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PAUL FISCHER continues his coverage of the 23rd Toronto International Film Festival with special reports on what the Australians are doing there.

Aussie actor Simon Baker-Denny is in Toronto for the world premiere of his latest US film, Judas Kiss, an exhilarating comedy-thriller that crackles and sizzles with excitement, colour and irreverent humour. First time writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez has crafted a nifty crime thriller with just enough twists and turns to make for compelling entertainment. Baker-Denny and the alluring Carla Chavez play Junior and Coco a pair of scam artists who take a step upwards to the more risky crime arena of kidnapping. Their mark? A billionaire computer whiz. Everything gores smoothly until a woman mysteriously appears and is shot dead by Coco. It turns out the woman's husband is a prominent Senator who demands results. Trying to unravel both the kidnapping and the murder are a pair of cynical, wisecracking cops (plays with delicious drollery by Britain's Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman). Judas Kiss, as the title suggests, is about betrayal, but who betrays who makes for one suspenseful yarn. Here is a movie that perfectly mixes degrees of wry, sardonic humour, sex and intrigue, into a deft little cinematic potboiler, which shows enough flair for its debut director, to allow for one promising career. Baker-Denny oozes charisma and gives a wonderful performance in his first major US role [he was fleetingly seen in last year's L.A. Confidential], and is a force to be reckoned with, while the sultry Ms Chavez, currently in Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes, gives a star-turning performance As Carla. Beautifully shot, and smartly directed with a brisk pace, Judas Kiss is a savvy piece of film noirish entertainment, and a great vehicle for inevitable Aussie Baker-Denny. At time of writing, the film had not been sold for Australian distribution.

Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths has won unanimous acclaim for her performance in the new British drama, Hilary and Jackie, the true story of two sisters, one a flautist, the other a cellist, and what it is that bound the pair. A tragedy with sly doses of humour, Hilary and Jackie is sentimental and mawkish at times, but in its complex study of the passionate, and at times complex, nature of the relationship between the two siblings [told from each other's perspective, Hilary and Jackie is a beautifully realised effort. In the more emotionally challenging role of Jackie, Emily Watson gives the performance of the year, and she's matched by the fine work of Griffiths. This is a remarkable, exquisitely crafted film that cries out for a broad audience. It's bound to turn Griffiths into a major international presence.

Several walkouts indicate the mixed response given to John Curran's Praise, which had its world premiere at a packed press and industry screening during the second day of the Toronto International Film Festival. Based on the none-too-interesting novel of the same name, this relentlessly dour tale of the sexual relationship between an employed, chain-smoking asthmatic and a sexually addicted barmaid, is a film that never really tales off. Structurally, Praise is all over the place, a series of overdone, sexually graphic vignettes that fail to enhance either narrative or a detailed sense of character. The film's other flaw is the casting of singer Peter Fenton as the complex asthmatic, Gordon. Fenton has a brooding, but uncharismatic presence, whose underplaying of the character leads him to emerge as a wallowing, self-piteous character, consistently overshadowed by Cynthia, the sexually addictive aggressor, played with an audacious brilliance by Sacha Horler. Hers is a physically unattractive character, and Horler's raw, uncompromising work, is what gives the film its only real strength. Star-on-the-rise Joel Edgerton is promising on stage, but lacks conviction here, as Gordon's drugged out friend. Praise is certainly a brave and demanding work, but unlike the similarly tough Head On, lacks an actor with as much range and power to carry the film. It's not a film that is likely to secure strong international sales here, and one questions its overall audience appeal, commercially. The Globe Film Co will distribute Praise throughout Australia.

12/9/98: OZ STARS
While a number of Australian films are expected to be sold during the Toronto Film Festival, a number of Australian actors vying for more international attention will be making their respective debuts here. Flying into Toronto this weekend is Cate Blanchett, where she'll be attending the North American premiere of her regal drama, Elizabeth, in which she plays the not-so-virginal Elizabeth I. Tipped to win her an Oscar nomination, Blanchett will be taking a day off from another project to talk about the film with the Canadian and US media. Following on her heels is the perennially busy Rachel Griffiths, starring in October Films' Hilary and Jackie, Co-starring Emily Watson. The buzz is very strong indeed. And finally, star-on-the-rise Simon Baker Denny will be jetting in late next week for the highly anticipated Judas Kiss, a thriller with Emma Thompson. Last year, he was fleetingly seen in LA Confidential, which screened here, now he's a major leading man. Baker Denny just completed shooting the latest film from director Ang Lee.

September, 1998

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23rd Toronto International
Film Festival

September 10 - 20, 1998

Rachel Griffiths, left, in My Best Friend's Wedding

Praise - relentless dour tale

Cate Blanchett - Oscar nomination tipped for Elizabeth

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