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What to stream: Sundance edition

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23 2014 5:50 p.m. MST

A scene from "Life in a Day."

National Geographic

As all good movie fans should know, the prestigious Sundance Film Festival is under way in Utah when the mountain town of Park City becomes a bustling hub of independent cinema and journalists.

Even for locals, though, making it in to some of the screenings can be next to impossible.

Luckily, there are plenty of amazing films from previous festivals available to stream online, including many suitable for broad audiences and families. Here are a few picks from Sundance’s documentary and dramatic feature categories from years past, as well as three recommendations for TV series newly available on the streaming services this month.

Sundance movies

“Senna”Relying mostly on archive footage, this documentary about Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna plays out like a perfectly plotted sports movie, dastardly foreign archrival included. Whether or not one is a racing fan (or even a documentary fan), this is a must-watch.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Netflix Instant

“Chasing Ice” — Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2012 festival, “Chasing Ice” provides a truly breathtaking look at the efforts of environmental photographer James Balog to document the world’s changing glaciers over the course of multiple years using time-lapse photography.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Netflix Instant

“Life in a Day” — Edited together from 4,500 hours of footage all filmed on the same day by random people around the world and submitted via YouTube, “Life in a Day” is a snapshot of a single day on Earth — a crowd-sourced documentary about what it means to be human. One of the best films to play at Sundance in 2011. For non-Netflix subscribers, it’s also available in its entirety on YouTube.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Netflix Instant

“Smoke Signals” — Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie adapted one of his own short stories for this road trip movie about two Couer d’Alene American Indians, Victor and Thomas, traveling to Arizona to collect the ashes of Victor’s estranged father. “Smoke Signals” won the Sundance Audience Award when it premiered in 1998.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Netflix Instant

“Upstream Color” – After making a splash at Sundance with his low-budget time travel thriller “Primer” in 2004, multi-hyphenate filmmaker Shane Carruth returned last year with this visually enthralling (albeit extremely obtuse) film involving behavior-affecting parasites. It's as indie as it gets. In other words, probably not for everyone.

Rating: Not rated (probable PG-13)

Available on: Netflix Instant

“Robot & Frank” – The great Frank Langella stars as an aging jewel thief who uses his new companion robot to restart his career as a criminal. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times named this sci-fi drama as one of the best films of 2012. It also won first-time filmmaker Jake Scheier the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime Instant

“Whale Rider” — Keisha Castle-Hughes became for a time, at least, the youngest leading actress ever nominated for an Oscar for her role in this film, which was also one of the big hits from the 2003 festival. Set among the Maori of New Zealand, it effectively dramatizes the struggle to preserve local traditions against the threat of modernization. A very, very mild PG-13, this one would probably be suitable for most younger viewers.

Rating: PG-13

Available on: Hulu Plus

“Teddy Bear” — A low-key Danish film about a professional bodybuilder who goes to Thailand in hopes of finding love. “Teddy Bear” snagged filmmaker Mads Matthiesen the Best Director award in the World Cinema category at the 2012 festival, and it put its hulking star, real-life bodybuilder Kim Kold, on Hollywood’s radar. Viewers might recognize him from “Fast & Furious 6” as the guy who makes even The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) look small. Here, though, Kold delivers a remarkably thoughtful, sensitive performance.

Rating: Not rated (probable PG-13)

Available on: Netflix Instant, Hulu Plus

New TV series to stream

“Veronica Mars” — In preparation for the March 14 release of the Veronica Mars movie, Amazon is streaming all three seasons of the cult TV series about a high school girl (Kristen Bell) moonlighting as a private investigator while simultaneously trying to solve the murder of her best friend (played by Amanda Seyfried). Since premiering in 2004, “Veronica Mars” has earned a devoted following, and not without reason.

Rating: TV-14

Available on: Amazon Prime Instant

“Masterpiece Mystery!: Endeavour” – A prequel series based on Colin Dexter’s novels starring Shaun Evans as a young Detective Endeavour Morse. The first season proved to be a big hit in its native England. For fans of other British mystery series like “Sherlock” or “Luther,” this might be a good fit.

Rating: Not rated

Available on: Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime Instant

“Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” – For younger audiences, Amazon has added the first two seasons of this “Kung Fu Panda” spin-off series, which originally premiered on Nickelodeon. Perfect for fans of the movies (who probably won’t even notice that Jack Black has been replaced by a soundalike).

Rating: TV-PG

Available on: Amazon Prime Instant

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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