BIOSPHERE (USA 2022) **
Directed by Mel Eslyn
BIOSPHERE is the type of low budget smart-ass drama comedy typical the Duplass Brothers. Their films include their debut feature THE PUFFY CHAIR followed by BAGHEAD and others. Their films are an acquired taste as can be seen in BIOSPHERE’s first segment. BIOSPHERE is directed by Mel Eslyn and stars Mark Duplass, one of the brothers. Other brother Jay serves as executive producer.
The film opens in the not-too-distant future. Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown), lifelong best friends, brothers from another mother are seen jogging and making small talk and arguing while jogging in an enclosure, the BIOSPHERE. They discuss, yes, of all things “The Mario Brothers”. One has to be deemed the hero, Mario and the other the sidekick or brains or stable man behind the scenes. Luigi. They make lively discussions if you consider these little small talk amusing. If you think the small talk is a waste of time, and that you can do better with your time, best forget this movie, as what follows, segment after segment will likely annoy the hell out of you. On the other hand, if you are in this kind of humour, you might be in for a treat.
It is soon revealed that Billy and Ray happen to be the last two men on earth. Their
survival is largely due to Ray, a brilliant scientist who designed the custom biosphere they call home, outfitting it with both creature comforts and the necessities to sustain life on a doomed planet. When the population of their fishpond—which supplies essential protein—begins waning, the men find themselves facing an ominous future.
So the question is what is this film supposed to be? It is a bromance or sci-fi survival parody? Or perhaps a coming-of-age passage for two overgrown men child? Or perhaps there is some hidden lesson amidst all that transpires. Or maybe it all really does not matter,
Unless one is a Duplass fan, BIOSPHERE feels like a talkie in which nothing really concrete is being said. The dialogue is not as smart as the writers Duplass and Brown think they are. Neither is it that humorous but just as annoying as listening to two strangers arguing about nothing, the two being stuck in a biosphere and having to survive one another makes everything the more torturous. When one of their fish (the female) dies and there is no more mating and hence no more protein to be had (they probably should have grown soya beans and made tofu) their existence is at stake. There is one intriguing fact about the fish changing sex to survive like the clownfish, which the film references. Clownfish carry both female and male reproductive organs. In the female-dominated clownfish community, the female is the largest fish. She mates only with the breeding male, usually the second-largest and most aggressive male in the community. The rest of the community are made up of sexually immature males. When the female dies, the breeding male will get first choice of food and begin to gain weight, eventually becoming female.
The apparent message in the whole exercise is whether man has the capacity to change under extenuating circumstances. Maybe if one is forced to sit through these 90 minutes of male brother bonding rubbish, one might, though not really likely. BIOSPHERE is recommended for Duplass fans.
But the film gets a below pass rating for the one reason is that it is extremely intersex racist. Billy goes through a whole segment speaking at how embarrassed he is or unable to cope with his testicles disappearing. The filmmakers should be sensitive towards the intersex community, and in this respect, this film is extremely racist and unforgivable.
BIOSPHERE premiered in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival last yer and opens in theatres and on VOD July the 7th.
THE CRUSADES (USA 2023) **
Directed by Leo Milano
For many, high school is supposed to be defined by wild parties, backseat hook-ups and a devil-may-care attitude. But, when three friends at Our Lady of the Crusades, an all-boys high school, receive earth-shattering news about an upcoming merger with their rivals, they make a pact to have one last, epic weekend before their lives turn upside down. Along the way, however, they unknowingly make a dangerous enemy, "The Wrecking Crew", hell-bent on settling their vendetta at all costs. While dodging the authorities, love affairs and their sadistic archrivals, the choices they make over the weekend might end up changing their lives more than they ever could have imagined.
The raucous comedy is directed by Leo Milano and co-written with the other writers, based on his own high school days. The good looking Rudy Pankow playing Leo Grecco is assumed to be Milano’s alter-ego in the film. Pankow is well-built, handsome and able to do silly but cool antics with his hands, something he gets to do repeatedly in the film. Other than that, he is shown to be a smart-ass trying to hit on a teacher and getting too smart for his own good. Sometimes he tries too hard to be cool as in the scene when he is biting on a toothpick during a party as if that is the coolest thing on the planet. It is not and quite a disgusting habit. In the end, Leo turns out more of an annoying egoistic personality than the self-doubting hero that would have been more appropriate in the story. The other secondary character that appears a lot is another goof-ball played by Ryan Ashton as Jack, who almost gets beaten up in a rival fight but saved by arriving cops.
There is little to no background on each of the high school kids, which thus portray them as forgettable and cardboard personalities. Only one scene references Pankow’s parents but no parent is ever on show. There is as a result, no grounding narrative with the film moving along from comedic set piece to set piece. The actors playing the high school kids like older than high school students, looking at best like college students. The actors playing the teachers are funnier than the students, especially the gym/weight-lifting coach Krieger (Nicholas Turturro) who has a mouth larger than muscles. The film’s funniest scene is the one when the latter gives his ‘must-bulk-up-sissies’ speech to his gym class belittling every single one in the process.
` The film moves into serious mode during the last third. The transition from comedy to drama is uneven and ends up quite contrived, despite director’s Milano’s good intentions for storytelling his own personal experiences. The romantic fling between Leo and love interest does not generate much interest either..
Though the comedic set-pieces are funny enough, a few times even eliciting loud laughs, THE CRUSADES fails to ground itself as a memorable drama, which is what it intended to be.
THE CRUSADES premieres theatrically and day-and-date on VOD on July the 7th, 2023.
THE OUT-LAWS (USA 2023) ***
Directed by Tyson Spindel
Owen Browning (Adam Devine) is a straight-laced bank manager about to marry the love of his life, Parker (Nina Dobrev). When his bank is held up by the infamous Ghost Bandits during his wedding week, he believes his future in-laws (Pierce Brosnan, Ellen Barkin) who just arrived in town, are the infamous Out-Laws.
As a comedy, not so much as an action comedy though the film by necessity contains some shoot-out scenes including a bank heist, the film is a hit and miss. Watching it as a Netflix original comedy, there is less at stake and audiences will be more forgivable at the OUT-LAWS not being as funny as it should be. THE OUT-LAWS is not as funny as Adam Sandler (Sandler is co-producer) as his MURDER MYSTERY comedies.
There are a few inspired segments like the one in which Owen dresses up in a Shrek costume while robbing a bank. Own is silly as he is and wearing a Shrek mask i quite hilarious,
THE OUT-LAWS benefits from an apt comedic cast who manages to provide laugh-out loud humour despite many missis amidst the many hit-and- miss jokes. The film takes a while to land on its feet and the humour in the first third just staggers along
A lot of weight of the film’s co edit success lies in the hands of Pierce Brosnan, ex-James Bond (he has starred in no fewer than 4 Bond films) and also delved into Hedy (MRS. DOUBTFIRE and this one), also demonstrating his ability to sing MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN, which won him some notoriety, whether good or bad. InTHE OUT-LAWS he gets to show some dancing moves in the wedding segment at the end of the film. Borsnan, being Irish, gets to do an Irish accent. Ellen Barkin plays Brosnann’s wife in the OUT-LAWS, she is also Irish and has made her name in films like DINER and THE BIG EASY. They make good comedic couple as well as one you wish you would not have to deal with.
Of the other in-laws, Richard Kidd has always proven himself apt in comedy being in the Chipmunk films and other comedies. Kind plays illy at his best. Julie Haggerty from AIRPLANE! is also funny at heart.
The lead character falls into the hands of comedian singer Adam Devine who is best known for his PITCH PERfECT roles and the voice in the BATMAN LEGO movie. Divine co-produced this comedy with Adam Sandler under the Happy Madison Films banner and Devine is quite funny in his man-child role, the kind of role made famous by Sandler who has not gone into some serious roles and more serious outings.
Not as funny are Poorna Janannathan (Tunisian actress) as the chief villain, Michael Rooker as Agent Oldman or Dobrev as Owen’s fiancé.
Do not go out of the way to watch this forgettable comedy about weddings and in-laws. Sporadically funny at parts, but a bit too much swearing and violence for the family, it still makes warm and funny entertainment in the living room, the kind Netflix infamous for putting out. THE OUT-LAWS gets a bare pass.
THE LESSON (UK/Germany 2022) ***
Directed by Alice Troughton
The film opens with a celebrated author being interviewed on stage. “What exactly is it that drew you to tell this story?” asks the interviewer. What happens on screen for the next hour and 45 minutes or so answers the question.
Liam (Daryl McCormack), an aspiring and ambitious young writer, eagerly accepts a tutoring position at the family estate of his idol, renowned author J.M. Sinclair (Academy Award nominee Richard E. Grant). But soon, Liam realizes that he is ensnared in a web of family secrets, resentment, and retribution. Sinclair, his wife Hélène (Academy Award nominee Julie Delpy), and their son Bertie (Stephen McMillan) all guard a dark past, one that threatens Liam’s future as well as their own. As the lines between master and protégé blur, class, ambition, and betrayal become a dangerous combination in this taut noir thriller.
The synopsis above indicates that there is more than Liam’s success that forms the plot of this literary mystery heightened melodrama. It is a melodrama hidden in the guise of a grand literary work. There are the skeletons in the closet of the Sinclair family and the coming-of-age of not only the son Bertie but of the budding author, who at the time of hiring of the tutor is a nobody.
From the film’s title implies that there is only one lesson to be learnt or taught, Liam delivers many lessons to Bertie, each one to be approved by the mother. The purpose of Liam’s hiring is to ensure the son , Bertie gets into Oxford by passing the so-called difficult entrance exams, which Liam is supposed to know all the insides out. The film unravels like a play with the words, prologue followed by the different acts that are plastered on the screen. What this one lesson is is up to the audience to figure out.
The film features rising star Daryl McCormack in the leading role of the tutor. For those unfamiliar, this Irish born actor has already made his name in the U.K. after winning the BFTA award as Best Actor opposite Emma Thompson in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, RICO GRANDE. He is unafraid to show off his good looks and shows some skin in THE LESSON when he undresses to jump in the water for a swim. Richard E. Grant also fares well as the stiff upper lipped Sinclair..
Despite a few cliched moments in the plot points, THE LESSON moves on at a sustained and intriguing pace, making it good sort of flaky literary entertaining fare. As they say, don’t expect too much and one should not get disappointed.
But the film arrives with high expectations. The Lesson recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where Alexandra Heller-Nicholas from AWFJ (Alliance Of Women Film Journalists) said that it was “one of the most fun and fascinating movies of the year thus far.” The film opens in Canadian (and U.S.) theatres on July the 7th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and other Cineplex locations.
TIGER WITHIN (PLAN A) (Israel/Germany 2022) ***
Directed by Doron Paz and Yoav Paz
“Just because the war is over, it does not mean we can’t kill Jews anymore.” says a German man who, the audience assumes, has taken over the house of a returning Jew, after the German has struck the Jew’s head with the butt of his rifle. The German’s wife and son look on. This is the beginning scene of PLAN A. It is clear that the earth of the audience is sought, at the injustice done on the Jews. The voiceover can also be heard: “What if your entire family has been killed…. you parents and children. All killed for no reason. What would you do?” The film obviously asks the same question to the audience of this controversial film. This opening segment is the most effective one in the film, a scene that is revisited once more later on in the film.
PLAN A is based on a true story - the audience is informed. PLAN A is based on the incredible true story of the “Avengers,” a group of Jewish vigilantes, men and woman, who after surviving the holocaust are vowing to avenge the death of their people by poisoning the water supplies in German cities and to kill six million Germans, one for every Jew slaughtered by the Nazis – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” In reality, there exists a Plan B and Plan C.
The trouble with the plan is the fallout from the poisoning. There will be innocent people who will be poisoned and die and children. The Jews would therefore be just as guilty and not much better than the Nazis. The plans also come into other problems, like securing the tasteless, colourless and odourless, thus undetectable poison for the water.
The film spends a lot of time on the individual characters of the story, which is not as interesting and dwarfs the main matter at hand. One is already sympathetic to the plight of the Jews but the film keeps hammering the point, with a lot of the film’s dialogue reminding the audience of the concentration camps. There is one good point brought out by a character in the film: “There are so many of you prisoners in the camps, in the long lines that outnumber the Germans. How come you Jews never go to do anything but just follow the lines to the gas chamber.”
The film is in English and a German/Israel co-production though the film’s dialogue is often muffled. The atmosphere and dim mood of the period piece look convincing enough.
If after viewing the film, one wishes more information on the subject after whetting the appetite, here is where it can be sought, check out: 'An eye for an eye': The Jews who sought to poison six million Germans to avenge the Holocaust - Israel News - haaretz.com.
PLAN A achieves its purpose of reminding the world of the horror of the killing of innocent Jews in the concentration camps and that the only true revenge is to show the enemy that an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is not the way to go.
The film is available on numerous VOD platforms such as Apple TV, Prime Video (to buy/rent), GooglePlay, Vudu, Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, Verizon, DIRECTV, Frontier, and Dish from July the 7th.