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Monte Carlo: Blu-ray + Digital Copy Review

Monte Carlo (2011) movie poster Monte Carlo

Theatrical Release: July 1, 2011 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Thomas Bezucha / Writer: Jules Bass (novel Headhunters); Kelly Bowe (screen story); Thomas Bezucha, April Blair, Maria Maggenti (screenplay)

Cast: Selena Gomez (Grace Bennett, Cordelia Winthrop-Scott), Leighton Meester (Meg), Katie Cassidy (Emma), Cory Monteith (Owen), Andie MacDowell (Pam), Catherine Tate (Alicia Winthrop Scott), Pierre Boulanger (Theo Marchand), Luke Bracey (Riley), Brett Cullen (Robert), Valerie Lemercier (Madame Valerie), Christophe Malavoy (Bernard Marchand), Amanda Fairbank-Hynes (Amanda)

Buy Monte Carlo from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital Copy • DVD • Instant Video

Being the star of Disney Channel's top-rated series has its perks. A pop music career with plenty of song cover and music video opportunities is a given. An original TV movie vehicle is guaranteed. Children all over the world will look up to you. And you're sure to be one of the most famous people alive by web searches and media coverage.
That is an awful lot to deal with, especially since the actress (and it is always a female) is just a teenager when all this is going down.

Current holder of Disney's "It girl" title, Selena Gomez of "Wizards of Waverly Place" follows in the unmistakable footsteps of Hilary Duff, Raven-Symonι, and Miley Cyrus. Each of those young women was thrust into the global spotlight with a sitcom that paved the way for high-profile albums and leading film roles. Gomez can now look to those three for a lesson in the fleeting nature of young fame.

That is no swipe at them; all three enjoyed wider recognition and greater paydays than you and I put together. But where are they now? Though a recent bestselling author, Duff is scarce in movies, absent from music, and only in the news these days for her marriage to and pregnancy with an NHL player. Symonι just had her comeback ABC Family sitcom cancelled after one season. And Cyrus, who enjoyed the biggest fame of all, has kind of vanished off the industry's radar creatively in a matter of months, although she has a number of films in the cards for next year.

Gomez has taken steps towards sustaining prominence post-Disney. While the final season of "Wizards" is slowly winding down on air, Gomez has already ventured outside the Mouse House to accept some film work. Last summer, she played big sister Beezus Quimby in the Beverly Cleary adaptation Ramona and Beezus. This summer, she claimed top billing in Monte Carlo, a PG-rated, youth-friendly comedy adventure in the vein of those Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies.

In Monte Carlo, Meg (Leighton Meester), Emma (Katie Cassidy), and Grace (Selena Gomez) find their European vacation picks up when they are left behind by their lame group tour.

Loosely based on the 2002 novel Headhunters by Jules Bass of Rankin-Bass renown, Monte Carlo follows new high school graduate Grace Bennett (Gomez), her fellow diner waitress Emma (Katie Cassidy), and Grace's collegiate, responsible new stepsister Meg (Leighton Meester) abroad for a week-long European vacation. Things begin in Paris, where the Texas girls are rushed through the sights on a frenzied guided tour. When they get separated from their group, Grace, Emma, and Meg walk into a coincidence of epic proportions.

While seeking refuge from the rain in the swank Hotel Grand Belle, the three encounter wealthy, spoiled British heiress Cordelia Winthrop-Scott, who is the spitting image of Grace (she too is played by Gomez). When the hotel's staff mistakes the NYU-bound 18-year-old for the worldly icon, the girls don't put up too much of a fight. Grace adopts a passable British accent and all three soon come to enjoy opulent meals, spacious suites, and private jet flights. The lattermost of those brings them to the title location in scenic Monaco.

The movie plays out like a pre-teen girl's fantasy, with priceless jewels, fancy dresses, fireworks, Vespa rides, and, of course, romance. Grace takes a liking to young French nobleman Theo (Pierre Boulanger), who doesn't recognize the deception. Only Cordelia's aunt (Catherine Tate, "Doctor Who") has any suspicion that something is amiss. Meg falls for charming Australian rugby player Riley (Luke Bracey). Emma doesn't get swept off her feet by the guy she connects with, which is good because her beau back home ("Glee"'s Cory Monteith) has flown over to patch up their recent spat/proposal.

Aunt Alicia Winthrop-Scott (Catherine Tate) is the only one wise to Grace's ruse. Owen ("Glee"'s Cory Monteith), Emma's sweetheart from Texas, comes looking for her in Paris.

Monte Carlo doesn't aim to please anyone male or over the age of about 14. It's shallow. It's broad. It's amateurishly performed. And it's unoriginal, having the same basic plot as Duff's The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Such frothy femininity doesn't pervade the world of cinema, so it's tough to be too bothered by it, knowing that it's not meant for you. As far as children's entertainment goes, this is harmless and not merely the launchpad of a calculated franchise designed to work its way into every facet of teen life. It's just a single contrived movie, one that will soon be dated and even sooner forgotten.

It doesn't seem like this movie will do any more for Gomez's film career than the appealing, G-rated Ramona and Beezus did. Grossing $23 million stateside and another $15 M overseas (with less than you'd suspect coming from France),
Monte Carlo might eventually generate a little profit on its modest $20 M budget, but it hardly expands Gomez's young, female fanbase from the few million people who tune in to new "Wizards" episodes.

Monte Carlo definitely did not end up as conceived. 20th Century Fox bought the rights to Bass' novel back in 1999, years before it was even published. In 2005, Nicole Kidman signed on as producer and star. At that point, the screenplay was expected to stay true to the book and center on four New Jersey women posing as heiresses to score wealthy husbands and instead getting four down and out gigolos posing as playboys. By 2007, the four New Jersey women were reconceived as three Midwestern schoolteachers. In 2010, the project was given a youth-minded makeover. Though Kidman retained her producer credit, she ended up not appearing in the film, not even in the supporting role she reportedly considered (which, one imagines, went to Andie MacDowell).

Though the finished Monte Carlo is squarely in the demographic for whom combo packs were first conceived, Fox has opted to keep the movie's Blu-ray and DVD releases separate, equipping the former -- which we look at here -- with a digital copy disc instead.

Monte Carlo Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Monte Carlo is less sightly than the majority of new movies on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 presentation is quite grainy and a bit pale, with no logical reason to explain either quality. A good amount of detail, adequate sharpness, and a clean print still add up to something that will satisfy the vast majority of viewers (I suspect videophile-Monte Carlo fan overlap is minimal), but it is odd that it doesn't look better. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is less objectionable. Predictably, it is most lively when playing poppy pop tunes (of which there are many), but dialogue is also crisp, clear, and audible throughout. A small bit of French is translated into English in the default subtitle stream.

Playback was negatively affected in a major way by the disc's BD-Live enhancement. If your Sony player is connected to the Internet, even if you just want to watch the movie, you will encounter picture and sound disturbances every few minutes. This is an annoying issue on other BD-Live-enabled Fox Blu-rays too. Bafflingly, even disabling my connection on my player didn't solve it; I had to yank out my memory stick to halt the nuisance. It's especially unfortunate, because, BD-Live is often nothing more than a promotional waste of time.

The Monte Carlo Match-Up quiz tells you which girl you're most like. I got Meg (Leighton Meester) on my second try. Commenting from an observation deck, Australian Luke Bracey is one of three hunks celebrated in "Ding Dang Delicious: The Boys of 'Monte Carlo.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The all-HD extras begin with seven deleted scenes (6:46), most of which are short and unremarkable. A couple of them check in with Owen (Cory Monteith).

Next, there is the not so unisex personality quiz "Monte Carlo Match-Up." It has you answer ten multiple choice questions to find out which of the three girls you are most like. Your result is treated to a montage and write-up. (I'm so Grace, at least my first time.) You get some different questions on repeat plays, but mostly the order just changes.

"Ding Dang Delicious: The Boys of Monte Carlo" (5:45) gathers thoughts on the three main love interests and the actors who play them, with Monteith getting the lion's share of notice.

Selena Gomez is transformed into Cordelia Winthrop-Scott by the power of make-up, as seen in "Backstage Pass." The girls of "Monte Carlo" dish gossip in short shorts.

"Monte Carlo Couture" (6:00), of course, focuses on the film's fashions, with costume designer Shay Cunliffe and other cast and crew members sounding off on the dresses and accessories.
"Jet Setter's Dreams" (6:09) turns to the filming locations, primarily collecting the cast's enthusiastic remarks on Budapest, Paris, and Monte Carlo.

"Monte Carlo: Backstage Pass" (3:48) is a short making-of piece comprised primarily of on-set revelations from the young leading ladies. "Gossip with the Girls" (5:52) sits the three stars down in short shorts for friendly comments aimed at those who haven't already seen the movie. Needless to say, there are some giggles as they dish on their co-stars, food preferences, and experiences abroad.

Monte Carlo's theatrical trailer (2:26) is kindly preserved. Under "Sneak Peek", we find a promo for Fox's (and by extension, MGM's) Year of a Million Moments campaign. The disc opens with a promo for Fox digital copies and a trailer for Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. Not menu-accessible but hidden in the disc's files is a trailer for Marley & Me: The Puppy Years. Fox's serious digital copy tutorial (3:35) is also sensibly included.

The few remaining items are relegated to a Live Extras section. Most significant among them is the music video for Selena Gomez's "Who Says" (3:11), which you can stream or download. Either way takes a more than ideal amount of time to view. "Live Lookup" allows you to watch the movie with IMDb information on the cast and crew laid over or around the movie, ensuring you'll get the playback hiccups. "What's New" takes you to Fox's section of trailers and Blu-ray bonus feature excerpts, all similarly offered for stream or download.

The digital copy disc is simply a DVD-ROM holding three files of the movie for transfer to computer or portable device. You can take advantage of the pocket BLU for wireless transfer.

The jazzily-scored menu loops a short sequence of movie clips atop the revolving doors of the Hotel De Paris.

Monte Carlo is packaged in a standard eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase, whose artwork adds much color to the one-sheet design, from the leading ladies' hair and clothing to the new pink and bling title logo. An insert supplies digital copy directions and code on one side, while advertising Judy Moody on back. A sticker on the shrinkwrap encourages you to enter a sweepstakes for a $5,000 Monte Carlo dream shopping spree.

The girls' dumpy Parisian hotel room is much less than expected and advertised. Spoiled heiress Cordelia Winthrop-Scott really gives Selena Gomez a chance to stretch her acting chops.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Monte Carlo offers little to anyone who isn't a young girl tickled by romance, fashion, and international adventure. It's crazy that this by-the-numbers production took over ten years to be realized. You'll have to either be a pretty huge Selena Gomez fan or completely new to tween girl entertainment to see this movie as something special. Furthermore, the Blu-ray's feature presentation isn't so hot and the bonus features go out of their way to ostracize straight males, as if the movie hasn't already done that. Though I do not recommend the movie nor this release of it for pre-teen girls, they are the only demographic given any reason to enjoy.

Buy Monte Carlo from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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2011 Family Movies: A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song • Justin Bieber: Never Say Never • Lemonade Mouth • I Am Number Four
Selena Gomez: Ramona and Beezus • Princess Protection Program • Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie
Wizards of Waverly Place: Supernaturally Stylin' • Wizard School | Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana
Leighton Meester: The Roommate • Date Night | Cory Monteith: Glee: The Complete First Season
Selena Gomez Music Videos: Tinker Bell • 101 Dalmatians | Monte Carlo: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo Songs List: A Fine Frenzy - "Blow Away", Patsy Cline - "San Antonio Rose", Luis Mariano - "C'est Magnifique", Darius Rucker - "Alright", Richard Hayman and His Orchestra - "La Vie en Rose", Line Renaud - "Tweedle Dee", The Ting Tings - "Keep Your Head", Cee Lo Green - "Bright Lights, Bigger City", Tommy Strange & The Features - "One More Time", The DC Soul Orchestra featuring Stuart Hart - "Love is Grand", Mika - "Love Today", Antonio Carlos Jobim - "Meditacao", Lucy Schwartz - "I Want the Sky", Kaolin - "Je Reviens", Ingrid Michaelson - "Mountain and the Sea", Mika - "Relax (Take It Easy)", Louis Armstrong - "La Vie en Rose", Lyn Murray - "To Catch a Thief", Mika - "Blame It on the Girls", Selena Gomez & The Scene - "Who Says"

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Reviewed November 7, 2011.



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