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Orlando Weekly's guide to the 2013 Florida Film Festival

Central Florida’s annual festival of film and food returns for its 22nd year

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Beck got his nickname from his reaction to a gunfight in a bar when he was young. High on cocaine, he sat motionless while a bullet whizzed through his hat, barely avoiding blasting his brains into his brewski. He was cool like a ’berg, and this doc is a fittingly hip tribute to that coolness, wit and intelligence.

As Beck said, “A lot of people think top pimps are dummies. That’s not true; they’re just perverted.” – CM

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MAGICAL UNIVERSE

★★

Unless you’re Michael Moore or Bill Maher, it’s probably not a good idea to insert too much of yourself into your own documentary. In the style of Errol Morris, the award-winning director of such docs as Gates of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line, you’d do better to stay behind the camera and let your subjects speak for themselves. Jeremy Workman has not learned this lesson.

Workman spent a decade chronicling and developing a friendship with Maine artist Al Carbee. He first exposed Carbee’s odd work (consisting mostly of photographs of Barbie dolls and other odd crafts and collages) in the 2002 short film Carbee’s Barbies, which he wrote, directed and edited, as he did Magical Universe, which is making its world premiere at the festival. The short finally brought attention to the painfully reclusive and socially awkward photographer.

“I’m completely in control of Barbie,” Carbee tells Workman. “She’s the perfect model. Barbie never complains.”

Adding to that outlook is Carbee’s honest admission that he’s gotten even odder in recent years. “If you are obsessive about something,” he says, “that increases as you get older.” And for 80-something Carbee, that equals a lot of OCD!

If that’s not a psyche worth delving into with a good doc, I don’t know what is. But, regrettably, for his first solo feature, Workman, though well-intentioned, focuses too much on himself and his friendship with Carbee. He even goes so far as to provide unnecessary personal anecdotes in the form of horribly annoying voice-overs. Workman is simply too tied to his topic, and the result is a tedious and amateurish bungling of a potentially solid story. – CM

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MUD

★★★★★

If Mud isn’t the best movie of this year’s festival, it’s certainly the most instantly satisfying. Director-writer Jeff Nichols follows up his captivatingly moody Take Shelter with this little gem about love, loyalty, revenge and redemption. It’s both a clinging-to-the-past story and a coming-of-age one, filled with societal nuances and a cultural honesty on par with such Southern films as Sling Blade and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Matthew McConaughey, in the performance of his career, plays the title character, a drifter looking to simultaneously escape his criminal past and reunite with the love of his life (Reese Witherspoon), all while hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River. Helping him are two young boys in the tradition of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, played brilliantly by future superstars Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.
Though Witherspoon and the always intriguing Michael Shannon are underused, they and their fellow supporting actors are all pitch-perfect and imbue the piece with such crackle that the excessive length and forced finale fade to minor quibbles. Particularly memorable is Sam Shepard, whom young Sheridan’s character calls a “worn-out old man” in one of the film’s many bits of beautiful but brutal dialogue.

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