co-stars with Billy Crudup and Tom Wilkinson, and won raves last night at the premiere for holding her own. She has a movie career now if she wants one.

The other sale of note is a Mexican film called “La Misma Luna,” which The Weinstein Company is buying with Fox Searchlight.

The director, Patricia Riggen, has turned into a hot commodity at Sundance in the last 24 hours as her film not only has a topical side — immigration — but is also a heart-warming saga.

For TWC, “Luna” makes sense. With a long history at Miramax, Harvey Weinstein is famous for making foreign films into hits, from “Cinema Paradiso” and “Kolya” to “Life is Beautiful.” His “Days of Glory” was nominated for an Oscar Tuesday.

There’s a lot more news from here too that will affect the fall releases and next year’s awards.

Warner Independent surprisingly coughed up $4 million for the very good “Clubland.” If they play their cards right (hint: hire a good outside Oscar wrangler), star Brenda Blethyn will be among next year’s nominees.

And Fox Searchlight, which already has the festival’s best movie, "The Savages," and a great drama coming in March called “The Namesake,” has snapped up Sam Rockwell in "Joshua," as well, and the late Adrienne Shelly’s excellent “Waitress.”

First Review of 'Hounddog'

Certain to be incredibly controversial, Deborah Kampmeier’s movie “Hounddog” finally opened at Sundance last night to the most crowded theater anyone’s seen in a long time.

Right away, I will tell you: 12-year-old Dakota Fanning plays a girl who endures a graphically suggested rape. If that’s not enough, she is also filmed sleeping dreamily while a half dozen real snakes slither all over her.

The rape scene, no matter how it’s spun, is disturbing and unsettling in fictional terms. In real life, though, it’s creepier to think that Dakota’s parents considered this a scene that was appropriate for their daughter.

Of course, when you meet Dakota, she is unusually mature and very precocious. Maybe it’s hard for those around her to recognize that she is only 12, and that though she understands “Hounddog” is fiction, it’s nevertheless happening to her, as it were.

“Hounddog” takes place in rural Tennessee around 1955, when Elvis Presley is just taking off. Dakota’s character, Lewellen, is obsessed with Elvis and sings his songs to anyone who asks her to.

That her moves are suggestive is another matter altogether. The director seems to be implying that Lewellen is almost asking for her rape by a 20-year-old boy who delivers the family’s milk.

It’s either that or Lewellen should be allowed to act seductively without fear of being attacked. Either way, the arguments do not stand up.

A lot of “Hounddog” sounds like it’s an entry in a bad Faulkner contest anyway. All the clichés are there: The runaway mother (or aunt in this case) is played by Robin Wright Penn. David Morse is the hick father with a zero IQ; Piper Laurie, so way over the top it’s not funny, is the sensible, salty grandmother who’s raising the kid.

And of course, there’s a kindly black man who works for the family and shows Lewellen the hidden life of the Negro.

But “Hounddog” is no “The Sound and the Fury.” It just kind of apes that genre of Southern Gothic. The only problem is that this is 20 years later, even though it feels more like 1935 than 1955.

What makes "Hounddog" work on any level is that Dakota Fanning is a gifted actress. She is so good I can imagine the people who made this film thinking that she will be the youngest winner ever of an Oscar. I don’t think so.

Film festivals are composed of insulated audiences. In the real world, what happens to Fanning/Lewellen may not be judged as so cutting edge.

And while Dakota can certainly carry a movie — that much is abundantly clear — why this material looked appealing to her parents is quite troubling.

“Hounddog” is benefited by a beautiful look from cinematographer Ed Lachman (“Far From Heaven”) who’s drenched the whole show in sepia and earthtones.

And then there’s the Elvis Presley soundtrack. “Hound Dog” — written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two Jewish guys from Brooklyn — is heard in several versions, including the famous hit.

Presley is also heard on other original recordings. I’m surprised the producers got the licenses. It’s quite a coup and no doubt very expensive.

Someone will release “Hounddog,” most certainly, and a debate may — and should — rage on. Whether or not people will want to see it is another story.

Just FYI: At the Q&A, Kampmeier presented a spokeswoman from a rape-and-incest group in a preemptive strike against critics.

At least the producers of “Hounddog” are aware that an uphill battle is facing them. But since the rape in the movie isn’t incest, and since Lewellen never tells anyone about it and the perpetrator isn’t punished, I suspect a raft of experts may not do the trick.

'Dreamgirls' Dissed by Oscar

"Dreamgirls," the film that should have been a shoo-in for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, was dissed Tuesday and denied most major nominations.

"Dreamgirls" managed to garner eight nods — the most this year — including Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

But the movie itself was snubbed by the Academy, as was writer-director Bill Condon. Talk about weird.

And talk about shocks. "Dreamgirls" was not alone. "Volver," Pedro Almodovar’s Spanish-language entry for Best Foreign language film, also failed to make the cut. "Volver" was seen as a cinch to win that category, and its absence is nothing less than a scandal, considering Almodovar was omnipresent all this past fall.

The big winner in this round of Oscar voting was certainly "Little Miss Sunshine," the tiny comedy that started at the Sundance Film Festival and became a sensation.

It has nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actor and Actress, as well as Best Original Screenplay. "Little Miss Sunshine" turns out to be the spoiler that "Dreamgirls" didn’t need.

The attention now turns to Martin Scorsese’s "The Departed," which picked up nominations for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.

But the latter went not to Jack Nicholson, whose new theme song will be “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” but to Mark Wahlberg, the former Calvin Klein jeans model who’s worked harder than just about anyone in Hollywood for recognition.

The funniest part of Tuesday morning’s announcement was the news that the producers of "The Departed" are “still to be determined.”

Another big surprise: The rise of “Babel,” a multi-character saga that audiences have not flocked to, but critics have loved. The omnibus film got two Best Supporting Actress nominations, as well as Original Screenplay, Picture and Director.

Considering that last year’s winner, "Crash," was also in this format of interlocking stories, maybe directors who want to win Oscars in this new culture should try this genre.

Ironically, Robert Altman started doing it 30 years ago with “Nashville” and got zip from the Academy. He must be laughing now.

A couple of nice surprises: Jackie Earle Haley’s astute performance as a pedophile in “Little Children” was awarded. He deserves it and must be thrilled this morning, considering he’d given up his acting career and moved to San Antonio, Texas.

And the great Alan Arkin, as the loony grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine," finally gets some credit from the Academy. He’s always been underrated. If he goes on to win and best Eddie Murphy, it will be the upset of all time.

But the "Dreamgirls" snub is something people will be talking about for a long time. It was the first movie with an all-black cast since Norman Jewison’s 1984 “A Soldier’s Story” to come close to a Best Picture nomination.

Spike Lee’s entire oeuvre has also been more or less ignored by the Academy. Oscar campaigners can infer a lot of things from this — mostly that the Academy voters remain largely older and white. They simply didn’t get “Dreamgirls,” which is a shame.

What the Academy voters have shown is that they will do just about anything for Clint Eastwood if they can. He is really the most popular guy in town, and can do no wrong.

“Letters From Iwo Jima” didn’t pick up acting nominations, but with director and original screenplay, that movie has reaped what it deserved. Eastwood is amazing; he rules.

But we should have known this: My best inside Oscar predictor, the estimable Dani Janssen, who knows more about Hollywood than anyone, laid all this out for me two weeks ago. She’s never wrong. I think next year I’ll just let her write the column!