Baring all: Actor Michael J Fox opens up in the bio-documentary ‘Still’.
STILL **** (95 minutes) M
The well-publicized fight actor Michael J Fox has had with Parkinson’s Disease over the past few decades receives refreshed perspective in Still, an outstanding feature documentary charting his rise to fame before becoming afflicted with the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease.
Using text from his books, Fox narrates the story of his life, with director Davis Guggenheim – An Inconvenient Truth; Waiting for Superman; He Named Me Malala – cleverly re-editing clips from Fox’s films to illustrate a story that is at once remarkable, inspiring and heart-breaking.
We follow Fox from his boisterous childhood, to his struggles as a young actor getting bit parts in low-paying shows before his fortunes blossomed, first with the hit sitcom Family Ties, then via the Back to the Future trilogy, lucking into the lead role after Eric Stoltz was deemed, at huge cost, to be unsuitable.
The film’s most affecting chapter is Fox’s account of the disease’s slow onset, his first inkling that something was wrong and how hard he tried to keep it a secret from colleagues and fans.
Thankfully, Fox adopts a distinct pity-me-not attitude; contemporary interview snippets lay bare the debilitating effects of the condition on his speech while scenes of him with his physical therapist show the effort involved in walking without falling.
Make no mistake: the film is a testing sit, though deeply worthwhile. Should you manage to get through it without being moved, check for a pulse. You might have already moved on.
JOHN FARNHAM: FINDING THE VOICE ***1/2 (95 minutes) M
A fitting, lovingly made tribute to a singer who evolved into the definitive Australian pop artist, John Farnham: Finding the Voice is a very good, richly detailed biographical documentary that chronicles Farnham’s stellar, decidedly bumpy career, from his early easy success, subsequent struggles for credibility and with poor management to his artistic resurrection and eventual status as a serious solo artist.
Doubling as a salute to Farnham’s manager and close friend Glenn Wheatley (who died February 2022), the film is replete with reels of archival footage, from home movies of Farnham as a boisterous child to his latter-day concerts.
Efficient to a fault, with a wide range of interviews, the film does a fine job spotlighting the highs and lows of Farnham’s remarkable career, including the thorny time he awkwardly replaced Glenn Shorrock as the lead singer of the Little River Band.
As songwriter Graeham Goble states bluntly, Farnham became such a dominating presence on stage the other members began feeling like his backing band.
Equally cutting was how the band’s debts from unsuccessful albums became Farnham’s financial burden.
Oddly, the film makes no mention of Farnham’s lifelong smoking habit – there is only a fleeting photo of him with a cigarette – or of his ventures into television, such as his short-lived 1970s sitcom Bobby Dazzler. Good as it is, the film does feel somewhat short with these glaring omissions.
And wasn’t he once featured on the wrapper of an ice cream called King of Pop? One can only hope a longer cut of the documentary exists that will address this important question.
And, of course, there is the curse of his first monster hit single Sadie (The Cleaning Lady), a novelty song that became something of an albatross right up until the moment he decided to liberate himself by owning it instead of denying it. One of many great career moves.
Highly entertaining and with many revelations – the most startling of which is the story behind his anthemic signature song You’re the Voice – the film will engross his fans, which by now includes most of the Australian populace.
LIMBO **** (108 minutes) MA
In Ivan Sen’s haunting, near-silent outback noir drama, Travis Hurley ((Simon Baker), a white, soulless police officer with a drug problem and a crisis of faith, is sent to a remote, desolate town to investigate a cold case about an indigenous girl who disappeared 20 years earlier.
Masterfully shot in black-and-white and featuring a remarkable sound design – even the middle of nowhere has its own unique soundtrack, it seems – Sen infuses his deceptively slight story with a slow-burn style, suggesting how every utterance and encounter has hidden depths pointing to the truth about the case and the forgotten community.
With terrific, taciturn performances from Baker and Rob Collins, Limbo is an evocative, visually pungent mood piece.
Though it’s definitely not for everyone – one can easily see how the film could exhaust the patience of some people – those who appreciate the cinematic art of sculpting stillness should find plenty to engage with, especially with the ever-topical theme of how so many First Nations people have been abandoned in a scarred landscape that has been plundered for its wealth, none of which has remained.
THE BLUE CAFTAN ***1/2 (122 minutes; subtitled) M
Set largely in a lucrative caftan tailoring shop in the strictly Islamic country of Morocco, Mina (Lubna Azabal) begins to suspect her hard-working husband Halim (Saleh Bakri) has been concealing a deep secret when they hire Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), an attractive, equally industrious young man to help out in their popular boutique.
Though the story idea of hidden sexuality might be familiar, writer/director Maryam Touzani brings a great deal of poignancy to an extremely well-directed, intimate drama that deserves plaudits for its subtlety, character nuance and its daring exploration of a topic deemed transgressive by local custom.
MARLOWE *** (110 minutes) MA
Thankfully moving away from all those C-grade action films – for the moment, at least – Liam Neeson does a fairly decent job as the latest actor to step into the shoes of Philip Marlowe, the cynical investigator created by pulp author Raymond Chandler and made famous by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.
Now 70, Neeson’s vintage is wisely made part of the story as he explores the case of a man who should be dead, but might not be. He stars opposite a strong cast that includes Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Houston and the versatile Alan Cumming.
No big surprises here, but director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game; Michael Collins; Interview with the Vampire) cobbles together a handsome homage to the hard-boiled detective yarns of yore.