VIFF: Christmas in September

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  September 29, 2004 @ 12:00am

Filed under: Movie Reviews  Festivals

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas! All right, I know what you're thinking. Have the movie studios finally lost it entirely and released Holiday movies in September? After all, it's only a matter of time before the holiday season extends back into the back-to-school shopping season. Or maybe your thinking that I've finally succumbed to the pressure and snapped? No, the studios haven't lost it quite yet and more importantly neither have I, though at some points it feels like I'm hanging on by a thread. After all, we all know the real start of the holiday season is when one or more Vancouver radio stations flip to an All-Christmas music format. But for those of you who are all ready for the holidays, you can get a glimpse of holiday cheer as the Vancouver International Film Festival offers up two screenings each of two Canadian films set during what Johnny Mathis called "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year".

Siblings (2004, Canada)

Screens on 9/29 @ 9:15pm, Granville 7 #3 and 10/1 @ 1pm, Granville 7 #7

****

For those of you who like your Christmas just a tad on the dark side, it doesn't get much more dark and twisted than David Weaver (Century Hotel)'s Siblings. Life for the Burns children is a challenge. Although they have a nice home in the mountains, their parents (Sonia Smits, Nicholas Campbell), who've married and remarried enough for them to all be siblings but not blood related, treat them all like absolute crap. Their only saving grace comes in the form of their grandfather, so when he dies it shakes the family up completely. Joe looks after the young ones Danielle and Pete, while keeping an eye out on his sister Margaret (Sarah Gadon), who's more interested in staying out late all night and having sex with her older boyfriend. Although they have always fantasized about killing their parents, they would never do it, until one day their parents die in a car accident. Regardless of whether they are responsible for the accident, they have to cover it up as they stand to inherit a large sum of money should their parents die. However, covering up a death is never easy and the holiday season makes it tougher, such as commitments including a school recital for young Danielle, a nosy neighbor, and Margret's mind being pre-occupied with having sex with her boyfriend instead of helping with the family. Family values, growing up, and the bond between brothers and sisters are explored in this deeply comedic and darkly funny motion picture.

I'm not sure what it is about dark comedies (especially ones set at Christmas) that appeals so greatly to me, but perhaps it's my twisted perspective on the entire Holiday season. Director David Weaver's second feature is a vast improvement over his first. Featuring well-developed and consistently hilarious characters portrayed by unknown Canadian talent (with the exception of Sarah Polley), a dark bitting sense of humour, and devoid of Holiday cheer of any sort, this is really a motion picture aimed at cynical Scrooges of any age. The screenplay by Jackie May is biting and shocking, with many of the film's funniest moments coming from what could be described as throwaway lines in long patches of dialogue. Most of the funniest moments come from the youngest two siblings, played by Samantha Weinstein and Andrew Chalmers, the former who continuously tells her brothers and sisters that "I'm not retarded, I just wear glasses" and the latter whose passion for dressing up in pink shirts and with earrings leaves not only the audience but his own parents to question his sexuality ("I'm raising a little [expletive deleted] queer!"). Sprinkled with recognizable holiday music, including Carol of the Bells and The Nutcracker Suite to evoke memories of our own messed up Decembers, this effectively adds to the mood of the film. Strong performances from newcomers Sarah Gadon as the girl who loves a good night of sex and Weinstein as the adorable and scene-stealing Danielle lead the way in what is one of the sharpest and funniest Canadian films to come out in some time. Highly original and worth seeing, it's a shame that as of publication Siblings does not have a Canadian distributor for theatrical release. Here's hoping that someone sees and picks it up at the fest.

Seven Times Lucky (2004, Canada)

Screens on 9/25 @ 9:15pm, Granville 7 #4 and 10/7 @ 1pm, Granville 7 #2

**

Continuing the holiday theme at this year's festival is Seven Times Lucky from first-time director G.B. Yates. Seven Times Lucky is the story of Harlan (Kevin Pollak), a down on his luck con-artist who struggles to get by as he's constantly taking chances at the race track, losing all his money and putting him in debt to all the wrong people. Harlan is in deep to his boss Eddie (Babz Chula) and he must undertake a series of grifts to get her back her money. Harlan doesn't work alone, and his crew consists of the lovely Fiona (Lianne Balaban) and the slippery and untrustworthy Sonny (Jonas Chernick). With Harlan in a tough spot, Fiona comes up with the idea of pulling a switch involving buying a number of gold watches, then reselling them for a higher price. The catch is they never intend to pay for them, switching the briefcases in a complex manner during the exchange. However, when things don't go exactly as planned, mayhem ensues as Harlan has to do whatever it takes to return the money to his boss.

Seven Times Lucky is a pretty standard, paint-by-the-numbers con movie, and it's one that's been seen and done better before. I like a good con movie, and for whatever reason as I sat in the theater watching this film unspool early on a Tuesday morning, there was something about it that just didn't click with me. The characters are thinly written and with little background and the plot and grifts are overly confusing with too many characters and subplots going on. The eventual final con was neither exciting nor thrilling, and with the exception of Kevin Pollack, who I generally like, and Lianne Balaban, looking like a young Natalie Portman, I wasn't big on the acting in the film. Another big problem plaguing the film, which didn't bother me as much until a post-show discussion with Ursic, a fellow critic and friend, was the inaccuracies in the film. In many spots of the film, it was going for an olden days sort of piece, more reminiscent of The Sting, but then towards the end people had cell phones. Director G.B. Yates' finished film is unfocused, and quite frankly a tad on the convoluted and boring side even for a con-grift film, which by definition alone can allow for some pretty out there plot twists and turns. Scheduled for release later on in 2004 or early 2005 by Odeon Films, this film might find an audience with Kevin Pollak fans, but will quickly disappear onto video store shelves.

So, if you're in the mood to experience the holidays a little early this year and you want to check out a couple of movies at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, then Siblings and Seven Times Lucky are your options. For tickets and more information on these or other films playing at the 2004 Vancouver International Film Festival, please visit https://www.viff.org/.

Tags: VIFF, Film Festival, Siblings, Seven Times Lucky

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Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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