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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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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)

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