DVD Review: Chalet Girl


To Watch 'Chalet Girl,' You Have to Really, Really Suspend Disbelief


As a pair of convenient sportscasters will helpfully explain in the first few minutes of the movie, Chalet Girl is the story of Kim Matthews (Felicity Jones), a championship skateboarder who gave up the sport after a family tragedy. Three years later, she’s retired from the world of competition and working in a fast-food restaurant to support her hapless father (Bill Bailey), until she lucks into a job at an upscale ski resort that takes her from her native England to the mountains of Austria.

Once in the Alps, Chalet Girl takes on a fairytale quality, like Cinderella with extreme sports. This is more for its improbability than its magical qualities. After all, it’s as if a fairy godmother got Kim the chalet gig, since the movie makes a point of showing how unsuited she is for the job. In her interview, she drops plates, is unable to match a wine glass to its correct purpose, and doesn’t display the grace and manners of the other people applying for the job. But, wouldn’t you know, a position needs to be filled at the last minute, and there’s no one else available for it, so off Kim goes.

Once at the chalet, she’s greeted by her two ugly stepsisters, Georgie (Tamsin Egerton), and Jules (Georgia King), frenemies for the rest of the film who keep reminding her how much of a fish-out-of-water she is. “A chalet girl who can’t ski?” remarks Georgie, and it comes across as mean even though it’s a fair point. Luckily, fairytale magic steps in once again, and Kim’s background as a skateboarder translates effortlessly into snowboarding, and Kim picks it up so quickly she decides to enter the big competition at the end of the season.

And yes, Chalet Girl has a Prince Charming, too, in the form of Jonny (Ed Westwick), the wealthy son of the chalet owner And, like the Prince Charming in most fairytales, his character isn’t entirely formed, and it’s hard to put a finger on what’s supposed to be desirable about him except for his station in life.

When it all comes together, much is improbable about Chalet Girl. Felicity Jones doesn’t look like a gritty skateboarder, no does she look like the Ugly Duckling that Georgie and Jules insist she is. It’s hard to believe that she would secure employment at the chalet. It takes a real leap of faith to believe Kim’s rapid progress from snowboard novice to pre-professional competitor.

The love story that develops between Kim and Jonny is the hardest to take in of all. To enjoy Chalet Girl, you have to give in entirely to the fantasy, because once you start to pick at the pieces of it, it all comes apart.

Unfortunately, director Phil Traill doesn’t make it so easy to get lost in the world of Chalet Girl, mostly because much of the story feels glossed over. Every few minutes, he inserts a montage as a shortcut for storytelling. There’s a montage of Kim cooking. There’s one for her cleaning. There’s one for her being bad at snowboarding, then being okay at snowboarding, then being good at snowboarding. (There’s also one of Kim not-snowboarding when the weather is bad.)

Even Kim’s great romance with Jonny is told through a succession of scenes of them frolicking in the snow. You start to wonder if, in a warmer climate, the two would have anything to talk about. This excessive shorthand is probably because Traill is used to working with a short amount of time to get his story across; with the exception of All About Steve, his credits are all for television.

And in the end, Chalet Girl feels more made-for-TV than anything else. The DVD features, too, seem ill-suited for a feature format or one-time viewing. There’s wealth of material, including a not-so-insightful commentary with Traill and Jones that mostly talks about where the scenes were shot. (The story is all there on the surface, so there’s not really much to address there.) But there are also interviews, behind-the-scenes bits, “viral videos” and “YouTube videos” that seem to punish all-at-once viewing. The interviews, for example, are a series of one-on-one Q&As with every single member of the cast. In each case, the actor is asked to describe the plot of the film from their character’s point of view. That means, if you select the “play all” feature, you get ten plot recaps in a row—and the plot isn’t that sophisticated to begin with. It’s hard to imagine who the producers had in mind when putting these extras together.

Ignorable extra-features aside, there’s nothing too taxing or offensive about watching Chalet Girl. It works if you’re looking for the bullet-points of a sports movie, protagonist-comes-into-her-own film, and romance all thrown in together. Nothing is too nuanced, and it’s easy to figure out who the villains and heroes are—just like in a fairytale.


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DVD Review: Another Earth

'Another Earth' Applies More Thought, Less CGI

"Too often characters in movies reveal too much of themselves to each other, or describe exactly how they’re feeling to each other. Another Earth never falls into this trap. John doesn’t come out and discuss his dead wife and child with Rhoda, and Rhoda doesn’t talk about her time in prison. Those experiences weigh heavily on them, but go unremarked upon. They exist in the background, like Earth Two.

Other times, though, it feels as if Another Earth somewhat squanders its best idea. Once the concept of Earth Two is introduced, the mind races with questions: How similar is it to Earth One? Is there a second version of me on the planet? If yes, is that person identical to me, or are there differences? If there are differences, who has the better life? Another Earth raises all of these questions without really exploring them. Instead, it spends all of its time on Earth One, detailing a story about grief, loss, and guilt—a story that’s not as original or intriguing as the double-Earth conceit."

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DVD Review: Fast Five

'Fast Five' Is as Fun as When You Were a Kid, Smashing Your Toys Together

From the opening moments of the movie—when two flashy muscle cars conspire to collide with the prison bus, which tumbles and rolls and everyone walks away without a fatality—it’s clear that Fast Five is going to be at least a little silly. The characters drive off cliffs and leap out of windows and suffer neither broken bones nor scratches and bruises. It is, however, aware of its own outlandishness. “There’s nowhere in the world where people with cars hang out with models. We get that,” director Justin Lin says in his solo commentary on the movie’s extended edition, which runs a full one minute longer than the theatrical cut.

But there’s no harm in running away with the fantasy of it. In the commentary, Lin suggests that everyone just “embrace the ridiculousness of it.” There’s no reason not to, since going along with it means you get to see high-powered cars going up against buses, trains, and, eventually, bank vaults. The joy is similar to the one you experienced when you were a kid, smashing your toys into one another—only the movie has far more expensive toys. Lin estimates that more than 200 cars were destroyed during filming.

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DVD Review: Love, Wedding, Marriage

'Love, Wedding, Marriage': We Recommend Therapy

"Yet it’s not the premise to Love, Wedding, Marriage—and its strict romantic view that equates divorce with failure—that is the movie’s biggest flaw. Instead, it’s the way the film uses its premise to indulge the worst romantic-comedy tropes, scenes featuring zany speed-dating, bad karaoke, soap-opera-style revelations, a fake suicide attempt, schmaltzy third-act toasts, multiple uses of the phrase 'once upon a time', dramatic revelations, and wacky marriage therapies, plural. Did I mention that Ava has a three-week deadline to save her parents marriage before their big, surprise 30th anniversary party that she refuses to cancel?

Love, Wedding, Marriage goes for broad, just-shy-of-slapstick humor. Only Mulroney doesn’t have a feel for the right tone, rhythm, or look of a romantic comedy. In one scene, the marriage therapist that Ava sends her parents to—played by Christopher Lloyd in the most disappointing cameo of his ever put to film—has them run through some pre-therapy exercises that includes them hopping around and snorting air through their noses. Surely, this was supposed to be played for comedy.

In reality, there’s nothing really all that funny about watching Jane Seymour and James Brolin flopping around on screen. It’s almost more sad than funny. When Mulroney tries for some more directorial flourishes, he favors the more dramatic series of extreme close-ups, lingering ponderously on Mandy Moore’s face.

Then again, there isn’t much in the material to elevate with better direction. Much of the dialogue, written by Anouska Chydzik and Caprice Crane of the recent 90210 and Melrose Place reboots, is therapy-speak. People often say exactly what they feel. They talk about fulfillment, prioritizing, and validation. If there is a single least-funny word in the English language, it just might be 'prioritizing'."


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DVD Review: Take Me Home Tonight

'Take Me Home Tonight' Is Not Just Out to Get Drunk and Find an Easy Hookup

"Five years after the cessation of That ‘70s Show, its cast is still making their careers chronicling the stupid things we do when we’re young. This year, that’s often taken the form of entering into ill-advised, pure-sex relationships with formerly platonic friends of the opposite gender. (I’m looking at you, No Strings Attached‘s Ashton Kutcher and Friends with Benefits’ Mila Kunis.) Leave it to Topher Grace, the one who always seemed like the deepest of the bunch, to make the movie where the main character laments the follies of his youth without getting to have any fun at all.

His 2011 movie, Take Me Home Tonight, also comes with a richer tradition of young-adult cinema behind it. The events of the film take place within one 24-hour period, putting it in the same vein as all-in-one-crazy-night movies such as American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and Superbad. Its ‘80s time period and focus on its characters’ feelings makes John Hughes an obvious touchstone. And focusing in particular on a protagonist who can’t figure out what to do with the rest of his life puts it right alongside The Graduate. It’s as if director Michael Dowse set out to remake Sixteen Candles starring Lloyd Dobler"

"Even though all of the pieces are there, Take Me Home Tonight remains as a good example of another film in the ‘80s-nostalgic, all-in-one-night, John Hughes-esque genre without ever becoming something greater. It’s happy to follow along in the footsteps of its inspirations without ever really transcending them. (Even the soundtrack choices, which kick off with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” are pretty typical.) The character of Matt’s best friend, Barry (Dan Fogler), for example, seems more obligatory than compelling. Recently fired, Barry is off in his own subplot where he tries coke for the first time and finds himself enduring a series of increasingly ridiculous sexual adventures. His exaggerated portion of the film, not as thoughtful as the rest, seems like a calculated grab for Harold and Kumar fans."

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August Issue: In Every Issue

Culture, Etc.
Guster, Steve Earle, Trollhunter, and more.

"It’s August, and, to paraphrase Gershwin, the livin’ should be easy—and the music should be, too. Guster understands, and the band’s most recent album, the aptly named Easy Wonderful, provides just the kind of poppy, no-fuss music that’s best for those days when it’s too hot to think. It inspired Entertainment Weekly to write, 'There’s something happily uncomplicated—and at times proudly uncool—about this band’s sixth album.' Hear for yourself when Guster plays an outdoor concert at the Ives Concert Park in Danbury, Connecticut, on August 3."

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Home Theater & Broadway Box Office
Paul, Jane Eyre, Your Highness, and Cul-De-Sac, plus an interview with Altar Boyz director Carlos Encinias.

"Who is your favorite boy band?

I’d have to say it’s a tie between *NSYNC and the New Kids on the Block. The New Kids on the Block was my first concert, but I say that I was just taking my sister and it wasn’t really for me. That’s my line."

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Guster photo by Floto+Warner Studio

DVD Review: Rango

'Rango': The Itchy, the Thirsty and the Ugly

"Rango is an all-out Western, and it’s made first and foremost for an audience that’s nostalgic for movies like High Noon and Once Upon a Time in the West. The film proves over and over again that, given the choice between pleasing a child and getting a smile from a grown-up spaghetti-Western fan, it’ll go for the latter every time, be it through classic Western compositions (the hero riding against a sunset—only it’s a lizard on a road runner) or an over-the-head reference to a beloved film (as well as nods to non-Westerns like Singin’ in the Rain, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, and Chinatown, among others).

If there’s an immediate indication of the film’s intentions, it’s the designs of the characters. They are not child-pleasing. Production designer Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery emphasized what was least cute about Dirt’s denizens—Rango’s bulging asymmetrical eyes, Mayor’s weathered turtle skin—and then added a layer of dirt, grime, dust, and general grunginess for good measure. At one point in the Blu-Ray’s commentary—which is, no pun intended, pretty dry—one of the filmmakers remarked that he wished he could pop out one of the characters’ eyeballs and give it a good scrubbing, that’s how dingy it looked. Watching Rango can make you itchy and thirsty."

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June Issue: In Every Issue

June Highlights
Ani DiFranco, Brian Wilson, Peter Frampton, surrealist art, and more.

Home Theater
True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition Blu-Ray

"The work of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick has been adapted into some of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, including Blade Runner and Minority Report. (Okay, there are some not-so-great ones in there, too, like Next and Paycheck.) His short story, “Adjustment Team,” became The Adjustment Bureau, in which a politician, played by Matt Damon, rails against a fedora-wearing cabal that secretly controls the paths of everyone on Earth. Fans of Mad Men’s Roger Sterling can spot John Slattery under one of those fedoras."

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Blu-Ray Review: AI

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

"Since its release, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has been much like its protagonist, David. Both are considered replacements for something that looks far rosier in memory. And, as a result, both have been scorned and have to work harder to find love in this world.

Much of this has to do with the history of A.I. The story finds its origins with 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', a 1969 short story by Brian Aldiss. Stanley Kubrick first started adapting this story for film, but unfortunately died before he could see it through to completion. As an homage to his friend, Steven Spielberg picked up the project and finished it based on both his conversations with Kubrick and using Kubrick’s copious notes and illustrations.

How much this actually changed Kubrick’s intent for A.I., the film version, will never be known, but the switch from Kubrick to Spielberg forms the basis for almost every criticism of the film. In 'Creating A.I.', one of the features on the new Blu-Ray edition of the film, Spielberg insists that it was Kubrick’s intention to have Spielberg direct from very early in the process. Whether that fact is forgotten, intentionally ignored, or disbelieved, it hasn’t stopped the wave of complaints: Spielberg is too treacly and sentimental for the material, Kubrick would have made it darker, the final film is too close to Spielberg’s other movies (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in particular) and, most emphatically, the ending was a tacked-on mistake to give the whole thing a happier ending.

Whether or not those arguments have merit—and, concerning the last one, Spielberg often claims in interviews that he only delivered on Kubrick’s blueprint for an ending—so much about A.I. has to be ignored to have those criticisms create the lasting impression of the film."

Read the rest of the review at PopMatters.com.