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Sundance online: 'Fair Play' and other festival picks to watch at home


Surveying the landscape of the independent film festival as its selections open up online.

The Sundance Fim Festival is a mad dash of snow-covered sidewalks, last minute ticketing and buzzy theaters packed with hyped-up moviegoers, a rite of passage for any true film lover.

It's also in your home. Sure, it's not quite the same as crowding into Park City, Utah's Eccles or the Library Center Theatres and you're probably not going to bump into Paul Rudd getting coffee, but the bathroom lines are shorter, the snacks are cheaper and no one's going to yell at you for pulling out your phone (which you still shouldn't do while you're watching a movie, but you can always hit pause on your screen and check Instagram, if you feel so inclined).

The Sundance Film Festival is currently in full swing, and while its movies will trickle into theaters and onto streamers over the course of the year, the fest's online component takes the festival from its home, 1,600 miles from Metro Detroit, to just a few clicks away. Now through Sunday, screenings of individual Sundance titles are available to watch at home through the fest's website.

At the festival's midway point, here's an update on Sundance so far, and which movies are worth checking out right now.

'Fair Play'

Workplace and sexual politics explode in the simmering debut feature from writer-director Chloe Domont (TV's "Ballers"), about a couple — "Bridgerton's" Phoebe Dynevor, a stone knockout, and "Solo's" Alden Ehrenreich, back from the dead — who have to keep their relationship a secret from their bosses and co-workers in New York's high-stakes hedge fund field. When Dynevor's Emily gets promoted over Ehrenreich's Luke, Luke spins out of control, and Dumont creates a tense, tightly wound drama that will stir all sorts of conversation during and afterward. Netflix picked up distribution rights to the film for a whopping $20 million, which shows the confidence they have in the film's appeal. Some Sundance movies fade away after the festival, but that's not likely to be the case with this one.

'Magazine Dreams'

Jonathan Majors is about to have a big spring, with roles in the next installments of the "Ant-Man" and "Creed" films. You simply can't take your eyes off of him in "Magazine Dreams," which is like "Taxi Driver" set in the world of competitive bodybuilding. Majors is stunning as Killian Maddox, a 'roided out ticking time bomb who lives with his grandfather and can't relate to anyone or anything besides fitness magazines and flexed deltoid muscles. Writer-director Elijah Bynum takes the story to some extremely dark, unsettling places, but Majors — whose shredded body is an absolute marvel of physical transformation — brings a heartbreaking humanity to his role, without which the film simply wouldn't work.

'Infinity Pool'

Mia Goth was 2022's breakout horror movie psycho, with unhinged roles in Ti West's "X" and its prequel, "Pearl." Those worried she wouldn't be able to follow those movies up should settle down, because she ups the ante to ridiculous heights in Brandon Cronenberg's boffo sci-fi nightmare "Infinity Pool," in which she plays an agitator who author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) meets while on vacation and whose world she flips upside down. Skarsgård showed up to the film's Sundance premiere wearing a dog collar that was attached to a leash held by Goth, which is kind of a spoiler in the movie but also tells you enough to know that "Infinity Pool" — which opens in area theaters Friday — is not for the prude or squeamish. In other words, it's another notch in Goth's belt.

'To Live and Die and Live'

Detroit native Qasim Basir returned home to write and direct this raw drama about a Detroit filmmaker who returns home to bury his stepfather, and Basir filmed Detroit in a way that hasn't quite been captured on film before, with a vibrancy and buoyancy that will shock many an outsider. "I wanted to shoot Detroit beautiful because no one does that," Basir told The News earlier this month. "It's always the blight, the decay, the destruction. So it was like, alright, if I have a chance to photograph this city in a way that no one's done it, that would be kind of cool, as a backdrop to this story." "To Live" stars Amin Joseph, Skye P. Marshall and Omari Hardwick and is an ode to the Motor City's new beginnings.

'Radical'

From "Stand and Deliver" to "Dead Poet's Society," from "Summer School" to "School of Rock," something clicks when a story about a teacher breaking through to their students works, and "Radical" works. "CODA's" Eugenio Derbez stars as a teacher in a resource strapped school in Matamoros, Mexico, who throws out the rulebook so he can connect with his students and meet them where they're at. Those students include a budding genius — Jennifer Trejo plays Paloma Noyola Bueno, who has been touted by Wired magazine as "The Next Steve Jobs" — and several other kids who've been kicked around and just need a chance. "Radical" is far from radical; its adherence to convention is its strength. Sometimes, when it's done well, that's enough.

'Kim's Video'

Director David Redmon relates to the world through film, so it's no surprise that his documentary (which he co-directed with Ashley Sabin) includes references to David Lynch, Michelangelo Antonioni, Brian De Palma and more. What is surprising are the turns he takes in this story about the former New York video store and its storied collection of films, and how it ended up traveling to Sicily and eventually back to New York, which is where it belongs. Part documentary, part heist film, "Kim's Video" blurs the lines between being an observer and a participant in glorious, thrilling ways. It's a film nerd's fever dream.

'Cassandro'

At 44, Gael García Bernal can still pass for being in his mid-20s, and he gives a dazzling performance as a budding pro wrestler in "Cassandro," which is based on the true story of gay amateur wrestler Saúl Armendáriz and his rise to stardom. Bernal gives a very physical, wholly convincing performance as Armendáriz, who goes from wrestling in body shops to the biggest venues in Mexico, with the help of his trainer Sabrina (Roberta Colindrez). Bernal and director Roger Ross Williams have a love for pro wrestling and a compassion for their subject which comes through in their telling, and there's even an appearance by noted pro wrestling fan (and sometimes pro wrestler himself) Bad Bunny. In wrestling terms, this one's a roll-up win for the 1-2-3.

'Fancy Dance'

Lily Gladstone ("Certain Women," Martin Scorsese's upcoming "Killers of the Flower Moon") leads this sturdy drama about an Indigenous woman, caring for her niece after the disappearance of her sister, and her travails with the law and the system. As Jax, Gladstone is tough around the edges but her eyes are deep with compassion; she's lived several lifetimes, not all of them good, and you can see it in her shoulders and the way her character carries herself. Shea Whigham is her father, who doesn't quite know how to do the right thing, and Isabel Deroy-Olson is all innocence as Jax's niece Roki, who just wants to get to the upcoming powwow to dance with her mother one more time.

Also...

"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" is an insightful look at Brooke Shields, who was sexualized by the entire world at an incredibly early age and came out the other hand with her dignity and agency in tact. The film revisits her teenage years, when "Pretty Baby" and "Blue Lagoon" held her up for everyone to ogle, through her post-college career slump through to her outspokenness about post-partem depression, and finds someone who has proven time and again to be a survivor, against all odds.

"Little Richard: I Am Everything" tells the story of Little Richard, who was the first to tell you he was everything, although he often wasn't given credit for the rock and roll sound he helped mold and create. Director Lisa Cortes' telling is a rather straightforward talking heads-type of affair, but the subject matter is well worth the price of admission.

"Run Rabbit Run" is a disturbing, unnerving thriller starring "Succession's" Sarah Snook as a mother navigating a psychological minefield, as her daughter (a creepy Lily LaTorre) brings up questions about her past that she's not done wrestling with herself.

"Sometimes I Think About Dying" calls on "Star Wars'" Daisy Ridley to act inert and introverted, a task she struggles with in this awkward comic drama. Thankfully "Ramy's" Dave Merheje is there to bail her out, and his heavy lifting helps rescue the film from the very doldrums it seeks to send up.

"Fairyland" stars "CODA's" Emilia Jones as the daughter of a hippie (Scoot McNairy), who after the death of his wife, embraces his homosexuality and moves them to San Francisco. McNairy's character is woefully underqualified to be a father, but few play beautiful losers better than him, and he helps "Fairyland" become a story of love, openness and resilience.

How to watch Sundance online

The Sundance Film Festival has tickets available for online screenings of festival films for $20 apiece. Screenings run Jan. 24-29. For information, visit festival.sundance.org.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama