Dallas IFF: Sunday (4/11) – ‘Lovers of Hate,’ ‘Earthling’

I’m considering calling the 2010 Dallas International Film FestivalInternationale!“, spoken with the exclamation point.  It’s still a mouthful, but it’s fun to say.

“There is something special about every kid.”  “Bulls**t!”

A queasy comedy of disdain, Brian Poyser’s Lovers of Hate is about two brothers and the woman they both think they want.  Rudy (Chris Doubek) is so childish and abrasive that he consumes all the good will around him without returning anything of substance.  Sensitive brother Paul (Alex Karpovsky) is a huge success as an author of children’s fantasy novels that mirror Harry Potter right down to the cartoonish dust-cover artwork.  Diana (the delightful Heather Kafka), disgusted with ex Rudy, has recently thrown him out and decides to meet with Paul at his Tahoe resort.  But neither of them is aware that Rudy has accessed Paul’s condo and is the cause of every uncomfortable or unpleasant moment over the course of their weekend.

When we first see Rudy, he is living out of his car, attempting to take a bath using a self-serve carwash.  Rudy appears so incapable of forward movement that it’s a wonder he has made it to this point in his life.  And that works well at first, but once the scene moves to Paul’s condo, Rudy becomes a more pathetic character by leaps and bounds.  That he’s mining the existing flaws in Paul and Diana’s connection is obvious, but ultimately the film’s sense of humor can’t keep up with its rising discomfort.

The only criticism is that the story’s resolution feels soft.  A character as unlikeable as Rudy deserves a) comeuppance, or b) to gain some explicit insight into how miserable others perceive him to be, but neither comes across in the end.  Rudy appears impenetrable.

Still, a fine piece of work by Poyser and his terrific cast.

“You want an aspirin?”

Yes.

Earthling is Clay Liford’s seeming attempt at a Moon-style contemporary science fiction story, but what we get is more Battlefield Earth-confounding than The Clone Returns Home-contemplative.  Okay…let me start again:

Earthling wants to be one of those sly science fiction tales that doesn’t rely on special effects but instead plumbs the emotions of people affected by strange, unpleasant circumstances that cannot be easily explained, but definitely cannot be ignored.  Unfortunately, the script doesn’t provide much for the audience to go on other than some half-Lynch (the roar of the maelstrom), half-Cronenberg (manipulations of The Flesh) influences and a very weird mystery that somehow connects an atmospheric event, an astronaut, an infertile housewife, a pot-smoking student, a lake and a character we shall call Oh Yeah, That’s Peter Greene (there is also a character we will call So That’s What Happened To William Katt, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Judith (Rebecca Spence) is involved in a car accident, causing her to miscarry and begin forming two small bumps on her forehead she assumes are tumors.  This happens just seconds after a space station intercepts a strange seed pod, causing the crew to turn on each other.  Judith begins hallucinating, and when she comes in contact with Abby (Amelia Turner), she doubles over in pain, as if taking a knife to the head.  Abby explains that there is a connection between them, and others, that Judith doesn’t understand.  But Judith sees Abby as the new student who smokes a lot of pot, so she can’t take her very seriously.  Visions of an astronaut and a seed pod begin to cause her more concern, and soon she is struggling to learn what’s going on.

And apparently so was writer/director Clay Liford.  Once we get past the initial, eerie scenes and demand some answers, the film gets bogged down in endless scenes of hand-wringing, flimsy exposition and preposterous connections.  When your story requires the late appearance of a book on “psycho-gravimetrics” and no one tells you what that means?  You know you’re screwed.

And even if you can overlook the grasping nature of the plot, the film is far too slow to get to the point.  There are numerous repetitious scenes where characters don’t appear to be grasping what’s happening, and others that simply feel disjointed and poorly put together.  Peter Greene’s acting style is so counter to every other cast member that it feels like he’s stepped in from a different film.  And scenes involving the astronaut feel completely displaced from the rest of the story.

And yes, William Katt (Ralph Hinkley, that’s who!) shows up as the astronaut’s father, who gets to provide a crucial piece of information.  But by then, no one really cares.

Bottom line?  Earthling is an eye-roller.

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