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2012 Florida Film Festival

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

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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)

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