The Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival goes all the way.

Blessed Fest 

The Halfway to Hollywood Film Festival goes all the way.

Brian Mossman and the Fine Arts Group of Theatres open their Halfway to Hollywood festival this weekend. The festival already is -- in breadth alone -- one of the city's major cultural events. Over ten days, the festival screens more than fifty films that are, in the tradition of proper wedding etiquette, a mix of the old and new, the borrowed (from such countries as Senegal and Hungary, which aren't thought of as major film nations) and, at least in the case of Nagira Oshima's Taboo, a little blue.

In the category of oldies, the festival's taste-makers reveal their variance by saluting both Stanley Kubrick and cornball sci-fi offerings such as The Man From Planet X. The Kubricks on the plate include the esteemed and iconic Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange in addition to two of his earliest efforts, the low-budget film noirs Killer's Kiss and The Killing.

Kubrick made Killer's Kiss for $75,000 in 1955. Turner Classic Movies historian Robert Osborne says that the movie usually played "on the bottom half of double bills," but it got the young filmmaker noticed -- for the bleak and brutal economy with which it tells its sordid tale of a punch-drunk boxer and a sassy dance hostess, and for the triple-threat talents of its director, who wrote, edited and photographed the picture, only his second. It stars the unschooled but weirdly effective Frank Silvera and Irene Kane (she later had a career as CNN entertainment reporter Chris Chase), who meet when they catch each other peeping across an alley into their respective apartment windows. In brave Prince Charming style, the fighter intends to rescue the damsel from her distressing dance hall boss but not before the pugilist's manager is beaten to a pulp and a wild climactic fight in a mannequin warehouse takes place.

Two years later, Kubrick nearly quadrupled his budget for The Killing, starring perpetual tough guy Sterling Hayden and Marie Windsor, of whom Osborne asks, "Was there ever a better film noir babe?" Though it, too, fizzled at the box office, it is held up today as one of the best crime films ever made. Its playfulness with chronology -- it opens at 7:45 p.m., then lurches back to the morning, then to 3:45 p.m., with the back-and-forth continuing through the film -- reveals the current indie hit Memento to be the mess it really is. Nearly every player involved in the film's racetrack heist is morally bankrupt, perhaps none more so than Windsor, who, in one scene, is threatened by Hayden's "I oughta slap that pretty face into hamburger meat." That nobody talks like that in movies today is both a blessing and a curse.

The festival also premieres Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jan Harlan's two-hour-plus documentary about the legendary filmmaker, featuring clips and chats with such Kubrick devotees as Martin Scorsese, Arthur C. Clarke and Tom Cruise. Brian Jameson of Warner Bros. hosts the June 20 screening.

The new American movies in the festival include George Washington, Larry Clark's Bully and Barbara Sonnenborn's Regret to Inform. Broadcast on PBS earlier this year, the devastating documentary is worth seeing for the way Sonnenborn rattles viewers' expectations. What begins as a movie about the widows of American GIs killed in Vietnam eventually widens its lens to include the survivors of the enemy. Whatever vague abyss separated their husbands some thirty years ago is now erased (and made futile) by a deep bond of irrepressible grief.

Borrowed from almost every continent are such foreign premieres as the soporific Voyages, the 2000 French Oscar nominee The Taste of Others and Senbene Ousmane's Faat Kine from Senegal. The latter is interesting for, if nothing else, being the rare film from that country. But it languishes in soap opera quicksand, pulled ever deeper by self-conscious acting and amateurish photography. Its literal "Who's your daddy?" plot could be enjoyed if you set your expectations low.

Of the films prescreened, Oshima's Taboo may exert the most chutzpah. It's a movie about a crew of shoguns in Kyoto in 1865 suddenly infused with homo panic when an androgynous warrior joins the team. It seems taking same-sex lovers is not that unusual; to "be unsettled" becomes an issue only when it saps strength. Odd, then, that war is offered up as the ultimate aphrodisiac. Taboo features Japanese cult star Beat Takeshi as a sort of shogun foreman whose concerns about whom his troops are bedding turns the focus to his own leanings -- otherwise, his colleagues surmise, why would he be so curious? And when has there been a movie where a fight between two men concludes with a witness's observation of "They're definitely lovers"?

Seaside, Dusk by Andras Fesos starts as a buddy movie about two petty criminals in Budapest, but when one of them loses his sight playing good Samaritan, it veers into stranger territory. A chance pick-up of a ringing public phone brings the maimed con man into the life of a quasi-prostitute. Told in Hungarian, German and English, the film explores loyalty and bitterness with day trips into kink and offers a variation to an Aesopian moral: Here, the consequences of good deeds are usually horrible.

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