Monday, September 14, 2009

The Aussies Go Canuck, Part I

Australia has quite a strong representation at the Toronto International Film Festival this year with 19 titles screening. Everything from horror titles to epics to classic reissues. I thought I'd take a look at how some of them have fared so far.

Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones could be poised to become one of the breakout titles of the festival with word on this teen horror flick, which is like a sick and twisted version of Pretty in Pink. I never really heard much about this movie when it screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival, but the audiences in Toronto seem to be reacting with gusto. Good mate Simon from The Gun in the First Act is visiting Toronto and told me The Loved Ones is "the most violent Australian movie ever" and that everyone should "See it see it see it see it see it see it." I am immediately enthused.

Over on Twitter there are comments such as "More than Carrie 2.0, but deserving of the comparison" (@a_snider), "excellent Aussie horror flick Brilliant, brutal + twisted" (@Lighthelp), "Wicked fun! See it if you can" (@nhinkle) and "best film i've seen at #TIFF09 thus far" (@kadarski).

I should note that the above image isn't an official poster (yet), but merely taken from the official website. Interesting though that they've used the word "PROM" in the tagline, a word Australia doesn't use. Reminded me of this oddity in recent movie marketing. At least this "PROM" thing makes sense. Also interesting to see will be how they market Xavier Samuel (above with Jess McNamee at the TIFF screening via @RealKrisAbel) since he has recently been filming a part in Twilight: Eclipse, which is out at the end of June next year. Will the release of The Loved Ones be withheld until after that one? Wouldn't be the first time. Some may remember that the Aussie crime flick Two Hands, which starred a fresh-faced Heath Ledger, was released after 10 Things I Hate About You to capitalise on all the "next big thing from Australia" press he was receiving. We'll see. Speaking of Xavier, @larry411 says of his performance - "Xavier Samuel pulls off a stunning agonizingly horrific performance in The Loved Ones". Niiice.

Bruce Beresford's new film is Mao's Last Dancer and it's being called an "epic" (not sure if it is, but we'll roll with it) and it had its world premiere at TIFF (I get to see it in 10 days and I'm very excited for it). This film, a biopic about famed dancer Li Cunxin, isn't as prone to hastily crazed fanboy postings as the previous film, but small bits and pieces of news have spread out. @HopscotchFilms and @ingridhamilton are claiming it received a standing ovation! @kirinwright calls it "fantastic" and @RosemarieUmetsu says it was one of the "(b)est movies viewed today".

Meanwhile, this is one of the few written review I've managed to find and the author, Cyndi-Lynn somebody, states that the "dance scenes are AMAZING" and that "(t)here was nary a dry eye in the house by the end of the movie (mine included)." Moviehole has slight reservations but says "Lead actor Chi Cao gives a solid acting performance and marvelous dance performances opening the eyes of even a non-dance fan up to the undeniable beauty and fluidity to the form." Matt Ravier at Nothing If Not Critical, however, calls it "trite" and "mostly set in the 80's and looks like it was made then too, tacky slow-motion and vignetted flashbacks included." Damn.

That's an unidentified interviewer, Bruce Beresford, Li Cunxin and the film's star Chi Cao during the Q&A after the screening.

Playing alongside the aforementioned The Loved Ones in the highly-hyped "Midnight Madness" section of the festival is another Aussie horror flick, this one called Daybreakers. Directed by the Spierig Brothers (Undead - a zombie film), their latest is a vampire movie (what next? Werewolves? How about YES PLEASE!) that stars Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe and - oh how bloody sweet - Claudia Karvan. I can never quite get enough Claudia Karvan and at least one of her recent horror forays is getting press. Poor Long Weekend. It appears we'll only ever get to see that one this way. Never mind, moving back on to Daybreakers. The trailer (watch it below) is impressive so I was keen to discover if audiences were eating it up. You can see footage of the brothers plus Dafoe and Neill on the red carpet by clicking here or click here for crazy pre-screening shenanigans (Dafoe, step away from the camera!)

On Twitter people are saying that it is a "friggin awesome movie" (@spidey_zombie), "amazing fun! This and Let the Right One In are making vampires scary again!" (@ghoulishgary, "Daybreakers rocked!!!!!" (@Jennroxx), "a great gorefest!" (@bitchitorial, "excellent, original vampire flick destined to have a cult following" (@Lighthelp) and "Fraking awesome!" (@angeldeathlust).

In the world of written reviews we have AICN saying Daybreakers is "the emergence of two seriously talented filmmakers" and "one hell of an original, entertaining flick." Screen Daily is saying that the film "draws much of its strength from its well-developed future society, absorbing the viewer in a fluorescent-light world ... the brothers make good use of their money to create a disturbing urban nightmare."

Meanwhile, Variety has posted a negative review saying "Take the futuristic corporate malfeasance of "The Matrix" and the race to find the post-plague cure of "28 Days Later," add vampires, and you've got "Daybreakers," ... the script doesn't wring many surprises or much character involvement from the premise, and the brothers' helming, while slick, is short on scares, action setpieces and humor." Of course, the Variety writer, Dennis Harvey, also writes "the debut feature for twin Aussie writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig", which is blatantly untrue. And not even in a "they made a movie before, but it never got released" type of scenario. It even screened at TIFF and it even as it's own Variety page. That's not good fact-checking, Variety!

More of the Aussie contingent at Toronto in a day or two (more likely two, okay?)

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