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Free Guy

Watching ‘Free Guy’ is like watching a computer game which may be the point as the plot is set within one. So many recent commercial films have felt to have come from the megabytes of a computer’s hard drive. The art of performance and story-telling is secondary to the CGI wizardry on display. ‘Free Guy’ doesn’t particularly care as it goes full tilt amongst its sci-fi comedy trappings. Directed by Shawn Levy, ‘Free Guy’ is an over the top slice of nonsense where its creativity come directly from a computer’s keyboard.

Free City is a video game created by gaming genius Antwan (Taika Waititi). One character is Guy (Ryan Reynolds) going about his simulated day as a bank teller and living an ordinary life with his friends including Millie (Jodie Corner). Learning he is simply a character in Antwan’s game, Guy finds it difficult to accept. He also can’t accept Antwan’s plans to delete Free City and start afresh. Wanting to save his imaginary world, Guy goes on a mission to burst free of his computerised confines any way possible.

There’s not much substance to ‘Free Guy’ but never pretending to be anything but frivolous entertainment. That’s fine if the performances and story are generally involving. ‘Free Guy’ has an abundance of both even if it takes a while to get moving. Reynold’s affable demeanour is well suited to Guy’s easy-going persona, one filled with optimistic determination. How Guy attempts to escape his predicament is part of the film’s fun as are his interactions with those in the ‘real’ and imaginary world.

Whilst characterisation is minimal, ‘Free Guy’ ramps it up with a load of well executed action. There’s a lot of it as the script utilises every gaming motif in the book. Even those with a passing knowledge of computer games will know some of the things ‘Free Guy’ pokes fun at, as well as the egotism of those who create them. Shawn Levy’s direction skilfully balances the humour and light drama and has an excellent visual gloss as the cinematography highlights the game-world’s candy flavoured vistas versus the real world’s mundane look.

You can’t expect too much from ‘Free Guy’ apart from having a good time for a few hours. It’s an easy watch with a cast having a blast amongst its colourful escapades. The gaming clichés it explores also makes one marvel how far playing games have come with the likes of Scrabble and Monopoly feeling ancient against the film’s computerised visions.

Rating out of 10: 7

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The United States vs Billie Holiday

American jazz and swing music singer Billie Holiday was known for her unique vocal style and innovative interpretation of songs. ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday’s is the second biopic made of her life. The first was 1972’s ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ which starred Diana Ross as Holiday. Nearly fifty years later, ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday’ provides a new perspective. This is befitting Holiday’s skills in offering a fresh angle on old tunes, as this version further explores the legacy her accomplished singing left behind.

In the 1940’s, singer Billie Holiday (Andra Day) was revered by audiences for her gifted singing. Although her career was at its height, her private life was a mess. One of her personal traumas was being targeted by the U.S. government for her drug use and her anti-lynching song ‘Strange Fruit’. With government agents including Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) constantly on her case, Billie’s life descends into turmoil. Despite her setbacks, her determination to face the attitudes of the era shone as brightly as the songs she performed.

‘Uneven’ is the best way to describe ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’. Despite having an interesting person about whom to tell its tale, the film is very unfocussed to the point of distraction. Scenes fail to fully connect with the others giving a disjointed episodic feel. Much of the blame can be put to director Lee Daniels, who seems disinterested in telling a coherent story. Others involved in Holiday’s story also feel anonymous as you’re never quite sure how they fit into her world and their impact.

That’s not a slight on Andra Day’s captivating performance. Whilst the script feels happy to explore the constant miseries of her life, Holiday’s determination and unique vocal style is conveyed well. The feel of the era is effectively captured saying a lot of disturbing things about some of the outrageous attitudes of those times. The music sounds great and the film’s visual style give Holiday’s stage presence plenty of snap. It’s just how everything is told that’s the problem. Kudos to the screenwriters for not turning it into a sanitised biopic like others as this is definitely a ‘warts and all’ story in every way.

‘The United States vs Billie Holiday’ should have been much better. In spite of good performances, it comes apart pretty quickly as it plods along to the finish. If it makes you want to listen to her music, then it has achieved something with her musical legacy remaining intact.

Rating out of 10: 5

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