Endless turbulence, the loudest snorer ever to snooze the friendly skies behind me and a vomiting child aside me couldn't keep me from landing at the Sundance Film Festival. (Really, it's not like I could ask them to turn the plane around).
And lucky for me -- or was it? -- I arrived here just in time to catch what's arguably been the most buzzed-about (ahem, controversial) movie at the fest, 'Hounddog,' AKA 'The Unholy Dakota Fanning Project,' in which the 12-year-old actress gets raped on screen. Like 'Death of a President' at last fall's Toronto fest, the controversy translated into a maximum-capacity crowd at the press screening, with scores of journalists shut out. The film starts off decent enough, the rural southern yarn's opening slightly reminiscent of a Sundance winner from years back, 'Undertow.' Fanning is Lewellen, a radiant tween who passes the time by playing doctor with her best bud Buddy and dreaming of becoming the next Elvis Presley (a girl can dream, can't she?).
The King is coming to town, and Lewellen will do anything to score tickets, which lands her in the most undesirable of circumstances. It's by no means painless, but the rape, by a pimply-faced milkman, is quick. I'll leave it up to y'all to debate the moral issues surrounding this scene (are you really telling me Fanning isn't at least 21 by now?) but it doesn't bode well for the sensitivity of the subject that Fanning also spends a large chunk of the movie in her drawers. As hard as the rape scene was to watch, I found more disturbing where the film would head for the subsequent hour. We'll leave it at "all the wrong places" as the film's overbearing "snakes in the grass" metaphor somehow leads to snakes, literally, everywhere. It seems like every character in the film gets bitten as the plot turns more and more excruciating. Sorry, but all I could think to myself: "Would somebody get these mutha f***in' snakes off this mutha f***in' farm?!"
'Chapter 27' is one of those projects that on paper seems either destined for greatness or fated to crash and burn. The film reenacts three days in the life of the 'Catcher in the Rye'-obsessed Mark David Chapman leading up to the moment he kills John Lennon. Jared Leto inflated 67 pounds for the role (hard to tell whether it's HoHos or helium, but it had to be a better deal than Christian Bale's 'Machinist'-regimen), while Lindsay Lohan (only doing assassination and Donald Petrie movies from here on in) co-stars as a Lennon groupie. Unfortunately, Leto's finely crafted flubber and 'Brokeback'-Gyllenhaal meets exhaling beat poet twang are the most interesting things the film has going for it. Otherwise its a whole lot of the same: Most of the "action" takes place as Chapman waits and waits (and waits) for Lennon outside of his famous Dakota Building apartment in Manhattan, with an occasional argument between the voices in the assassin's head to stir things up a bit. Might be wise to skip this 'Chapter.'
The best film I saw today? The competition wasn't exactly stiff, as you can tell, but that'd have to be the Mexican import 'La Misma Luna' ('The Same Moon'). The hot-button narrative stars youngster Adrian Alonso (as hot south of the border as Macaulay Culkin was here circa '91) as a schoolboy who hasn't seen his mother (Kate del Castillo), an illegal working in Los Angeles, in four years. When his grandma croaks, little Carlitos embarks on an unbelievable journey to L.A. as he plays the INS like they're some fools trying to rob his crib. It's all a little bit too cutesy (no wonder the film is being trumped as a potential crossover, with Weinstein Co. and Fox Searchlight rumored to be splitting), but tell me you wouldn't cry like Dick Vermeil at just the thought of the impending reunion.