Chalet Girl


Tamsin Egerton and Felicity Jones have a lot on their plates.

Tamsin Egerton and Felicity Jones have a lot on their plates.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Felicity Jones, Tamsin Egerton, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Brooke Shields, Bill Bailey, Georgia King, Sophia Bush, Nicholas Braun, Rebecca Lacey, Tom Goodman-Hill, Jo Martin, Miquita Oliver, Ken Duken, Alex Macqueen, Mike Goodenough, Tara Dakides, Gregor Bloėb, Adam Bousdoukos, Abbie Dunn, Amber Atherton, Jessica Hynes. Directed by Phil Traill

Not everyone has an easy life. In fact, most of us don’t. It can be a matter of circumstance – being born into poverty, in a place where escaping from poverty isn’t an option. Sometimes, we make our own lives hard through poor choices and foolish mistakes. However, sometimes life just serves up lemons. It’s up to us whether to suck on those lemons or make lemonade.

Kim Matthews (Jones) has every reason to make a sour face. She was brought up in a happy, middle class English family and had become a champion skateboarder but all that came to a screeching halt when a car accident that she was involved in took the life of her mother. The trauma of the crash rendered her unable to take on the more daring aspects of her sport, so she is reduced to flipping burgers at a British fast food joint to make ends meet for her and her dad (Bailey). Then, opportunity knocks.

After fruitlessly searching for a better-paying job, she finally nets one – working at an Alpine chalet as a kind of factotum for wealthy vacationers wintering there. She’s a combination waitress, maid, butler, chef and essentially facilitator for Richard (Nighy) and his snooty American wife Caroline (Shields). However, she takes more than a passing interest in their hunky son Johnny (Westwick).

At first, the other chalet girls look down on the less posh girl, particularly Georgie (Egerton) but as time goes by the staff at the resort begin to warm up to Kim as does Johnny, which doesn’t please Caroline. No, not one eensy weensy tiny little bit, especially since his girlfriend is spoiled American rich girl Chloe (Bush) whom Caroline thinks is far more suitable for little Johnny. Well, not so little anymore.

Mikki (Duken), seeing a bored Kim struggling while learning to snowboard, teaches her and realizes she has a natural gift for it. He urges her to enter a competition in which the top prize is $25,000 and after some persuading, she agrees to. Johnny, noticing that Kim has gotten good at snowboarding, pays her additional cash to teach him as well, which doesn’t sit too well with either Caroline or Chloe.

However, the same demons that haunted Kim in skateboarding continue to make her snowboarding difficult. Will she be able to get past her fears and become the athlete she is capable of being? Or will she lose everything to the ghosts of her past?

Like most romantic comedies that are being made today, both in Hollywood and on independent sets, Chalet Girl is fairly formulaic. You have two people from opposite sides of the tracks, both extraordinarily good-looking and surrounded by quirky but supportive friends who are almost as good-looking, who fall in love despite having little in common, then a misunderstanding and/or mistake on the part of one or both tears them apart only to (and this shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to anyone who watches a lot of rom-coms) get back together in the end.

Jones, who has since gone on to bravura performances in films like The Theory of Everything and True Story with high-profile roles in the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One and Inferno, is delightful here. A cross between an English rose and the American girl next door, she’s winsome, a little bit naive, but pure pluck. She is grappling with the demons resulting from the car accident, but she soldiers on nonetheless. She’s the kind of girl that you figure a fella would be crazy not to fall in love with.

Nighy is always reliable and turns in a solid performance here; veteran British comic Bailey also shines in his brief role. The humor here is bone-dry which fans of English humor will enjoy but those who don’t like British comedy may find this not to their liking, although I’m glad to say that I’m a fan. For the most part unfortunately, Traill and writer Tom Williams seem content to follow establish formulas and play it safe at every turn. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – not every film should be an excuse for innovating – but this one feels so forgettable and disposable that it wastes some fine performances and some good chemistry.

WHY RENT THIS: Jones is a charming romantic lead. Dry humor welcome.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Rom-com cliches abound. Takes no chances.
FAMILY VALUES: There is enough rough language to merit an “R” rating.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filming was briefly interrupted when a snow storm threatened the location in Austria where the skiing sequences were being filmed.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Cast interviews and YouTube “viral videos.”
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.8M on a $10.5M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix. Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Devil Wears Prada
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Brooklyn

The Boxtrolls


I'll have some eggs with that.

I’ll have some eggs with that.

(2014) Animated Feature (Focus) Starring the voices of Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Steve Blum, Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Fred Tatasciore, Max Mitchell, Maurice LaMarche, Laraine Newman, Brian George. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable

We have a tendency to look down upon those who aren’t members of our economic and/or ethnic stratum. If we are rich, the poor receive our disdain. If we are middle-class, we hate the rich. If we are white, we mistrust those whose skin tones are darker. And of course, right back at the whites from the other ethnic groups.

We might paraphrase Tom Lehrer when talking about this film; “All the red hats hate the white hats, and the white hats hate the red hats…and everybody hates the Boxtrolls.” That’s because these underground dwellers who come to the surface each night to scavenge refuse and spare parts have stolen a baby and killed his father, which according to exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) was for a delectable Boxtroll delicacy. Snatcher, a red hat, has long coveted a white hat and sees the Boxtrolls as his ticket to le chapeau blanc. Lord Portley-Rind (Harris), whose main concern is cheese – the town of Cheesebridge is famous for their fromage – absently grants Snatcher his wish. Provided, of course, that he rids the town of every last one of the vermin.

The problem is with the scenario is that the Trubshaw baby isn’t residing in the belly of a Boxtroll. Nor is he even dead. The kindly Boxtrolls have adopted the young orphan and given him a box of his own to hide in – the Boxtrolls are timid creatures who have learned to hide and run rather than stand and fight. True to their custom, they have named the boy Eggs after the product that was stored in the box that he wears and uses as a convenient hiding place. Therefore other Boxtrolls are named Fish, Shoe, Fragile and Oil Can.

Winnie (Fanning), the spoiled daughter of Lord Portley-Rind, is fascinated by the Boxtrolls and by blood, guts and grimness in general. She is further fascinated by them when she discovers that a young boy her age is with them, although nobody believes her tale. When Eggs (Wright) returns to the surface during a cheese festival to try and stop the humans from stealing his friends and releasing those who are imprisoned, he runs into Winnie. She of course doesn’t believe his assertion that the Boxtrolls are gentle and far from dangerous. They are builders, not destroyers.

As it turns out, Snatcher has a fiendish plan in mind which if his henchmen Trout (Frost) and Pickles (Ayoade) had known about they might have had a philosophical issue with. It would mean the extermination of every Boxtroll in town – including Eggs. And as Lord Portley-Rind obliviously chews his cheese, his daughter Winnie realize that it will be up to her and Eggs to save the day if the Boxtrolls are to survive.

Based on a lavishly illustrated almost 600 page children’s book by British author Alan Snow entitled Here Be Monsters, this is the third movie from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio that previously brought us Coraline and ParaNorman. Like those films there is definitely a supernatural bent to the movie. Like those films, the painstaking process includes a fantastically detailed background with meticulously crafted characters.

Kingsley’s normally mild voice is given a kind of over-the-top Cockney villain infusion, breathing life into a character who has allowed his dreams to warp him. He will achieve that goal no matter what it costs and the devil help whomever gets in his way because God surely won’t. Equal parts Snidely Whiplash, Wile E. Coyote, the Child Catcher (from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Monty Python, Archibald Snatcher is a memorable villain who will delight children and adults alike.

So too will the environment created both in the town, which is perched on a hill much like the Wedding Cake town of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy while the underground home of the Boxtrolls is filled with Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, unexpected beauty and plenty of gross protein. The entrance into their world is through fun looking slides which would be a slam dunk if Universal ever decides to put a Boxtrolls-themed play area for children in one of its theme parks.

Although Laika is based in the Pacific Northwest, the movie has a definite British sensibility (the source material is, after all, English) not only in the accents but also in the humor; all it lacks is Graham Norton skulking about looking for celebrities to interview. Anglophobes, take note.

Also the story is a bit simplistic which of course comes with the territory when adapting children’s books. While there is plenty of subversive class conscious mockery going on, there are definite bad guys and good guys. Even Archibald Snatcher’s motivation isn’t too hard to understand; if this weren’t geared for kids I suspect they would have made the character a little less malevolent and more sympathetic. I would have liked that myself because, after all, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to better your situation. The issue comes when you give up your humanity in order to do so and perhaps that’s the point they’re making, but even so I think it would have been more poignant if they’d made Archibald a decent fellow to begin with.

But that might not have worked so well with little kids who need someone with a black hat to boo. There is nothing really scary about the Boxtrolls other than maybe a scene or two when one or more of the characters is in grave peril but there isn’t anything wrong with bringing your littlest tykes into this one. It’s fun, there’s a definite Halloween vibe to it and adults will be as enchanted as their rugrats at the movies and in a year of mediocre family entertainment at best, this one stands out as pure gold.

REASONS TO GO: Wacky and as enchanting for adults as it is for kids. Kingsley voices one of the greatest villains of recent animated films. Beautiful stop-motion animation.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too British for some. Plot can be simplistic.
FAMILY VALUES:  A bit of rude humor, some peril and a bit of animated action. Okay for most kiddies.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Pegg and Frost, good friends in real life, didn’t find out until after they’d recorded their portions of the dialogue that they’d both lent their voices to the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Monsters, Inc.
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Trade