Another week, another savior for the film industry. This time it is Black Adam, a longtime comic book character and passion project for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. George Clooney and Julia Roberts can compete with theirs Ticket to heaven? And can a medical mystery or a science fiction mystery compete? They are part of a very diverse roster this week that also includes a visit with Buffy Sainte-Marie and a provocative look at how movies in general show us women. Here is the list:

Ticket to Heaven: 3 stars

Black Adam: 2 ½

The good nurse: 4

The Peripheral: 3 ½

Buffy Sainte-Marie Continues: 4

Brainwashed sexual camera power: 3½

TICKET TO PARADISE: Two famous movie stars on a tropical vacation. How much more escapism and fun could that be? Much more unfortunately. George Clooney and Julia Roberts are back in a romantic comedy after many years away from the genre, but the result is mild, almost bland, certainly predictable to the end. Trace the lineage to see why. The director, Ol Parker, directed one of the oh mama film and wrote both Exotic Marigold Hotel movie. This is similar but with much less zip.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Clooney and Roberts play a divorced couple who are forced to spend time together again (you know, adjacent seats assigned on an airliner, neighboring hotel rooms, that sort of thing). Their adult daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) took a trip to Bali before attending law school, she met a local boy, a seaweed farmer (Maxime Bouttier) and will marry him. So, the parents come to attend the wedding but also sabotage it. There are many scenes of cultural clash, not being able to understand the language spoken there, misinterpreting the status of a cultural site and so on. Meanwhile, they chat and argue, come out of some funny but too few jokes. They have chemistry; could probably do a similar act to Tracy and Hepburn, but that would require better writing and more lines. The film is undemanding and simply enjoyable. (in the rooms) 3 out of 5

BLACK ADAM: Do you like action? You find a lot of them here. It is almost non-stop. Keep coming to you big and loud, designed for the giant IMAX screen. And a story to tie all of this together? Well, that’s a problem. It is a task to follow and to make sense of. Maybe comic fans who know this character won’t have much trouble with it, but the rest of us do. Apparently not Dawyne (The Rock) Johnson. He read the comics and fought for years to make this movie. A real passion project. He and director Jaume Collet-Serra should have put more effort into making sure he communicates to everyone.

As far as I know, there was a kingdom called Khandaq thousands of years ago in what appears to be the Middle East where a tyrant controlled people and forced them to work in mines to dig a rare mineral. A boy rebelled, was punished and imprisoned in a cave. In our time an archaeologist frees him. Now he’s fully grown and played by The Rock, and with divine powers (he can shoot sparks, fly and do all sorts of things), he becomes a crime fighter.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

He has no qualms about using violence, though, and this puts him in conflict with other benefactors in The Justice Society of America which includes Hawkman, Atom Smasher, Cyclone and Doctor Fate, played by Pierce Brosnan. The debate on the ethics of violence is positive but short. The action takes over and it is likely to keep coming. An extra scene in the credits seems to point like this. (In many cinemas) 2 ½ out of 5

THE GOOD NURSE: Here is a psychological thriller that tells a true story and at the same time makes fun of the US medical system. And he does it with excellent acting, especially from Eddie Redmayne. He plays a nurse, a new employee at a Pennsylvania hospital, where Jessica Chastain welcomes his help from her. She is overworked, she is a single mother and is slowed down by a heart problem. She cannot afford to take a break from an operation because she is still waiting for the start of her health insurance. The new, friendly and helpful nurse is a godsend. For a while.

Courtesy of Netflix

A couple of ICU patients die unexpectedly. The hospital administrators don’t think about it, but Jessica’s character does. She suspects Charlie, the new nurse, but she is forbidden to talk to two police detectives who come to ask questions. Also, she doesn’t get any cooperation from the previous hospitals where Charlie worked. They do not investigate suspects so as not to jeopardize their profits. The film creates a thick aura of anticipation as the story unfolds. Redmayne makes us guess, he has a brilliant acting flash when the police question him (even a useless outburst) and a very moving final scene with Chastain. Tobias Lindholm, the director, is Danish making his English debut. Beautifully. (In theaters in 10 cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary and soon on Netflix) 4 out of 5

THE PERIPHERAL: Vancouver resident and very popular science fiction writer William Gibson is underrepresented in movies. There’s a movie and some TV series scripts on his resume. This will immensely increase his presence. It’s a six-part series that will draw you in like a mystery and keep you engaged with ideas and perceptions of the future. I’ve only previewed four episodes so far, but here’s what I’ve learned.

Courtesy of Prime Video

Chloë Grace Moretz plays a young woman from the American South (where Gibson is originally from) who experiences virtual reality. Her brother (Jack Reynor) makes her wear an experimental headset she just got and she is transported into her mind in London 70 years into the future. She reports that she wasn’t virtual. She looked real. Suddenly there is a bounty on her, her brother and maybe her sick mother too. Why, we don’t know. The third episode provides part of an answer. I am waiting for more. Meanwhile, her brother’s friends are ex-soldiers who sit around a bonfire and talk. He offers a job. In that future London, something called “the jackpot” killed most of the people and two more environmental disasters happened. “Our past. Your future,” someone says. There is much more: peripherals are mental transfers. Cars appear and disappear. There are parallel times existing at the same time. A woman in the future and a businessman now are involved in some way. I can’t wait to have the rest in this well-acted, well-organized and very intriguing series. (Prime Video) 3 ½ out of 5

BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: CONTINUE: You’ll learn a lot more than you knew about the Canadian-born indigenous singer, activist and artist in this lively and enlightening documentary. And you will feel his commitment to whatever project he undertakes, controversial or not. As she says: “The world is either wrong or it hasn’t arrived yet.”

Courtesy of White Pine Pictures

His song Universal Soldier, probably his best known, blames “you and me” for allowing wars to happen. His Codeine song is about doctors over prescribing opiates. Until It’s Time for You To Go is one of the first feminist anthems. She talks about it all in this film, as well as fans like Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Taj Mahal and Alanis Obomsawin. You will hear accolades such as “intensity”, “passion” and “life understood”. And you’ll have stories you’ve never heard before: her experiences in the record industry, the day one of Elvis Presley’s men called and how she rocked Hollywood. Also, tragically, she was molested as a child. However, she is upbeat and smiling, and the Madison Thomas (partly indigenous Winnipeg indigenous) film has a rousing ending that fits perfectly. (Now streaming on CRAVE) 4 out of 5

BRAIN WASH: SEX-CHAMBER-POWER: Here’s a demonstration documentary that movie fans should see and likely will discuss long after. Clarifies the “male gaze” in the movies. It is not a surprise; movies love to show us beautiful women, but Nina Menkes goes beyond the obvious signs of subtle techniques that most fans don’t even know about but which she might be influenced by. How women are framed on the screen by the cameraman (almost all of them are men) and how they are illuminated. Men get what she calls 3D enlightenment; women get white light.

Courtesy of Kino Lorber

On this he wrote a lecture for his film school course; he published it in a trade magazine and when it went viral he made this film. There is clearly interest in what he says and shows with over 120 clips. You will see how women’s bodies (dressed or not) are lovingly photographed. A shot seen in many films involves the camera moving slowly along a reclining body. Others show women from a man’s corner in the same frame. There are many examples, although on some I disagree with what you think. And her claim that these visual techniques create a culture of rape and discrimination at work goes at least a little too far. I wish it would show more of what female directors have done. Is it a gender difference or just the visual language of the film? It is worth reflecting. (In theaters: Vancouver now, Toronto next Friday) 3½ out of 5



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