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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The New Movies You Can Watch at Australian Cinemas From August 12

Head to the flicks to watch a video game-focused riff on 'The Truman Show' and Liam Neeson as an ice road trucker.
By Sarah Ward
August 12, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
August 12, 2021
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Something delightful has been happening in cinemas across the country. After periods spent empty during the pandemic, with projectors silent, theatres bare and the smell of popcorn fading, Australian picture palaces are back in business — at present, spanning both big chains and smaller independent sites in Brisbane.

During COVID-19 lockdowns, no one was short on things to watch, of course. In fact, you probably feel like you've streamed every movie ever made, including new releases, comedies, music documentaries, Studio Ghibli's animated fare and Nicolas Cage-starring flicks. But, even if you've spent all your time of late glued to your small screen, we're betting you just can't wait to sit in a darkened room and soak up the splendour of the bigger version. Thankfully, plenty of new films are hitting cinemas so that you can do just that — and we've rounded up, watched and reviewed everything on offer this week.

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FREE GUY

If Free Guy was a piece of home decor, it'd be a throw pillow with a cliched self-empowerment slogan printed on the front. You know the type. It might catch your eye the first time you spotted it, but it'd look almost identical to plenty of other cushions you can buy at absolutely any department store. It'd make you think of other, nicer pillows, too, but its phrasing and design wouldn't be as resonant or appealing. And, while its attractive font would tell you to believe in yourself, stand out and make each moment count, it'd still simply spout the usual well-worn sentiments that keep being served up as store-bought tonics for weary souls. Yes, Free Guy is a big-budget, star-led movie that primarily exists to answer two not-at-all pressing questions: what would The Truman Show look like if it starred Ryan Reynolds, and how would that 1998 classic would fare if it was about massive online video games instead of TV? But, as directed by Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum franchise), scripted by Matt Lieberman (The Addams Family) and Zak Penn (a Ready Player One alum), and drawing upon everything from The Matrix, The Lego Movie, Groundhog Day and They Live! to Wreck-It Ralph,  Black Mirror and Ready Player One, this is firmly Hollywood's equivalent of mass-produced soft furnishings emblazoned with self-help platitudes and designed to sit on as many couches as possible.

Cast for his generically affable on-screen persona — as the Deadpool and Hitman's Bodyguard franchises also keep trying to capitalise upon — Reynolds plays Free City bank teller Guy. His daily routine involves greeting the same goldfish upon waking, putting on the same blue shirt, picking up the same coffee en route to work and having the same chat with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery, Judas and the Black Messiah) when their place of employment is held up multiple times each day. Guy is completely comfortable with his ordinary lot in life. He knows that things aren't like this for 'sunglasses people', the folks who tend to wreak havoc on his hometown, but he doesn't challenge the status quo until he decides that the shades-wearing Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve) is the woman of his dreams. To have a chance with her, he's certain he needs sunglasses himself — and when he snatches a pair off the latest robber sticking up his bank, it's Guy's first step to realising that he's actually a non-playable character in a video game. Sporting an upbeat mood best captured by its frequent use of Mariah Carey's 'Fantasy', Free Guy enjoys its time in Free City, which is also the game's title. There's a story behind its NPC protagonist's story, however, with the movie splitting its focus between its Grand Theft Auto-esque virtual world and reality. In the latter, coder Millie uses the Molotov Girl avatar, which she needs to search for evidence for a lawsuit against tech-bro hotshot Antwan (Taika Waititi, The Suicide Squad). She's certain that Free City rips off her own game, but needs Guy's help to prove it, especially as he starts breaking his programming, making his own decisions and becoming sentient.

Read our full review.

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THE ICE ROAD

They're called ice road truckers and, between 2007–17, they earned their own reality TV series on the History Channel. They're the folks who don't just drive while it's frosty, but steer big rigs onto frozen lakes and rivers in Alaska and Canada — using routes obviously only available in winter to haul freight from one point to another. And, they're the focus of The Ice Road. In his latest stock-standard action flick following Honest Thief and The Marksman in the past year alone, Liam Neeson joins the ice road trucking fraternity, although his character only does so as a last resort. A seasoned long-haul driver, Mike McCann has had trouble holding down a job ever since he started caring for his Iraq War veteran brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas, The Forger), who came home with PTSD and aphasia, and is also a gifted mechanic. The pair have just been fired from their latest gig, in fact, when they see Jim Goldenrod's (Laurence Fishburne, Where'd You Go, Bernadette) callout for help driving gas wellheads to a remote Manitoba site where 26 miners have been trapped by an explosion. It's a dangerous task, and one that calls for three trucks making the distance as quickly and carefully as possible. Mike and Gurty set out in one vehicle, Jim in another, and Native American driver Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, Roswell, New Mexico) and mining company insurance agent Tom Varnay (Benjamin Walker, The Underground Railroad) hop into the third rig, but transporting their cargo and saving the buried workers is a tense and treacherous mission.

Much about The Ice Road will sound familiar to anyone who's seen Sorcerer, William Friedkin's stellar 1977 thriller about trucking volatile dynamite along a rocky South American road — which adapted 1950 French novel The Salary of Fear, a book that first reached cinemas via 1953's Cannes Palme d'Or-winning The Wages of Fear. This isn't an acknowledged remake, but icy, however. It'd be far better if it was, because the tension that ripples from simply driving along the titular route is The Ice Road's strongest element. In the feature's first half, after setting the scene for both the McCanns and the miners, writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh (Kill the Irishman) stresses the perils of trucking down frozen rivers. Bobbleheads placed on dashboards wobble whenever the ice threatens to become unstable, pressure waves shimmer and action-movie stress bubbles within the film's gleaming white images. That'd be enough to sustain the movie, but Hensleigh believes otherwise, which is where predictable double-crossing on the ice, among the stranded miners and back at company headquarters comes in. Even Neeson can't make the long list of cliches that fill The Ice Road's script entertaining, not that he seems to be trying all that hard. He's gruff and grizzled, and he yells, punches and fights for what's right, but he also just makes viewers wish they were watching him confront wolves in excellent survival thriller The Grey, or drive a snowplough in the average Cold Pursuit. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the cast fare just as badly, including the thoroughly wasted Fishburne and Midthunder, and Mindhunter's Holt McCallany as one of the miners.

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If you're wondering what else is currently screening in cinemas — or has been lately — check out our rundown of new films released in Australia on March 4, March 11, March 18 and March 25; and April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22 and April 29; May 6, May 13, May 20 and May 27; June 3, June 10, June 17 and June 24; July 1, July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29; and August 5.

You can also read our full reviews of a heap of recent movies, such as Chaos Walking, Raya and the Last Dragon, Max Richter's Sleep, Judas and the Black Messiah, Girls Can't Surf, French Exit, Saint Maud, Godzilla vs Kong, The Painter and the Thief, Nobody, The Father, Willy's Wonderland, Collective, Voyagers, Gunda, Supernova, The Dissident, The United States vs Billie Holiday, First Cow, Wrath of Man, Locked Down, The Perfect Candidate, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Ema, A Quiet Place Part II, Cruella, My Name Is Gulpilil, Lapsis, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Fast and Furious 9, Valerie Taylor: Playing with Sharks, In the Heights, Herself, Little Joe, Black Widow, The Sparks Brothers, Nine Days, Gunpowder Milkshake, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Old, Jungle Cruise and The Suicide Squad.

Published on August 12, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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