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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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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)

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