Attack of La Nina
Matchstick’s ski movies are a big deal. The have big budgets that allow them to do big things like rent loads of helicopters and fly to out of the way big mountain locations to film their crew of boss skiers as they race around like super heroes. They can afford big things like Cineflex cameras which render mountain vistas so clearly that watching the BluRay on a big screen is like looking out a window. It’s not a stretch to say that when autumn rolls around there’s a lot of us looking forward to what Matchstick will deliver. Last year’s The Way I See It satisfied the cravings of all discerning ski movie heads and walked off with Powder’s 2011 Movie of the Year award as well as the Best Film and the People’s Choice Award at the 2010 IF3. It was a movie that lived up to the hype and moved the whole genre ahead a step in its use of those wicked gyro-stabilized cameras. Attack of La Nina arrives as a bit of mixed blessing then. You get all the cool stuff you’d expect, as I have just described but here’s the downside: it comes in pretty much the exact same layout as last year. “Haven’t we seen this before”, says Cody Townsend when he mockingly reprises his star turn from last year in the lead up to AOLN’s big final sequence. Yes, Cody we did. We saw the whole damn thing.
In what is becoming a tradition, having been the opening slot for the past three movies is Sean Pettit tearing it up. Then comes some big air with Bobby Brown and Gus Kenworthy popping off kickers in slow motion. There are backcountry pillows with Hjorleifson and Abma. There’s comedy with Cody West. There’s more big air in Aleyska, AK. There’s Ingrid Backstrom and crew exploring some relatively untouched British Columbian mountains: last year it was Bralorne, this year it’s the Meager Group, up past Pemberton. And then, to wrap it all up and put a bow on it, Windstedt and Townsend do their two-man mountain slaying crew show.
But when you think about it, this complaint is superficial. If you make this charge against AOLN, then what must you say about every Sunday afternoon NFL game or any mainstream pro sport broadcast for that matter. It’s the same format because that’s what works to bring you the action. And be honest, you’re not watching it for the format, though that plays it’s role in allowing the story of the game to unfold. You are watching it for the action, the skill and the excitement.
Freeskiing and the role ski movies play in freesking have a symbiosis unlike your everyday pro sports. Action sports take place in far-flung locations. There are no bleachers for which you can buy a ticket to watch James Heim shred 60 degree mountain faces. You either fly the heli for him or you wait eight months for the movie to come out so you can see what level he’s skiing at. Ski movies are the Sunday afternoon NFL game. They might be produced by independent film crews but they serve the same role as NBC, ABC, CBS or cable sports do for the major leagues. They are the crucial broadcasts that get the word out about the sport. As I have argued elsewhere, at their best, these movies are art. At a minimum, the athleticism alone makes a well-done ski movie a jaw-dropping thrill.
So, with AOLN, I think it’s fitting that we look at some of the athletes instead of the “packaging” that surrounds their performance. While I might not do that with every ski movie, it’s fitting with Matchstick’s crew because the skill achievements among the core group here is on par with the best of the best in any other sport. Imagine not one Gretzky on your hockey team, but six of them. How about a half dozen Kobe Bryants? AOLN’s roster of talent is simply awe-inspiring.
19 year-old Sean Pettit’s audacious style continues to tighten to the point where he now resembles a Maserati whipping through mountain roads. He has terrific control on the tightest of turns and the most vertical of pillow descents. Whereas two years ago he’d execute a straight cliff huck, the same move this year usually comes with a 360. He continually pushes his limits. Factor in his class clown persona and it adds up to one thing: Pettit’s a bona fide star.
Richard Permin is the new guy. After a solid intro in last year’s film he’s been given a higher profile in AOLN, skiing with Pettit. A transplant from France he’s got boundless energy and a fearless approach to the steeps that makes him a contender for the Full Throttle Award at all times. He also has the best line of the movie when after stomping a particularly massive hard huck, he groans “I can’t understand how Seth Morrison can do that shit everyday”.
Mark Abma blows his knee again this year (not the same knee as last year) but not before getting a load of sequences in the can, so we’re fortunate to witness some of the most agile skiing possible. Abma skiis powder like he’s on springs. He’s got a little bounce that punctuates his already fluid style. His corked spins off windblown, natural backcountry kickers in slow motion ought to be declared a national treasure by the Canadian Government.
James Heim and Eric Hjorleifson come across like two of the easiest going guys on the planet. Two very chill dudes. Until you put them at the top of some gnarly big mountain line and then it’s all fireworks with balls-to-the-wall skiing. Both guys, with their helmet-cam sequences filmed at Meadow Lodge B.C., bring home some vertigo-inducing, adrenaline-spiked shots that are going to make most viewers scream “Whoa”.
Bobby Brown’s spins and flips seem endless as he logs in a substantial amount of screen time here. His triples now seem effortless, just pure grace in the air.
Lastly, Cody Townsend and Henrik Windstedt ski the bejeezus out of the mountains near Terrace, B.C. The steep faces they go after and their cliff hucks are the highlight reel that you play for your buddies who might not watch a lot of ski movies, just to give them a taste of what’s going on in the genre. Townsend takes a nasty hit; I’m not going to say “fall” or “spill” because he actually flies off the mountain into rocks. Somehow he defied death. Frankly, not the type of stuff I want to see all the time but definitely a reminder of the danger these athletes face when they walk into their “arenas”.
Focus on the skiing and not the format this year with Matchstick. These athletes are the shit. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail