2012 Florida Film Festival

The 2012 Florida Film Festival's brightest star is Central Florida itself. Are we ready for our close-up?

Share on Nextdoor

Florida Film Festival 2012

April 13-22 at
Enzian Theater and Regal
Winter Park Village 20
$10 (individual screenings), $50-$180 (ticket packages, $450-$1,000 (various inclusive passes)

For better or worse, but mostly worse, Central Florida has gotten pretty good at being in the national spotlight in the last few years. Media circuses are no longer anything new around these parts – or so we tell ourselves. Central Florida, it seems, has reached its moral adolescence, the point at which it must clear away the haze of bad decisions and wonder where it goes from here.

By happy accident, the 2012 Florida Film Festival has brought in some of the best guidance counselors one can imagine. In addition to celebrity chefs (see sidebar, p. 11) and filmmakers from all over the world, some of whom are here to watch the premiere of their labors of love, the festival welcomes Cloris Leachman with a special screening of Peter Bogdanovich's seminal coming-of-age tale The Last Picture Show as well as writer-director and filmmaking legend Barry Levinson, who opted to screen his 1999 film Liberty Heights, about a group of teens and their first incendiary brush with race relations in the 1950s.

In more direct ways, this year's record-breaking crop of 167 films reflects Central Florida's growing significance. Local producer Melanie Lentz-Janney and DeLand director Sylvia Caminer have created the loudest buzz (to the dismay of the Enzian Theater's workers, who have been flooded with questions) with their competition documentary An Affair of the Heart, a star-studded case for the continued relevance of rocker Rick Springfield. Austin, Texas-based, Orlando-adopted filmmakers the Zellner brothers compete in the narrative fiction category with their arresting new film Kid-Thing, which FFF Programming Director Matthew Curtis believes will be the most divisive entry of the fest. And last but certainly not least, the opening night film, Renee, starring 2 Broke Girls' Kat Dennings, is the first mini-major movie to ever showcase downtown Orlando and its surrounding spots (including Stardust Video & Coffee, Wall St. Plaza, the Beacham and a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from an Orlando Weekly newsstand) in such a prominent way. The film tells the story of locally based nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms and was written, shot and produced by locals in collaboration with Full Sail, the DAVE School and many other area film programs. Yes, we're in the spotlight again. This time, it feels pretty good.

On the following pages you'll find an almost comprehensive look at the feature films, competition and otherwise, that comprise this year's Florida Film Festival. Additional reviews of the films screened too late for print will be available at orlandoweekly.com. Please also visit floridafilmfestival.com for complete showtimes, schedule and ticket information.

Friday 13

Renee (3 Stars) Opening this year's festival is this excitingly homegrown production that tells the story of To Write Love On Her Arms, the Florida-based nonprofit aimed at troubled youngsters. One would think such a story would revolve around the org's charismatic slacktivist leader, Jamie Tworkowski, played by One Tree Hill's Chad Michael Murray. Instead, the film, co-written and directed by Nathan Frankowski, who previously helmed Ben Stein's creationist doc Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, focuses on a five-day period in the mid-aughts in which Renee Yohe (Kat Dennings) attempts to sober up enough to be admitted to a rehab center. She's taken under the wing of David McKenna (Rupert Friend), an Orlando music producer with addiction in his past. For reasons the film and its many cooks in the screenwriting kitchen (including first-timer Kate King Lynch, Frankowski, a few “story consultants” – one of which is Tworkowski – and 10 credited producers, including Full Sail instructor Rick Ramsey and the real McKenna) can't hope to convey, Renee becomes a muse and an unwitting figurehead for what becomes a larger movement. Despite the film's constant, cutesy attempts at rendering Renee even slightly interesting – crude CG flights of fancy, high-school musical numbers from left field, contrived party sequences – it's ultimately Friend's McKenna who emerges as the central figure. Of course, Tworkowski must get his due, and this is where Renee makes its first true choice – to throw the guy under the bus. The film reads Tworkowski as an opportunistic weasel, an outsider who, for no evident reason, latches on to Renee's demons and brands them in the name of rock & roll and God. (TWLOHA's parent organization, Fireproof Ministries, isn't mentioned.) It's the first sign that Renee (or Renee) may have a voice independent of the real-life people looking over its/her shoulder, but it exists mostly as epilogue. The rest of the production may be good for Orlando – Renee offers a grimy view of the city seldom seen – its incoherent narrative and jumbled tone is hardly cause for celebration. – JS (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Saturday 14

An Affair of the Heart – Visit orlandoweekly.com for review. (12 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Three Stars (4 Stars) Lutz Hachmeister's documentary is nominally concerned with the mysterious Guide Michelin star rating system – a restaurant receiving commendation in the influential guide is a money machine – but in fact is an examination of the soul of a chef. Nine chefs, actually, who allow Hachmeister (Germany's “leading media expert”) inside their kitchens and homes and expound upon their philosophies of life and cooking (same thing). The film occasionally betrays its roots as a TV series, something the stiffly dubbed-into-English narration does little to help, but the chefs themselves – particularly Nadia Santini, Rene Redzepi and the swoon-inducing Sergio Herman – are holy fools, remarkable for their single-mindedness. – JBY (1:45 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Kumaré (3 Stars) Although billed as possibly “the longest prank ever documented on film,” filmmaker and journalist Vikram Gandhi, who poses as a kind of Chauncey Gardiner of gurus, all grins and platitudes equaling nothing, goes unexpectedly soft right when he should lunge for the jugular. Attempting to expose, Marjoe-like, the tricks of the guru mentality and the sadness behind otherwise normal Americans willing to subscribe to his non-philosophies, Gandhi too quickly bails on his thesis, if not his concept, stringing people along, sure, but siding with his humanity, not his objectivity, absurdly concluding that phony spirituality can't be too harmful if it brings people such joy. Hey, tell that to the multitudes who've lost their life savings, their dignity or, in some cultures, much, much more to the Kumarés of the world. – JS (2:30 p.m. Regal Winter Park)

Bert Stern: Original Madman (2 Stars) If this documentary's air-ball title doesn't already give away the film's shortcomings (it's floated for years under the even worse title Becoming Bert Stern), I'll make it simple: Good subject, bad director. Helmed by master photographer Bert Stern's much younger muse/soulmate Shannah Laumeister, whose objectivity was first compromised somewhere around the 1980s, Original Madman hews closely to the standard “rise-and-fall” arc of docs like this, reveling in Stern's astounding portfolio – especially, and deservedly, his Vogue photos of a frisky Marilyn Monroe six weeks before her death – and to the film's credit, doesn't pull punches when it comes to his drug-induced downfall or the embarrassment of his recent, poorly received shoot with Lindsay Lohan. Despite (or because of) her proximity to Stern, Laumeister fails to dig up fresh angles or an intelligent perspective on the luckiest horndog to ever pick up a camera. – JS (4:30 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Mamitas (4 Stars) Writer-director Nicholas Ozeki treads familiar ground with his debut feature about a troubled ladies' man (E.J. Bonilla) whose life is changed by a bookworm who calls him on his shit (the astounding Veronica Diaz-Carranza), but rather than simply go through the formula motions, Ozeki and his leads bring new life to the tired rom-dram genre. It's not just the indie-quirky setting of the Los Angeles Mexican-American community that feels so new and refreshing, but the sense that Bonilla's Jordin, who decides to use his school suspension to find his father, and Diaz-Carranza's self-assured Felipa, who grounds Jordin but doesn't live only for him, are also willing to show us something new: a high-school couple that gives each other permission to drop their veneers and simply be themselves. – JS (4:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Kid-Thing (4 Stars) If Annie, the 10-year-old star of Kid-Thing, were a bit older, she'd be labeled a juvenile delinquent; if she weren't so isolated, you could call her a bully. As it stands in this tiny gem of hillbilly nouvelle vague, she's a little blond tank wielding a paintball gun, hurling handfuls of gravel, fouling soccer opponents and shoplifting with equal skill but total lack of glee. As she bulldogs from one rural setting to the next on her paint-splattered BMX bike, the filmmakers (eccentric Texas siblings David and Nathan Zellner) document the trail of destruction, their long meandering takes mirroring Annie's flat affect. The one adult in her life, the hangdog and possibly glue-damaged Marvin (relationship unspecified) appears rarely but brings flashes of Bluto-esque brilliance to the screen; cult favorite and recent double amputee Susan Tyrrell (Fat City) is perfectly cast as a sibylline voice emanating from a well. – JBY (5:15 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Monsieur Lazhar (5 Stars) The title character is an Algerian refugee, seeking political asylum in Canada, who poses as a middle-school educator in Montreal following a teacher's unseemly classroom suicide. This recent Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film has much to say about modern education and the world at large, particularly the tendency of well-meaning but wrong-headed people to sweep “incidents” under the rug rather than confront them. But what's most inspiring about Monsieur Lazhar is its avoidance of inspirational-teacher cliches. Lazhar is not a platitude-speaking maverick sent to reform the anarchic status quo, and the kids are not the wretched, nihilistic rapscallions that have lurked in cinematic schools since Blackboard Jungle. They're all just people, suffering life's injustices and hoping to emerge unscathed. – JT (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Jobriath A.D. (3 Stars) Required viewing for any fan of the iconic '70s star known as the “true fairy of rock,” this film is nevertheless not compelling. (Having a fascinating subject and/or a historically significant topic isn't the same thing as being able to tell a story well.) Jobriath, né Bruce Campbell, was a musical prodigy who starred on Broadway in Hair, a golden boy who turned on all who met him. His eventual adoption of a glitter-chic androgyny predated David Bowie (who seems to have ripped him off wholesale); as well, rather than coyly skirting the issue, Jobriath was openly gay – a first in pop music. But none of it sold records, and the doc details his fall into obscurity, poverty and death, partly in animated sequences of shockingly poor taste. Director Kieran Turner amasses a relevant parade of talking heads – current musicians who owe a huge debt, family members, and ex-manager Jerry Brandt, the cardboard villain of the piece. – JBY (7:15 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

See Girl Run (2 Stars) Writer-director Nate Meyer, a former award winner at FFF (2007, Pretty in the Face), cast Robin Tunney of TV's The Mentalist as a 30-something mope-about trapped in an overly familiar marriage who goes home to Maine to see her brother (Jeremy Strong) and an old flame (Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation) to try and recapture her dwindled inner spark. It's a musty setup that maintains a humid air of punishing depression in contrast to its cloudy yet vibrant New England setting. Tunney and Scott, both excitingly relevant '90s-movie veterans, seem not restrained but shackled by Meyer's downbeat tone, and while the screenplay boldly leaves no easy way out for its characters, the finished product fails to really take flight. – JS (7:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Andrew Bird: Fever Year The punishing pace of endless touring takes its emotional and physical toll on the Chicago-based songster Andrew Bird, and director Xan Aranda's cameras caught every cough, fit and dizzy spell during the Noble Beast tour. Although it takes a roundabout path to its story, even letting go of its concert film idea to delve into Bird's background, Fever Year is a great look into the creative mind of a musician who is almost too good for his own good. His drive to create and stay fresh may be doing his body serious harm, but not creating might be worse. Fans of Bird will likely get more out of this, but it could just as easily be the thing that turns you on to his soulful violin and whistles. – RB (9:15 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Turn Me On, Dammit! (4 Stars) It seems like the world is just waking up lately to the fact that, just like their male counterparts, teenage girls have sex lives as well as love lives and the whole thing can be just as messy and awkward as they feel their way through it into adulthood. Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a teenager stuck in the sticks of Norway who becomes an outcast when her friend and classmates turn on her because they think she is lying about … well, let's just say her supposed lie lands her the nickname “Dick-Alma,” and even the offer of free drugs isn't enough to get them to ease up on her. Director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen's insightful drama – which she adapted from the novel by Olaug Nissen – is funny and cuts right through all of the sugar and spice nonsense we've been fed over the years. – RB (9:45 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (4 Stars) Here is a stunning feature debut from writer-director-star Ryan O'Nan, with a touching performance from TV's Michael Weston that may finally dig the witty and always watchable actor out of his “poor man's Jamie Kennedy” typecasting rut. O'Nan plays Alex, a mopey singer-songwriter who can't stop getting kicked out of bands, loses his girl, his real estate job and his side gig singing to school kids, only to find himself stalked by Weston's Jim, an awkward savant with baby xylophones and entry-level Casios. Out of desperation, they form the Brooklyn Brothers, and what follows is one of the saddest, most honest portraits of life in a modern, under-the-radar hipster band I've seen. Featuring appearances from the always great Jason Ritter, Melissa Leo and even Wilmer Valderrama in a bro mode that suggests something like depth, O'Nan seems to be in much better shape than his onscreen alter ego. – JS (9:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

God Bless America (4 Stars) Frank (Joel Murray, brother of Bill) is fed up. He's sick of stupid neighbors, mean-spirited co-workers, ugly reality shows, fear-mongering news channels, even his ungrateful little shit of a daughter. To top it off, he's actually sick, so how better to go out than with guns blazing? Bobcat Goldthwait's follow-up to World's Greatest Dad arguably peaks early in venturing beyond the pale – and the rants do pile up a bit – but what hits the mark hits hard, and Murray maintains a pitch-perfect deep-down wariness as he plays Clyde to Tara Lynne Barr's teenage firebrand Bonnie on their cross-country idiot-killing spree. – WG (11:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Sunday 15

A Cat in Paris (4 Stars)The French contender for last year's Best Animated Feature Oscar, this breezy charmer concerns a literal cat burgler who befriends little girl Zoe (voiced by Oriane Zani) by day and partners with sly thief Nico (Bruno Salomone) by night. Their fates finally intersect once Zoe's mother (Dominique Blanc), a police inspector on the trail of notorious gangster Costa (Jean Benguigui), notices that her daughter inexplicably has a far too valuable bracelet in her possession. The relentlessly wavy visual design boasts a rather unique aesthetic appeal, and the off-kilter sense of humor helps the 70-minute running time float right on by. – WG (12 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Salaam Dunk (2 Stars) On the surface, the horrendously titled Salaam Dunk tells the story of the girl's basketball team at American University of Iraq-Sulaimani and the group of passionate, smart and beautiful young Iraqi women who begin the season as one of the worst teams in a league I can only imagine consists solely of other American Universities in the Middle East. As a sports doc, it's a captivating one, teasing the idea of oneness through competition, leading to a rousing, tear-soaked climax. It's what's not explored, or even hinted at, that's most disturbing. Director David Fine poses his film as the answer to the “horrifying images of a violent and war-torn Iraq,” making it “easy to forget that people there do ‘regular' things.” Given the access Fine was given to the institution, it's hard to imagine why he doesn't touch on the University's constant charges of corruption, sex scandals, oil interests and existential ties to neoconservative idealogues. Maybe Fine doesn't feel his basketball story is a political one, but whether he likes it or not, the team's very existence is a political matter. To ignore that is more than naiveté, it's something worse for a documentarian – it's dishonest. – JS (12:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Magic Valley (2 Stars) Debut writer-director Jaffe Zinn wants so badly for this slow-rolling Idaho-set mood piece to evoke the sweeping vistas of Terrence Malick (with some of Gus Van Sant's unflinching curiosity) that he seemingly forgets to mind his murder mystery. Blending narratives involving a good-natured sheriff (Scott Glenn), a perturbed fish farmer (Brad William Henke), two very disturbing boys, a troubled teen (Kyle Gallner) and many besides – not to mention the dead teen girl who goes unnoticed by all but those creepy kids until the very end – one neither comes away with a deeper understanding of life in the perennial magic hour of the heartland, nor a satisfying arc involving the dead girl. What's left, then? A couple of telling exchanges, loads of dead/blown-up fishes and lots of pretty footage. – JS (2 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (3 Stars)Even at age 85, Jiro Ono continues to serve world-class sushi at his Tokyo restaurant, tirelessly training his two sons to take over without ever stepping away from the counter. David Gelb's documentary is as devoutly focused on Jiro's work and life as Jiro is himself, favoring visual simplicity in its presentation as much as he does. The pressure put on his sons by both his stoic personality and towering reputation is established early and often, while the inner workings of a fish market hardly prove interesting. The food porn is in no small supply, though, and a well-timed reveal assures us that Jiro's dreams may not die with him. – WG (2:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Not Yet Begun to Fight (3 Stars) Or, Zen and the Art of Fly Fishing. Documentarians Sabrina Lee (2009's Where You From) and Shasta Grenier turn their cameras toward retired Marine Col. Eric Hastings, a Vietnam vet who, for reasons only he can truly elucidate, found peace and some amount of redemption in the streams of Montana where he imparts his lessons of the last few decades to new soldiers returning home. Appropriately quiet and unassuming, this to-the-point doc conveys, through a great score by Sean Eden and Hastings' camera-friendly calm, a mood rather than an idea. It may not be ambitious, but it hits its well-meaning mark. – JS (3 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

An Ordinary Family (2 Stars) An Ordinary Family aspires to a teachable moment about tolerance, but mostly just succeeds in making you feel like a rotten human being. The promising concept of a Christian minister forced to reconcile with his gay brother is sacrificed on the altar of laborious pacing and relationships so unbelievable they end up reinforcing stereotypes instead of shattering them. The movie appears to have been substantially improvised by actors who weren't told the tactic requires them to actually listen to each other: At one point, the minister cracks that he only loves his wife on certain days, and she exhibits no reaction whatsoever. One ostensibly gay character reads as straight, while one who is allegedly hetero comes across as gay enough to raise hopes of some scandalous reveal that will finally redeem the whole affair. (Don't hold your breath.) Meanwhile, the minister's brother-in-law, who is apparently supposed to be a lovable rogue with no filter, instead strikes the reasonable viewer as a socially stunted, borderline-autistic dweeb who would be shunned by the cast of The Big Bang Theory. “How did this guy land a thoroughly presentable wife?” I found myself asking. While I should have been examining the film's admirable precept that heaven smiles on us all, I was instead entertaining the distinct possibility that I myself am going to hell. – SS (4 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Bury the Hatchet (3 Stars) Giving new meaning to the term “peacocking,” filmmaker Aaron Walker's painstaking analysis of largely unknown Mardi Gras tradition – the practice of hand-making elaborate, feathered costumes to represent the history and continued presence of Native Americans in New Orleans – is perhaps 20 minutes too long, but for good reason. Diving into the oral tradition of music and storytelling, Walker paints a vivid landscape of pride, racism and heritage against a backdrop of tone-deaf local politics. The climax occurs when a St. Joseph's night celebration – a tradition spanning centuries – is disrupted by overzealous police officers, which leads to a heated city council meeting in which Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana takes to the dais, calls for unity and understanding, then collapses and dies on the spot, his spirit carried to the heavens by an impromptu musical outburst. It's a jarring, gorgeous conclusion, but nature has other plans: Soon after, Hurricane Katrina destroys both the city and Walker's narrative, forcing the film to take on a broader analogy than it has the juice for. – JS (5 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Eye of the Hurricane (4 Stars)This moody drama focuses on the struggles faced by a small Everglades town called Hatchee as it tries to rebuild after a devastating hurricane ravaged the area. One little family in particular finds itself torn apart by the storm – 9-year-old Homer loses his eye and spends his days wandering the rubble searching for it. His father, an Air Force specialist, doesn't come home after the storm, and his mother, Amelia, camps outside the base waiting for someone to tell her whether her husband is dead. Homer's sister, Renee, is caught between responsibilities she feels for her family and her desire to simply enjoy her teenage years. Professionally rendered and masterfully edited, Eye exposes the confusion, conflict, humor and pain in even the most mundane details of childhood and small-town life. – ES (5:45 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Think of Me (5 Stars)Just like Mars, the underside of Las Vegas is no place to raise a kid – particularly when your only means of support is a call-center job, your deadbeat ex isn't giving up the support payments and your own skill at planning is limited to responding impulsively to the crisis of the moment. Lauren Ambrose, who went from Six Feet Under to wowing New York theater critics as Shakespeare's Juliet, gives a simply flawless performance as Angela, a woman ill-equipped for single parenthood. The movie is a minefield of potential calamities that will have every audience member with an ounce of a protective instinct on the edge of his or her seat; frequently, Angela is the only one in the theater who can't see the potential consequences of her latest rash move. Yet the film refuses to point a finger at her, and won't let us do it, either. Instead, we find ourselves clinging desperately to the increasingly slim odds that she'll be able to hold onto her 7-year-old Sunny (Audrey Scott, in a heartbreaking turn that more than holds its own with Ambrose's Independent Spirit-nominated portrayal). Likewise, Mark Schwartzbard's cinematography is flat-out gorgeous yet never romanticizes the often squalid goings-on in writer-director Bryan Wizemann's deeply knowing script. I can't remember the last time I was so truly and totally captivated by an FFF feature – and maybe by a movie in general. – SS (6 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Give Up Tomorrow (4 Stars) Following, with remarkable depth, clarity and conviction, the 14-year saga of Paco Larrañaga and six other seemingly innocent men who were convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape and murder of two teen sisters in 1997 in the Philippines, filmmaker Michael Collins assembles a crack team of journalists and others involved in the case and deconstructs the case against them until it appears to be completely fabricated. The fallout, as portrayed by Collins, is nothing short of jaw-dropping; it's a media circus that pulls in the likes of presidents, kings, Congress, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, drug lords and their puppets (some of whom may be the victims' overzealous, spirit-channeling parents), newsmagazines and TV hosts, and a judge at least as cartoonish as Belvin Perry. The tone is solemn but thorough, finding a natural balance somewhere between the metaphysical obsessions of Werner Herzog and the reactionary zest of Errol Morris. – JS (7:15 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Dreamworld (3 Stars) Co-writer and star Whit Hertford's bugged-out eyes, short stature and bedraggled demeanor has kept him working since he was a kid – from The Twilight Zone when he was 8 years old to preteen appearances in The Addams Family and Jurassic Park. So it's extra impressive that he conveys such relatable optimism, fear and panic at the prospect of “breaking in” to Hollywood as Oliver, a cartoonist who dreams of working at Pixar. When a Manic Pixie Dream Girl named (naturally) Lily Blush (Mary Kate Wiles) falls into his lap one night, says she knows a guy at the animation studio and begs Oliver to leave his newly acquired day job to go on a sexy dreamers' road trip, Oliver knows he's done for. As Lily reveals her inner red-flag crazy chick, Oliver has nowhere to go but inward, where he finds a surprisingly emotional conflict that lies at the heart of everything he's done or will do. Directed with artfulness and an easygoing affectation by newcomer Ryan Darst, the road show grows tiresome at points but finds its way when it needs to. I feel as though the third act is a cheat, but even so, it's done with such charm that it's tough to fault. – JS (9 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Monday 16

Girl Model (3 Stars) If you've ever assumed the life of an international teen model is nonstop glamour, prepare yourself instead for a real-life hunger game. Nadya, a 13-year-old Siberian girl, wins a cattle call for new faces and gets sent to Japan with the guarantee of modeling work that will help take care of her family back home while ensuring she herself doesn't have to be stuck there. But from the minute she gets off the plane, she finds little more than a claustrophobic shoebox apartment and what looks like a near-total lack of adult supervision in a country where the standard of beauty appears to have been set by pedophiles. As counterpoint to this tale of disillusionment, the doc gets periodic doses of context from Ashley, whose own experiences in the industry have left her a self-loathing wreck. Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin are FFF vets whose Mardi Gras: Made in China established their insight into the area of exploitation, but Girl Model does little more than open a door to a fascinating subject; Ashley's story in particular cries out for a more illuminating treatment. – SS (6:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Dog Years (4 Stars) Written, directed by and starring actors Warren Sroka and Brent Willis, Dog Years cleverly uses as its backdrop the Tokyo not seen in Lost in Translation: the ugly, industrial side where corporate lifers and foreign-exchange teachers exist in the perpetual purgatory of time-killing video games and touristy spiritual destinations. Willis plays Japanese-American Ben, a bitter loner adrift in his late mother's homeland. When Ben connects with Elliot (Sroka), his beta-male half-brother, the two become begrudging (for Ben, at least) allies, and gradually the drab city comes alive with stolen memories. The low-budget film could have crossed over with a little more cash, but as a passion project, it stands tall. – JS (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

The Sheik and I (4 Stars) When American filmmaker Caveh Zahedi was commissioned by the United Arab Emirates to make a film about “art as a subversive act,” they got more than they bargained for. The project, initially a terrorist lark, grew into a quasi-musical documentary that left authorities (including the omniscient sheik) upset by its arguably blasphemous tone. Zahedi doesn't shy away from embodying the arrogant Western stereotype, but he raises fair points about the nature of censorship. Frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, and a kindred spirit to Operation Filmmaker (FFF '08), Sheik is worth seeing for the bigger conversations it's likely to spark. – WG (8:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Paul Williams Still Alive (3 Stars) Mostly plodding, occasionally transcendent, this strangely voyeuristic, semi-authorized, semi-tolerated look into the mundane present-day life of legendary songwriter and perennial '70s talk-show personality Paul Williams (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “The Rainbow Connection”) has a credible, if thin, case to make – that Williams should be held in the same regard as other songwriters of his time like Paul Simon – yet doesn't quite know how to make it. The self-absorbed Stephen Kessler is too obsessed with the agitation his omnipresent camera creates in Williams and his family, but the way the filmmaker melds YouTube clips, old VHS tapes, home movies and licensed material is resourceful and new, as if he conjures Williams' rise-and-fall narrative out of thin air. There's more to filmmaking than editing, however, and Kessler's field work needs some fine-tuning. – JS (9 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Dead Dad – Visit orlandoweekly.com for our review. (9:15 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Tuesday 17

The Salt of Life (3 Stars) For his second film (and second FFF outing), writer-director-star Gianni Di Gregorio once again plays a man named Gianni with a mother played by the show-stealing Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni. This film is more stripped-down than 2008's Mid-August Lunch, and more of a bummer, as Di Gregorio plays Gianni, a 60-something retiree surrounded by beautiful women and ignored by them all. His wife sleeps in a different room; his daughter runs out the door in the morning, but not before eating Gianni's breakfast and unloading her layabout boyfriend on him. His flirty downstairs neighbor only gives him the time of day because he walks her dog, and his 90-something mother provides him a pension while she flushes her considerable estate – his inheritance – down the drain. One day, his best friend, Alfonso, suggests he take a mistress like (according to him) the rest of the male Italian world has. Easier said than done. The Salt of Life is a frank and amusing rumination on not only aging but the exclusionary relationship between tired, old men like Gianni and the nubile young women who, one would think watching virtually any Italian film, flood the streets of Rome. In reality, Gianni is invisible, and as auteur, he offers no easy solutions, or easy laughs. A couple of broad setups may elicit a smile, but the film plods as haplessly as its main character and turns sour fairly quickly. – JS (4:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Wednesday 18

The Lady – Visit orlandoweekly.com for our review. (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Clown (3 Stars)The clean synopsis of this raunchy Danish film is that two buddies, Frank and Caspar, reluctantly take Bo, Frank's 12-year-old nephew, along on a guys-weekend canoe trip and hilarity ensues. The not-so-clean version: Frank kidnaps Bo to go on Caspar's so-called “Tour de Pussy,” an annual canoe trip to a massive brothel in the countryside. Frank takes the kid in a weak attempt to convince his pregnant girlfriend that she should not abort their baby because she thinks he's too immature to be a father. Bo's got a small pecker, which becomes a focal point in several scenes in the movie, Caspar swings both ways (much to the surprise of his girlfriend) and no, not everyone likes pearl necklaces or a finger up the ass. Believe it or not, this movie is based on a popular Danish sitcom. – ES (8 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Thursday 19

Your Sister's Sister (4 Stars) Writer-director Lynn Shelton has an awful lot to live up to after her Sundance and Spirit Award-winning Humpday, a wonderful spin on the bromantic comedy. It's back to the Pacific Northwest for the follow-up, Your Sister's Sister, a counterintuitive love story starring Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass. The film meanders a bit in the opening, taking an awfully long time to unfold, but once the characters unwittingly spill their secrets, the story hits a steady groove that so many indie films seem to fail at lately. It may not exactly live up to Humpday, which hit every right note, but it certainly wows us in the end. – RB (7 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Friday 20

I Wish [Kiseki] – This film was not screened for critics. (4:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Hide Away (2 Stars) Touted as the first leading dramatic role for supporting standout Josh Lucas, the success of Hide Away (until recently, the film was known as A Year in Mooring) depends almost exclusively on the actor's expressions since his character's journey is mostly solitary. Bad idea. As much as I've admired Lucas in the past, he maintains one unreadable look throughout this dull, slightly absurd drama. Whether having sex, struggling to find water for a shower, renovating his newly acquired POS boat or remembering the tragedy that sent him to the docks – the same one employed by countless solitary-man dramas – Lucas looks, well, confused. Always confused. Director Chris Eyre made a splash with his directorial debut, 1998's Smoke Signals. Hide Away, however, is just soggy. – JS (6:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Headhunters (4 Stars) With Buscemi eyes and Walken hair, Roger Brown (a wonderfully squirmy Aksel Hennie) doesn't seem like the corporate climber type. But even he admits that his lavish lifestyle is a means of compensation for his short stature. What's more, it's a cover for his daytime hobby of boosting pieces of rare art from potential employees. Roger goes too far once he fleeces former mercenary Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones), and what begins as a slick anti-hero outing soon becomes a brazenly entertaining cat-and-mouse thriller in director Morten Tyldum's capable hands. Catch it before the inevitable American remake hits. – WG (8:45 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Under African Skies (2 Stars) For those who didn't already endure the media firestorm surrounding Paul Simon's zeitgeist-shifting foray into international coffee-table music, Graceland, Skies reopens the apartheid wounds Simon's boundless borrower's ambition opened when he crossed South African cultural boycott lines to capture native sounds in a bottle in 1985. Director Joe Berlinger goes relatively light on the criticism, here – though Simon is faced in present times with at least one of his previous African foes for some fence-mending – instead lionizing the songwriter's signature solo endeavor in the hindsight pantheon of risks worth taking to save the world. It is Oprah's favorite album, after all. – BM (9:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Lovely Molly (4 Stars) This supernatural thriller about a young wife pursued by the ghosts of her past comes to us from Haxan Films – which some will take as a cue to put on the Douchebag Hat and snicker at a career trajectory that rockets one from Opening-Night Film to Midnight Feature mainstay in the span of a decade or so. Fortunately, Lovely Molly is well-made enough – tight and tense – to ensure that the only back story we need preoccupy ourselves with is the one playing out on the screen. Our Molly, it turns out, has quite a raft of horrors in her history, and her efforts to document her latest bedevilments on camera make for an engaging entry in the unreliable-videographer genre. Writer-director Eduardo Sánchez's interest in avoiding the purely conventional sometimes prevents him from deciding exactly which story he wants to tell: The hints of Equus in particular come out of left field and largely stay there. But the night-vision sequences of things going bump accomplish just what they need to, which is to remind Oren Peli who wrote the book on this sort of thing. (That's right: Robert Wise.) – SS (11:59 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Karate-Robo Zaborgar (3 Stars) Hilariously nonsensical, yet almost too well made for its own campy good, schlock-meister Noboru Iguchi's tokusatsu take on the mecha-buddy subgenre is lively, pops with color and enthusiasm and features either poorly translated subtitles or a grasp of language so tentative it can only be called endearing. As there must be in any Japanese film with this many scantily clad cyborg girls, a sly sexual overtone permeates nearly every frame, but considering Iguchi's earlier work (Double Horny, Mutant Girls Squad), Zaborgar is damned near kid-friendly. – JS (11:59 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

John Dies at the End (4 Stars) David Wong (Chase Williamson) is, like many of his friends, hooked on “soy sauce.” The problem is, this drug actually serves as a gateway to inter-dimensional weirdness, and those who don't get their fix have a nasty tendency to combust. Director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep, the Phantasm series) energetically adapts the cult novel of the same name, almost but never quite overwhelming the audience with its time-jumping, plane-shifting narrative and only rarely held back by his budget. Williams and Rob Mayes (the eponymous John) make an endearing slacker-hero pairing, while Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown and Doug Jones all contribute game supporting performances. – WG (11:59 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Saturday 21

First Position (4 Stars) The numbers are baffling: When you consider that of the 5,000 dancers, ages 9 to 19, attempting to snag a contract or scholarship at the Youth America Grand Prix, a do-or-die competition for dancers of all stripes, and that each of those 5,000 (and especially their parents) have sacrificed everything, socially and financially, to get to this point, it's hard to imagine how rookie director Bess Kargman can deliver anything but odds-on bad news by following six ballet students from different backgrounds. Six out of 5,000 – that's beyond daunting. From an adopted girl from Sierra Leone to the 11-year-old Aran Bell, whose older brother re-enlists in the military to free some spare dough to fund his little bro's ambitions, Kargman elegantly, poignantly stacks her deck with pressure-cooker moments, leading to the minute or two each of them has to fulfill or disappoint. – JS (7 p.m. at Enzian Theater)

Up There (3 Stars) Writer-director Zam Salim's afterlife workplace comedy somehow finds material left un-mined by Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life and gives it a post-modern spin with Up There, a solid Brit outing featuring Burn Gorman (Torchwood) as a dead man thrust into the dull, bureaucratic world of purgatory, hoping his position as a no-nonsense greeter at the door of this mortal coil will earn him enough points to be promoted “upstairs” to heaven. Shot with gloomy fun, Gorman is a perfectly relatable Martin Freeman type, with Aymen Hamdouchi bringing Aziz Ansari-like verve to the role of Rash, who seems just as pumped in this purgatory as he must've been just before his death in a high-speed police chase – yet another of Salim's crafty touches. – JS (7 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

The Intouchables – This film was not screened for critics. (9 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Sunday 22

Beating Justice: The Martin Lee Anderson Story (4 Stars) Perhaps the most striking component of this largely student-driven documentary project from Florida State University professor Dr. Andy Opel, is how much it echoes the same law-enforcement racial divide playing out this year with Trayvon Martin in Sanford. Martin Lee Anderson was just 14 when, after entering one of the state's notorious “boot camps” for teens in January 2006, he was caught dying on videotape surrounded by seven juvenile justice guards and a nurse. Attorney Benjamin Crump – currently representing the Martin family – carries the emotional narrative (along with student activists and Rev. Al Sharpton), reminding viewers that history, especially in Florida, is doomed to repeat when there is no justice. – BM (12:30 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Where Do We Go Now? – Please visit orlandoweekly.com for our review. (5 p.m. at Regal Winter Park)

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews articles


Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.