[REVIEW] ‘A Whisker Away’ or Cats are Cute Especially in Anime

With the closure of theaters from the COVID19 virus many of us have turned to Netflix and other streaming services for new films in 2020. This has brought movies like Extraction, Bad Education, and Palm Springs to the world’s attention. However, one aspect of Netflix’s lineup not given enough credit is their incredible anime selection. Whether series or films they have a large selection of original and curated anime films ready for the viewer to enjoy.

One new offering is from directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama called Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu or in English A Whisker Away. This is a shame because Whisker is an adorable film the entire family will enjoy.

A Whisker Away tells the story of Miyo an unhappy young girl who struggles to fit in with her peers and doesn’t get along with her family well especially her stepmother. She does, however, love to daydream about her crush fellow schoolmate Hinode. One day she finds a mask that turns her into a cat and as a cat she’s able to spend more time with her crush but of course blissful cat-dom can’t last forever and things get complicated.

whiskers away2

First of all, Miyo as the cat Taro is so cute. Her bright blue eyes and white fur will charm even the most hardened of cat haters! Miyo is also a character we can all relate to with her insecurities and a fear of rejection we all face especially as teenagers. The longer she stays a cat the harder it is for her to become human again and the decision is harder for her than you might think.

I also enjoyed the world building and magic of A Whisker Away. The script is difficult to predict what is going to happen and the magic is both delightful and scary at the same time. It is definitely reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s The Cat Returns so if you like that film you will definitely like this.

whiskers away3

The writer Mari Okada also wrote Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which I found to be very underrated from 2018. She is great at capturing emotion in her writing and helping you connect with the characters. She directed Maquia and has another film Her Blue Sky that she wrote which I hope gets a US release because I love her writing.

As far as criticisms of A Whisker Away sometimes the villain Kinako was a little much and distracted from the more interesting coming of age elements with Miyo deciding what she wants out of her life.

Still if you are looking for a hidden gem on Netflix A Whisker Away is a good one!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Secret Garden’: A Garden for the Grieving Soul

Watching the latest version of The Secret Garden it is easy to wonder ‘is this really necessary?’. Like Little Women from last year The Secret Garden is one of those oft-told stories that seems to come to the cinema every few years. This is probably because the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett is so commonly read in schools and is a favorite by many (including myself). Now we have the latest version by director Marc Munden, and while not as strong as the luminous 1993 retelling, it has enough magic to be a worthy journey back to the garden.

This version stars Dixie Egerickx as the young Mary Lennox and she does a good job bringing an independent spirit to the classic role. The narrative begins with Mary left alone in India when her parents die of cholera. This grounding in India reminded me of  Alfonso Cuarón’s version of A Little Princess (which I adore). It’s not as magical nor as strong as that film but it definitely tries to have the same impact.

the-secret-garden-movie-review-2020

When she is sent to live in her Uncle Archibald’s estate Mary is essentially given free reign over the house and grounds without a governess or any other oversight. At first she is shocked by this as she is used to being dressed and groomed by servants, but she embraces the freedom and grows to become as attached to the outdoors as her puppy Jemima and friend Dickon (Amir Wilson).

She then, of course, discovers the titular secret garden and begins to process her grief for the first time. The garden is stunning and more overgrown and full of actual magic in comparison to other versions. The plants and flowers almost reminded me of the garden in Nausicaa the Valley of the Wind with the big oversized leaves and jungle-like quality to it.

secretgarden

This The Secret Garden is at its best when it is focusing on Mary and her imagination and growth as a  character. Some of the other elements of the book are not as successful. There’s always a bit of an ableist element to the story of young Colin who if he just believes enough will be able to get out of his wheelchair and walk. I don’t know how you avoid that in this story but maybe make him just sick instead of physically handicapped? I’m not sure but surely there is a way to show Colin’s growth without him suddenly being able to walk again when he previously couldn’t?

I also wonder if they only had Colin Firth for a few days of shooting because he’s not in the movie very much. This makes his role as Archibald feel a little undercooked and unsatisfying. Julie Walters is also not in the movie very much as the housekeeper Mrs Medlock. I would love to have gotten more of her because she’s one of my favorite actors.

the_secret_garden_-_publicity_still_-_h_2020_

Other than that I enjoyed this new version of  The Secret Garden. Some may fault its pacing but I found it to be typical of this type of period film. If they usually aren’t your thing than it won’t win you over but if you like them and like The Secret Garden story than you will probably enjoy this film. It also seems like the perfect film to watch in quarantine when we can’t explore the world as much as we’d like. At least we can live through the movies!

What about you? Are you a fan of The Secret Garden? What’s your favorite version?

7 out of 10

Smile worthy

smile worthy

 

Current Mini Reviews

Yes friends! It is time once again to do one of my mini review posts. It seems I never run out of movies to watch and enjoy (or not) even in a time of pandemic. Fortunately I have some fun recommendations for you this evening with a lot of variety and enjoyment to be had. If you get to see any of them let me know what you think. Here goes:

Black is King

black is king

Anyone who believes film cannot be art needs to check out Beyonce’s new musical treatise Black is King. This 85 minute music video of her ‘lessons of The Lion King certainly has far more to say and more artistry than the ‘live action’ remake she starred in last year. This is a beautiful mixture of music and art that comes from a true and honest place.

My only nitpicks is the songs run together a bit and there wasn’t one I was humming to myself after it was over. The artistry elevates rather bland songs on their own. Also the ties to The Lion King sometimes took me out of the movie and felt like a stretch at times. Still, rarely in 2020 have we gotten something so emotionally honest and beautiful so definitely check it out if you have Disney Plus.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Summerland

Summerland-1200x675

Sometimes a movie wins you over by sheer charm and its determination to be liked. This is the case with Summerland. It stars Gemma Arterton as a woman in World War II in seaside England who is happy to be left alone until a young boy named Frank is given to her to take care of and shelter. She’s honestly a lot to put up with for a lot of this film but the flashbacks to her love with Gugu Mbatha-Raw and her bond with the child were enough to win me over.

I won’t give it away but there is a twist I found pretty groan-worthy but the ending is so sweet it won me back over. So Summerland is admittedly uneven but the good is really tender-hearted and good, so I recommend giving it a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Military Wives-

military wives

Some cynical types will discard Military Wives as a piece of trite fluff but not this critic. It’s just the kind of sweet, crowd-pleaser I love. The fact that it also has great music and is based on a true story makes it even better! The film tells the story of a group of women who’s husbands serve in Afghanistan, and they decide to form a choir to help cheer up their neighbors and before long they become friends. Of course a movie like this is incredibly predictable but that doesn’t matter to me when it is executed well. I could use a lot more movies with as big of hearts as this one, especially ones that remind us all of the power of a strong group of diverse women. Yes please

Kristen Scott Thomas elevates Military Wives with her turn as the grieving Mother who is the stick-in-the-mud leader of the group of women. I also loved Sharon Horgan as our more free-spirited leader who clashes with Scott Thomas. The music is also very well done so that adds a layer of enjoyment to the film. I real feel-good film we need in 2020!

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

An American Pickle

american pickle

I am not always the biggest Seth Rogen fan. Going all the way back to comedies like Knocked Up his whole man-child that wins the gorgeous blonde woman can sometimes get on my nerves. This is why I am genuinely surprised that with American Pickle I actually enjoyed not one but two Seth Rogens!

I must own I have an affinity for fish out of water comedies. Whether it be Encino Man, Kate & Leopold or even the Thor movies there is something inherently funny about the innocent newcomer trying to make their way around a modern world. Of course the story is convoluted and ridiculous but you have to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride. If you can than I think you will have fun with American Pickle.

In the film Rogen plays a pickle worker from the 1920s who is brined for 100 years only to wake up and confront modern life and his great grandson also played by Rogen. There are some parts of American Pickle that feel dated for 2020, particularly in the middle section, but I was still laughing enough throughout to make it work. It also has a lot of charming moments that did my sentimental heart good. If you have HBO Max I’d give it a watch.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So look at me. Just full of smiles today!

[REVIEW] ‘Made in Italy’: a Family, a Renovation, an Escape

There are some films that watching them are like wrapping up in a cozy blanket and the new film Made in Italy is that kind of movie. Everything from the subject matter, to the casting, to the setting in Tuscany make you want to pull out the tissues and call your Mother. I love when a film can give me such feels and Made in Italy did not disappoint.

Let’s start with the casting. Made in Italy stars Liam Neeson and his real life son Micheál Richardson. They of course play father and son in the film, and they are brought together to restore a house in Tuscany once owned by their departed mother/wife. This of course has emotional resonance as their real life mother/wife Natasha Richardson died tragically in a skiing accident in 2009.

made in italy2

While not autobiographical the knowledge of the real-life events the actors have suffered can’t help but impact their performances and bring a special dose of emotion to the film. Indeed, when Neeson is looking through old albums at photos of his wife we get the feeling this activity isn’t foreign to him at all and the tears come!

Both father and son have excellent chemistry as you might expect and young Richardson holds his own in the more dramatic sequences along with his more seasoned father. We even get a little bit of romance for him with a local chef named Rafaella (Helena Antonio).

Made in Italy also has the novelty of watching a home renovation in a place as beautiful as Tuscany. Don’t we all need that right now? With no chance of traveling to Europe any time soon I relished in a chance to vacate there vicariously through film. Even when things are difficult and they can’t decide what paint to use or when to paint over his angry art it’s all more charming and delightful because it’s in Italy.

made in italy

If you love movies like Return to Me or Under the Tuscan Sun you will love Made in Italy. It’s heartfelt, well put together, escapist fare that I thoroughly enjoyed. There’s even a scene where they gratuitously eat spaghetti bolognese, and I was there for it! Yum!  (I’ve actually been to Tuscany when I was 17 and this sure brought back tons of memories. I told my Mother when this nightmare is all over we need to go!)

I am not sure if Made in Italy will get into open theaters/drive-in but it is going to be on VOD Aug 7th and I highly recommend it. I finished it and even though I had cried I felt happy and hopeful. We can all use more of that these days.

8.5 out of 10

smile worthyThis review does contain affiliate links to Amazon products. If you purchase the product using the links it helps to support this site and my dreams as a critic

 

[REVIEW] ‘Animal Crackers’ or a Test as a Critic

As a film critic I strive to be as fair and objective as possible when looking at a film. It is very important for me to give everything a fair chance and to remember the years of struggle that go into each film I watch. However, there are times when it is harder than others. For example, at Sundance they have panels with the creators talking about all the effort and time they put into the films and as a lover of independent film those narratives definitely pull at my heartstrings.

However, I try my best to still give a fair review. Another example of this type of conflict happened this week with a new animated film on Netflix called Animal Crackers. As an animation fan I became aware of this film way back in 2017 when it premiered at the Annecy Film Festival in France. Then I waited for it to be released in 2018, then 2019 and finally here in 2020. In 2018 Cartoon Brew published a storyabout the problems creators were having finding a distributor for the film.

Since then I have followed the project through the ups and downs as it seemed like they would never be able to distribute their hard work. Then finally Netflix optioned it and audiences were finally able to view it starting last Friday. I even had the privilege of interviewing the directors Tony Bancroft and Scott Christian Sava over on rotoscopers.

animal crackers

With all that said I finally got to watch the completed film, Animal Crackers, hoping to love it and I must own that I did not. I don’t think it was a complete disaster by any means but I’d be lying if I said it all worked for me.

Let’s start out with the positives. First off, I like the basic concept of the animal crackers changing you into the animal and then eating a human cookie and changing back to your human form. That’s clever. It reminds me of the ‘eat me’ cookies in Alice in Wonderland. There is also a fight towards the end where they quickly keep changing characters and it reminded me of the Wizard’s Duel in The Sword in the Stone.

animal crackers

The animation also moves nicely and has a bright appealing aesthetic especially for a small budget of 17 million. In addition, the voice cast they assembled is impressive with everyone from John Krasinski, Danny Devito and Emily Blunt.

The problem with Animal Crackers lies in the convoluted story with too many characters to become invested in. You have Bob and Horatio who are both in love with Talia. Then you have Owen and Zoe who run a circus but decide to use the animal crackers to make it a success. You also have Owen working for Mr Woodley with scientist Binkley to make a new type of dog biscuit and he might want to manufacture the crackers. Owen becomes an animal permanently at one point and then Horatio comes back. The whole thing gets so complicated I struggled to stay engaged in the film.

It’s a real shame because in many ways story is king. You can have great animation, music (which is also fun in Animal Crackers), voice casting and character design and it won’t matter if the story doesn’t work. Hopefully this proves to be a jumping off point for all involved because I see potential there. Unfortunately it just didn’t work for me this time but I give them all the encouragement in the world to keep trying to tell new and creative stories in the world of animation. I know I’ll be ready for it!

4 out of 10

Frown worthy

 

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I have 3 quick reviews for you 2 that are on Netflix (what would we do without streaming services in this time of quarantine?).  I would love to hear what you have been streaming and if there is anything I should be checking out. Make sure you are following me on my channel Rachel’s Reviews, which I have been putting more work into lately and at the Hallmarkies Podcast which has a lot of fascinating interviews and episodes recapping romcoms and stuff like the excellent recent Baby-Sitters Club series.

I also have a patreon account I haven’t mentioned much on this page. For as low as $2 a month you can get all kinds of perks including live watch-alongs with behind the scenes talent and chances to special request podcasts and Family Movie Night videos.  If you love what I do here and would like to give back I would really appreciate it. Check out the site here.

Anyway, on to the review:

extraction

Extraction-

In many ways Extraction is the polar opposite of what I cover on the Hallmarkies Podcast. This is wall-to-wall action that is incredibly violent with a very thin story to keep the narrative going. That said, just as in Hallmark films, Extraction knows what it is trying to be and isn’t really grasping for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar anytime soon. This is for folks who like Rambo movies with a lot of carnage delivered by likable actors, which Hemsworth is.

Some have complained it is a white savior narrative and I guess I can see that but I thought the Indian/Bangladesh characters were pretty kick butt as well as Hemsworth but who knows? I also heard complaints about the color grading but that didn’t bother me at all.

The action scenes in Extraction are tremendous with one particularly impressive 12 minute long-take sequence that stands out. And even though the violence becomes numbing after a time it was entertaining on that spectacle level. If you are expecting a nuanced discussion of war move on. This is dopey well-done action and that was enough to keep me entertained; although it could have easily been 20 minutes shorter and been better for it. Still enough for a mild recommendation if it seems like your kind of film.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

desperados

Desperados

Next up is a movie I think I’m supposed to like on Netflix called Desperados. It’s a road trip movie with 3 single women who go to Mexico to try and save one of their relationships to a hunky Robbie Amell.  Unfortunately those 3 women are a chore to spend 105 minutes with.

I’m not kidding I hated every single minute of this supposed romantic comedy. I hated all the jokes. I hated the shrill obnoxious women. I hated how what is supposed to be empowering is actually demeaning. This movie even made me hate dolphins. It was brutal to get through and all I can think to say is Anna Camp fire your agent. After this and your cringy appearance in The Lovebirds you have had a terrible Summer 2020 even outside of quarantine! How many actors can say that?

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

relic

Relic-

Finally is my favorite film of the 3 and one of my favorite films of 2020 and to my surprise it is a horror film called Relic. I normally don’t like being scared but am better when it is a supernatural scare or there is a little bit of comedy to lighten the mood. Movies like Get Out and A Quiet Place really work for me! Relic is that kind of scary movie. No murderers or exorcists just a haunted house and a creepy old lady the occupants do not understand.

What makes Relic special is like Get Out, it adds a metaphor to the scares which makes everything more powerful. In this case Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote come to help when their Mom/Grandma played by Robyn Nevin turns up missing. What they don’t understand is she has become possessed by a spirit in the house and it is making her body decay like the wax candles she is constantly carving around the house.

Anyone who has dealt with a family member going through dementia can relate to what these people are going through (obviously to an extreme). When someone you love forgets who you are it can seem like they are a new person, almost possessed of a different spirit. Their personalities can change and the whole experience is very unsettling. Obviously that doesn’t stop us from loving our family members but it is very difficult. Relic captures that real life fear extremely well and I really enjoyed it. It’s also unpredictable with good acting and atmosphere for a small horror film. It reminded me a little bit of a cross between The Others and Get Out.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Blind Spot 55: ‘Private Benjamin’ or I Like the Army Parts

 

This month for blind spot I thought it would be fun to tackle a comedy with a little bit of patriotism and 1980’s Private Benjamin seemed like the perfect choice. It’s a film I have heard about for years but never gotten around to seeing. It is written by Nancy Meyers who would go on to write and direct many films including The Parent Trap remake, The Holiday and more. A lot of people put her on the same level as Nora Ephron but I disagree. Her films have cute moments but nowhere near the wit and charm of Ephron’s writing.

In Private Benjamin Goldie Hawn plays a woman named Judy Benjamin who is tricked into joining the army when her husband dies on their wedding night. As a pampered heiress she isn’t used to the rigors of the army and the film rings a lot of comedy out of her being a fish out of water in this environment. Hawn does a good job of making the diva-like Judy likable and much like Cher in Clueless we are rooting for her despite her popular girl trappings.

private benjamin2

Unfortunately this time in the army is only a small part of the film. The last chunk of the Private Benjamin devotes itself to Judy getting engaged to a french man named Henri (Armand Assante). The movie lost all of its bite and wit in these rather tedious sections. I did not care about this relationship and was itching for her to get back to the army where she was growing and becoming a better person. It really bummed me out that the movie took such a turn.

I also was not a big fan of the rated R material in Private Benjamin. I feel like it almost never made anything funnier and came off as gratuitous in certain scenes. In addition, a plot thread with Judy’s officer attempting to rape her felt like it belonged in a different movie. It’s like the film couldn’t decide if it was going to be a grounded story of women in the army or a silly romantic comedy with runaway brides and slapstick antics. Either is fine but you can’t pull off both.

For whatever reason I have found a lot of the comedies from the 80s don’t transfer well. I’m sure there is a piece that could be written about this but Private Benjamin was at best a mixed bag. I enjoyed the boot camp scenes but pretty much everything else fell flat. Evidently a remake with Rebel Wilson is in the works and that might be interesting. Hopefully it will be more successful than the recent remake of Hawn’s other iconic 80s film Overboard. We’ll see.

4 out of 10

frown

[REVIEW] ‘Feel the Beat’ or Relax and Watch the Kids Dance

My friend Sean Chandler over on his youtube channel talks about ‘Taco Bell movies’ and what he means by that is movies he knows aren’t great feats of artistic cinema but that make him happy when he’s in the mood for an easily digestible fun experience at the movies. His might be dopey action movies like Jurassic World where mine are feel-good community stories that usually involve some kind of romance. Often they will involve Christmas and sometimes dance is an element, preferable all 3. This should be no surprise to anyone as I am the founder and host of an entire podcast about these types of films, The Hallmarkies Podcast.

Recently a film debuted on Netflix which totally fits this type of experience called Feel the Beat. This film stars Sofia Carson (who I mostly know from the Descendants franchise) as April a young woman who is trying to make it as a dancer on Broadway with little to no luck. She was the big star in her town but after a big disgrace with a major director her hopes of starring on Broadway seem like an impossibility. So home she goes to small town somewhere with her Dad played by the always great Enrico Colantoni.

feel the beat5

I really liked Carson in this role. She’s not only a gifted dancer (which we already knew) but she’s beautiful, warm and charismatic. Through various shenanigans her character becomes involved in the local dance studio, helping a small group of girls (and boy) become the best dancers they can. These kids are adorable and they all did a good job in their individual and team struggles.

feel the beat3

We also have hunky Nick played by Wolfang Novogratz who April dumped via text before she went off to Broadway and they have a nice chemistry together. Is everything between them completely predictable? Of course it is but that’s part of the pleasure of watching a movie like this. When they have the chemistry all those predictable moments are a joy as you smile when each beat is met along the way. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt you’ve already done before. Sure you know all the steps along the way but the sweets still taste good when you find them.

feel the beat2

There was also a nice amount of diversity for this type of film whether it be Carson, Rex Lee, Brandon Michael Goodman to a diverse group of young girls including black and deaf actresses who get sweet storylines.

feel the beat4

My only real complaint with Feel the Beat is I could have used even more dancing. When compared with movies like the Step Up series the dancing here feels a little sparse. Part of that is probably because we are dealing with small children but they could have included more.

Again Feel the Beat does not reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t need to. It executes a sweet story with heart making it an enjoyable Netflix watch for a lazy Saturday morning. You can watch it with your family and have a nice time together. It’s a fun family dance movie with some drama and romance mixed in for good measure. Just my kind of film!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Greyhound’: Hanks Captains Successfully Once Again

It is more than a little poetic and ironic that actor Tom Hanks ended up as the first celebrity to get diagnosed with COVID19 back in March. It’s almost like nature saw his likable demeanor and commanding presence in films and knew he could lead all of us in real life as well as in the movies. With this recent turn of events, it’s almost surreal to see Hanks’ new film Greyhound where he once again plays a man who must lead his ship out of rough waters. My only regret is I couldn’t see it on the big screen, as it was obviously intended to be viewed.

Premiering July 10th on Apple TV+ Greyhound is based on the C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd and it’s a simple film. Hanks plays Commander Ernest Krause who is a God-fearing man who loves his girlfriend, prays over his food and is eager to complete his first crossing as a commander in the US Navy during WWII. The problem is those darn Germans! They sure get in the way with their wolfpack of U-boat submarines, which did indeed destroy many US ships during the course of the war. Not this ship. No sir. Not today!

greyhound

In many ways Greyhound is similar to last year’s Midway with the same jingoistic spirit about it. Neither are films for nuance or intricate discussions about the complexities of war. However, the big difference between them is Greyhound is a lean 91 minutes compared to Midway’s 138 minutes. With its minimalist storytelling Greyhound sticks to a plot of good ship, bad U-boat, Hanks needs to win, and that’s what happens and while it is happening we are engaged and rooting for them all to succeed. It’s a war movie and we do see loss but never in a way that makes us fear for our heroes. Some may find the approach too simplistic but there is a place for enthusiastic war stories when they are done well and this is.

It is also easy to compare Greyhound with 2017’s Dunkirk which also strives for a battle experience rather than a character study and some might have similar problems with both films. It’s more about getting caught up in a heroic moment than it is the complexities of the humans experiencing said moment. It’s reminding the world that we have defeated hard things like Nazis before and we can do it again. With Dunkirk we are cheering at the everyday men and women who saved the soldiers lives and in Greyhound we are cheering for Hanks- our every man who fights Nazis on the screen and COVID19 in real life. Like I said, there’s a poetry to it all.

greyhound3

I realize some will want more character development and I can understand that. There are choices in Greyhound that pushed the simplistic approach even for me. For example, the radio dispatches from the wolfpack ships are as sniveling and sleazy as we’ve ever seen from an evil German in a movie. He sounds like he is practically a villain from an Indiana Jones movie for a second. We also have some cringy scenes when the Black chef keeps trying to get our beleaguered commander to eat throughout the battle. But in the end I forgave such problems because the pacing keeps moving and Hanks remains so easy to root for as our leader.

It still pains me I had to watch Greyhound on my laptop and even sadder to think that some will likely watch it on their phone. Such a patriotic rallying cry should be seen on the big screen! Hopefully some day it can happen but until then if you want to cheer on Tom Hanks and other every day heroes facing impossible odds this is your film. I enjoyed it and I bet you will too.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy