Jules - Photo Bleecker Street
Jules – Photo Bleecker Street

Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi”) stars in the comedic drama “Jules,” which might also be called ‘Close Encounters of the Lonely Kind’ or ‘Cocoon’ revisited.

In the quiet western Pennsylvania town of Boonton, not much happens until a UFO lands in the suburban back yard belonging to 78-year-old widower Milton (Kingsley), crushing his carefully-tended azalea bushes.

When befuddled Milton calls 911 to report his distress, his complaint is summarily dismissed, as are his ‘suggestions’ at the weekly meetings of the City Council.

So when Milton spies an injured extraterrestrial (Jade Quon) sprawled on his back steps, he gently covers him with a blanket. Later, seeing the little creature cuddled up in the cold, he empathetically offers him food and invites him to come inside.

Milton’s daughter Denise (Zoe Winters), a veterinarian, has been worried about what she perceives as her father’s cognitive decline ever since she found a can of green beans in his bathroom medicine cabinet.

So when Milton talks about having an alien staying at his home, no one takes him seriously – even when he repeatedly goes to the supermarket to buy apples, the only food his houseguest will consume.

Except jovial Sandy (Harriet Sansom Harris), who appears on Milton’s doorstep, wondering what’s really happening. When she meets Jules – the name Milton’s given to the little fellow who doesn’t speak a word – she feels she’s found a kindred spirit, as does snooping Joyce (Jane Curtin), who prefers to call him Gary.

Meanwhile, attentive, ethereal Jules is trying to fix his damaged spacecraft while giving cryptic drawings of cats to his kindly benefactors.

Superbly directed by Marc Turtletaub from a quirky, captivating script by Gavin Steckler, “Jules” is an absolute gem. What a delight to watch seasoned actors, including professional stunt performer Quon, bring this gently touching sci-fi fantasy to life – with a poignant score by Volker Bertelmann (Oscar-winner for “All Quiet on the Western Front”).

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Jules” is a sweet, insightful 7 – a refreshing, ultimately uplifting summer treat, aimed for seniors, playing in theaters.

Biosphere - Photo IFC Films
Biosphere – Photo IFC Films

Hollywood history is filled with misconceived vanity projects like “Biosphere,” Mark Duplass’ delusionary doomsday dramedy.

Sharing screenwriting credit with first-time feature film director Mel Eslyn, Duplass casts himself as manic, insecure Billy, who was once – briefly – President of the United States. Now, he and his best-buddy Ray (Sterling K. Brown), the last humans left on Earth, are living in the geodesic dome shelter that Ray designed.

Since they’ve dwelled here for quite some time, they spend much of their time bantering, bickering, reading, playing Super Mario Bros. and watching old movies like “Lethal Weapon” and “Jurassic Park.”

As a lighting timer simulates night and day, they’ve developed various routines for keeping themselves and their self-sustaining habitat fit and functional. 

One of these involves utilizing a far-too-tiny fish pond but then – alas! – the last female fish dies. Given his scientific knowledge, pragmatic Ray immediately realizes this could be the end of their food supply but Billy, whom Ray dubs a “giant man-baby,” is slower to respond to their impending starvation crisis.

Curiously, at the same time – one of them starts displaying signs of “accelerated evolution,” meaning shedding some male characteristics and developing female traits.

“Do humans deserve another chance?” Ray wonders as the same kind of gender transition is occurring in the fish pond, prompting one to wonder if anyone’s ever heard of a hermaphrodite. 

While they never reveal what caused the environmental apocalypse that stranded them there, they do become aware of a bright green light that mysteriously appears in the inky black sky – and it seems to be slowly approaching their bunker.

Obviously intended as a provocative social satire, skimming over several hot-button issues, it’s far too ambiguous and superficial to sustain interest and – after almost two hours – the conclusion is a total copout.

On the Granger Gauge, futuristic “Biosphere” is a flustered, frustrating 4, available to rent or buy on Prime Video or Vudu – but don’t bother.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.