Picks and previews from this year's Florida Film Festival 

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The Cult of JT LeRoy ★★★☆☆
Teen literary sensation JT LeRoy burned bright, but not for very long. After a meteoric rise, this fire of “transgressive fiction” was extinguished in 2006 at the age of 26. But he never truly died because he never really lived, and if you don’t already know LeRoy’s weird tale, that’s the only spoiler you’ll get here. Directed by Marjorie Sturm, The Cult of JT LeRoy doesn’t break much new journalistic ground – credit the New York Times with that – but it does present LeRoy’s life in a unique, revelatory way, complete with original interviews and an appropriately uncomfortable examination of the pretentious bullshit that accompanies fandom and fame. Once Sturm reveals the twist behind the “extraordinary found object” that is LeRoy, the documentary loses steam, as does a narrative fiction piece that has just lost its protagonist. But then it carefully navigates those difficult storytelling waters, managing to switch audience sympathies – or hatred – onto another player who is accurately described as “one of the craziest motherfuckers ever.” It’s just too bad this worthwhile feature is preceded by Everything That Smiles Back, a rambling, pointless, badly shot short doc about an eccentric trailer-park resident. I guess just about everything is film fodder these days. – CM

Screenings: 7 p.m. Monday, April 13, at Regal Winter Park Village and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, at Enzian Theater

The Editor ★★★★★
Canadian film-production company Astron-6 has released a couple of awesome genre satires in recent years. With The Editor, the company has raised its own bar, crafting a riotous homage to 1970s Italian giallo films that’s as sharply clever as it is absurd. Rey Cisco is a renowned editor who was driven mad one day and accidentally severed his fingers. When the actors in the latest film he’s editing begin to turn up dead with their fingers cut off, all signs point to Rey. But there’s something darker at the heart of this mystery, one that will send Rey and the investigator on his tail into the deep abyss of irreverence, bad lip-synching, neon lighting and blaring synth scores. Even if you aren’t familiar with giallos, The Editor has plenty to offer. It’s also the most quotable film you’ll see at the festival, so don’t be surprised if afterward at Eden Bar you hear people explaining how “a good man holds a beer.” – Patrick Cooper

Screenings: 11:59 p.m., April 11, at Regal Winter Park Village and 11:59 p.m., April 17, at Enzian Theater

click to enlarge 'Gabriel'
  • 'Gabriel'

Gabriel ★★☆☆☆
All too often in film, mental illness is treated like an adorable quirk – something hunky eccentrics have to deal with (see 2013 Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook). Very rarely is it depicted as the debilitating condition it actually is, the motherfucker that breaks families apart and leaves its victims in cuffs or drugged to high hell. Lou Howe’s debut, Gabriel, takes its titular protagonist Gabriel (Rory Culkin) and his condition very seriously, but the script is so painfully flat and lacking in emotional resonance that by the end of Gabriel’s slim running time, who the hell cares. This is a movie about a psychopathic kid acting psycho and his desire to rope in his one true love who wants nothing to do with him. On paper it sounds awesome, but watching it play out is agonizing. Culkin does his best with what’s on the page, but there’s zero connection between his character, his family and his love. It’s like watching a patchwork ensemble cast shade for 90 minutes. – PC

Screenings: 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 11, at Enzian Theater and 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, at Regal Winter Park Village

Gosford Park ★★★☆☆
No director dealt with multiple stars and storylines like Robert Altman. His skill at juggling and ultimately merging myriad plots and characters into a single, emotionally profound experience is legendary. From his masterpiece, Nashville, to classics such as Short Cuts, The Player and M.A.S.H., down to underappreciated gems like Popeye and A Prairie Home Companion, Altman left an indelible mark on cinema. Regrettably, Gosford Park is not among the master’s top-tier work. For most other directors, that would mean a thumbs-down review, but not for Altman, as the 2001 British mystery starring everyone from Maggie Smith to Clive Owen to Helen Mirren has energy, charm and intelligence. It just doesn’t crackle quite like Altman’s best work, perhaps because it needed a director with more of a British sensibility to match that of writer Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame). Veteran character actor Bob Balaban co-produced Gosford Park and also plays, appropriately, American film producer Morris Weissman, so it’s no surprise he chose the film for his April 12 “Evening With” event, at which he will participate in a Q&A. (But if you’re like me, you’ll want to ask the legendary character actor about his roles in Seinfeld and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – and why he never seems to age.) – CM

Screening: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 12, at Enzian Theater

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