The Screen Critic: Car mayhem, a stellar tribute to John Farnham, and a heartbreaking story

May 19, 2023
Vin Diesel in Fast X (Universal); John Farnham: Finding the Voice (Sony); Michael J Fox in Still (AppleTV). Source: Supplied

Buckle up and hold tight.

Fans of the hugely popular Fast & Furious film franchise will be utterly delirious with delight over how eager Fast X is to please with its signature blend of mega-sized action, family values and chronic over-acting.

Powered by heavy weaponry and suped-up street machines, our car-loving hero Dom (Vin Diesel) does battle with new enemy Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa), a cheeky adversary with devilish facial hair and a dandy dress sense.

The typically frenetic storytelling involves the usual jumble of colliding sub-plots, the overarching theme being the threats posed to Dom’s cherished family, in particular his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and son Brian (Leo Abelo Perry). A crucifix is prominently featured, showing they are all strengthened by their spiritual bond as well.

All of that matters, of course – but not quite as much as all the marvellously over-the-top action mayhem and vehicular chases, including a race to save the Pope from a giant bomb as it rolls through the streets of Rome towards Vatican City (you can’t make this stuff up, folks).

So, enjoy – just remember to bring your earplugs. This might not be the best in the series, but it’s probably the loudest.    

A fitting tribute to the definitive Australian pop artist, John Farnham: Finding the Voice is a very good, lovingly made biographical documentary charting his early success, subsequent struggles for credibility and eventual maturation as a musical artist.

Replete with archival footage (including home movies of Farnham as a child) and interviews, the film does a sturdy job covering the highs and lows of a remarkable career, with manager and friend Glenn Wheatley a central part of the story.

Though the film makes no mention of his smoking, it does include some thorny content, such as his awkward fronting of the Little River Band and the curse of his first monster hit Sadie (The Cleaning Lady), which became something of an albatross.

Those who liked the first one will love Book Club: The Next Chapter as four close friends – beautifully played by Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton – celebrate the end of Covid travel restrictions by going on a long-delayed trip to Italy.

Made with the same bubbly spirit as the first film by the same director and co-writer (Bill Holderman & Erin Simms), each character develops to a very satisfying point, with the finale being both clever and moving.

Thankfully, it’s not the cash-in sequel some might have feared, and there’s plenty of naughty talk and innuendo as the foursome drives across the attractive landscape.          

For arthouse fiends, there are plenty of choice offerings, with the excellent French action-thriller November being the most mainstream with its compelling recreation of the frantic manhunt that followed the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 as the authorities tried to prevent another massacre.

At the other end of the spectrum is Limbo, a near-silent outback noir drama about a white police officer (Simon Baker) assigned to investigate a cold case about the disappearance of an indigenous girl 20 years earlier.

Written and directed by Ivan Sen (Mystery Road), it’s a strong mood piece with a deceptively slight story, masterfully shot in black and white. Those who appreciate the cinematic art of stillness will find a lot to engage with here.

For anyone up for a more raucous assault on their senses, Infinity Pool offers a singularly perverse mashing of horror and science fiction as a failed writer and his wife go for a holiday on a remote island and encounter a lot of stuff that wasn’t in the brochure. The party is written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David.

Set in modern-day Morocco, The Blue Caftan is an extremely well-directed, intimate drama about an ailing woman who begins to suspect her hard-working husband has been harbouring a deep sexual secret when they hire an attractive, equally dedicated young man to help out in their successful caftan shop.

The idea might feel familiar, yet director Maryam Touzani brings a great deal of poignancy as the wife slowly realizes what is going on.

Thankfully stepping away from all those low-grade action films (for the moment, anyway) Liam Neeson does a pretty good job in Marlowe as the latest actor to step into the shoes of the private investigator created by author Raymond Chandler and made famous by Humphrey Bogart.

Wisely, Neeson’s advancing age is made part of the story and, to his credit, he makes a meal of the role opposite a strong cast that includes Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Houston and Alan Cumming.

The well-known battle Michael J Fox has had with Parkinson’s Disease is given a fresh perspective in the outstanding AppleTV feature documentary Still.

Narrated by Fox using text from his books, his life is illustrated using clips from his films that have been deftly re-edited to tell his story, which is at once remarkable, inspiring and heartbreaking.

From an energetic, struggling young actor landing bit parts in TV shows that couldn’t cover his rent, we see how Fox’s fortunes boomed, first with the sitcom Family Ties, then by the Back to the Future films, replacing Eric Stoltz as the lead star.

Most affecting is Fox’s account of the disease’s gradual onset and the lengths he went to trying to hide it from co-workers and fans – not an easy thing to do on television.

Adopting a distinct pity-me-not attitude, the film includes contemporary interview snippets with Fox and scenes of him working with his physical therapist, trying to walk without aid and without falling.

It’d be a rare egg indeed who could see this extraordinary film without being touched.

For more visit with updates on Twitter at @jimschembri  



Keen to share your thoughts with other 60-pluses? You can sign up as a contributor and submit your stories to Starts at 60. While you’re at it, why not join the Starts at 60 Bloggers Club to talk to other writers in the Starts at 60 community and learn more about how to write for Starts at 60.


Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up