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What to watch | Ryan Reynolds is stuck inside a videogame, an inspirational sports drama plus a harrowing crime doccie

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Videogame characters 
Guy (Ryan Reynolds, left) and Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) get jolted out of their mundane existence in Free Guy. (PHOTO: 20th Century Studios)
Videogame characters Guy (Ryan Reynolds, left) and Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) get jolted out of their mundane existence in Free Guy. (PHOTO: 20th Century Studios)

Free Guy ****

Sci-fi comedy. With Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer and Lil Rel Howery. Director: Shawn Levy.

Film studios have long tried to tap into a readymade ­audience of gamers with movies based on popular video­games, but few have been successful. 

A much better proposition seems to be setting a film inside a game, which allows filmmakers to ­recreate the feeling of being a player as well as commenting on gaming subculture. 

Following in the footsteps of Tron (1982), Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and the Jumanji films, Free Guy is set inside a game, the Grand Theft Auto-like Free City, in which most gamers give in to their baser instincts, playing criminals who wreak havoc by des-troying buildings and killing innocent non-playable characters (NPCs).

Guy (Reynolds) is one of these NPCs, a super-perky bank teller who happily goes through his repetitive days wearing the same clothes, buying the same coffee and lying on the floor chatting to his security guard friend Buddy (Get Out’s Howery), while their bank is robbed by one of the players. 

But Guy’s routine is disrupted when he notices kick-ass player Molotovgirl (Comer from Killing Eve), and he starts to deviate from his programming in the hope of meeting her again. This leads him on a journey that will shake the foundations of his world. 

To say more would ruin the exhilaration of seeing where the smart and playful script leads, but if you’ve watched The Truman Show (1998) or The Lego Movie (2014) you should have an idea. 

Non-gamers might not get all the in-jokes and references, but the metanarrative about characters becoming self-aware explores surprisingly weighty themes such as existential angst and free will. 

Reynolds and Howery are so endearing you can’t help but root for them, while Comer and Joe Keery (Stranger Things) provide likeable support and Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) chews the scenery in hilarious fashion as the villain. 

The action set pieces are funny and thrilling, and the spectacular special effects immerse you in the virtual world.

Free Guy is a warm, witty and exuberant film that should leave you with a big grin on your face. 

2021. 114 MIN. 13LV. AVAILABLE ON GOOGLE PLAY AND APPLE TV+.

Dream Horse ***

Toni Collette, Dream Horse
Toni Collette in Dream Horse. (PHOTO: Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions)

True-life sports drama. Set in a small valley town in South Wales, Dream Horse tells the true story of a group of down-and-out neighbours brought together by an unlikely ambition. 

Between cleaning the local store by day and pulling pints in the village pub at night, Jan Vokes (Toni Collette) is caught in a monotonous cycle leading nowhere. 

As she remembers her glory days breeding racing pigeons, it ­becomes clear that Jan longs for a break from this humdrum routine. When she hears accountant Howard Davies (Billions’ Damian Lewis) reminisce about his heyday as part of a horseracing syndicate, Jan ­becomes determined to buy a mare and breed a racehorse. 

Lacking experience and funds, she turns to her neighbours for help. With a less than 1% chance of making any money out of such a pursuit, the group rely on their desire for hwyl – a Welsh term denoting a feeling of emotional motivation and energy – and an alliance is formed. Their investment pays off as their thoroughbred, Dream Alliance, rises through the ranks to compete with the racing elite. 

As a typical feel-good underdog story, Dream Horse is predictable, but this doesn’t detract from the edge-of-your-seat moments during the thrilling race sequences where spot-on cinematography and editing place the viewer right in the action. Collette gives an outstanding ­performance that anchors the ­emotional gravity of the film. 

Jan and her motley crew should win viewers’ hearts and inspire you in this tale about rising above challenges and keeping dreams alive.

– NATALI VARNEY 

2020. 113 MIN. 13SL. AVAILABLE ON APPLE TV+. 

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez *****

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
­Gabriel Fernandez was horrifically abused by his mother and stepfather. (PHOTO: Netflix)

Crime documentary. This is one of the most moving non-fiction ­programmes on Netflix and should leave you utterly devastated. The mini-­series takes viewers through the short life of eight-year-old ­Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and abused by his mother and step­father until he died in 2013.

In the documentary, Los Angeles deputy district attorney Jon Hatami shines a spotlight on America’s broken welfare system and the unseen abuse of young children. Viewers get the chance to hear what Gabriel’s family have to say and during the court case you see first-hand the distressing revelations about what happened to the little boy. 

The most pertinent question Hatami asks is, “Why did no one intervene to save this young child’s life?”

Viewers should be warned that the doccie contains footage not ­appropriate for sensitive viewers. 

The horrific details will shock you to your core, but unfortunately South Africans can relate all too well to the ­situation depicted. 

– ABBY-GENE BISSOLATI

2020. 6 EPISODES. 16LD. AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX. 

A: All ages   D: Drugs   H: Horror   L: Language   N: Nudity   P: Prejudice   PG: Parental guidance S: Sex  V: Violence


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