[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.

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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.

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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:



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



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



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

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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.

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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


[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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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[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!


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.


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

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[REVIEW] ‘Agathe- Christine: Next Door Spy’ or a Dub Gone Wrong

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Judged by the huge success of Rian Johnson’s film Knives Out from last year not many. There is also a long tradition of mystery stories for kids with everything from The Great Mouse Detective to The Adventures of Tintin. So when I heard about Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy I was intrigued. Unfortunately it can’t escape a terrible English language dubbing and an uneven script.

In many ways I wish I could watch this film in its original Danish language because I felt the dubbing really hurt this film. So much of the word choices felt strange or inauthentic to the characters. I am sure many scenes feel more natural and even charming in the Danish that come off as strange and off-putting in English. For example there is a large lizard that can talk. He was so creepy but I think he was supposed to be somewhat appealing at least in early scenes. Also there is a some profanity that didn’t work for the story of a teen detective. I kept thinking who was this movie made for? I have no idea.

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Two movies I kept thinking of which execute kid detective so much better is A Cat in Paris and the recent Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Like Agathe-Christine, A Cat in Paris is also animated and it also has some edgier moments. However, I was much more attached to its characters (both have dysfunctional Mother characters but I sympathized way more with A Cat in Paris than Agathe-Christine).  I also prefer the cubist inspired animation more in A Cat in Paris, so it is far more memorable than Agathe-Christine.

Timmy Failure, on the other hand, dives into some deep themes of abandonment and childhood depression but it did so with great tact and sweetness. Agathe-Christine felt tonally all over the place and again like it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be.

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That’s not say I hated Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy. It had good things about it with sweet moments and some nice animation but it is very inconsistent and there are things like the cursing and giant lizard that I really disliked (a better giant lizard story is in April and the Extraordinary World). Older kids might enjoy Agathe-Christine but even then there are better detective stories to recommend to them.

I feel confident the Danish version is much better but as the English is all I have to judge off I can’t recommend Agathe-Christine: Next Door Spy. Better  luck next time on the case!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy


[REVIEW] ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ (2020 Netflix) or How to Adapt Nostalgic Properties Right

Back in the old days when I was in middle school there wasn’t much of a YA reading scene (at least to my knowledge) but there were several popular authors (ala Cynthia Voigt and Judy Blume) and popular series (Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew) with my favorite being The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M Martin. What I loved about the series is the independent spirit of the girls forming their own business and also becoming a strong group of friends. It satisfied both my youthful needs for independence and connection in one set of novels. My friends and I even started our own club inspired by the books!

With this history you can imagine my excitement when I heard about the new series on Netflix coming this year. Well, excitement mixed with trepidation after what Netflix did with my beloved Anne of Green Gables in the abhorrent Anne with an E, which I hated. That show lost all the spirit of the novels and the characters in a weird mixture of melodrama and supposed grittiness. What would they do with my Baby-Sitters Club?


Well, I am delighted to reassure you all that not only is The Baby-Sitters Club a worthy adaptation of our beloved novels but it is one of the best live action family series I’ve seen in a long time. I absolutely loved just about everything they did in this series and I don’t see any reason why other fans won’t also be very pleased with it.

The biggest strength to the series is the writing. Taking inspiration from the novels each of the 5 main girls is granted their own episode or chapter where they are the lead narrator. Kristy played by Sophie Grace is the brainchild behind the club and a very independent young lady that bristles at the thought of her mother remarrying.

Then you have the artistic Claudia (Momona Tanada), free spirited Dawn (Xochitl Gomez), shy Mary Ann (Malia Baker), and sophisticated Stacey (Shay Rudolph). They all face their own unique challenges that feel authentic and real without resorting to unnecessary and overbearing trauma like Anne with an E did.

The conflict is especially impressive when we consider the writers have only 23 minutes to get their lead character’s story across as well as building the over-all narrative of the group.


I also really enjoyed the casting including Alicia Silverstone as Kristy’s Mom. She walks the tricky balance of defending her own choices while still giving her daughter space to grow and accept the big changes in their lives. Again, it was real and authentic and something anyone can relate with.


The show is also sweet with great chemistry on the part of all of the girls. You don’t have to be a teenage girl to love this show. If you ever were a teenager or ever faced the toils of growing up you will enjoy it. It’s honest and heart-felt without resorting to the cheap gags or sitcom antics of shows typically made for this age demographic.


There are also characters for younger kids like little Karen Brewer (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) who would go on to receive a spinoff series in the novels and I can see that happening here in The Baby-Sitters Club Little Sister series (they also have graphic novels of the main and Little Sisters series). She’s a funny, strange and superstitious character that smaller children will really enjoy.


What’s great about a show like The Baby-Sitters Club is it can be appreciated on many different levels. It tackles different issues teens are facing from having your period, to parents splitting up, to bullying but it also can be enjoyed on a basic entertainment level. This is because they took the time to write dynamic interesting characters we can relate to. I can think of so many family home evening discussion you could have with this show while still being very entertained.

As far as flaws the 2 episode arc at the camp was a little more over-the-top and less grounded than the rest of the episodes but I was with fine with it. A few of the side characters dipped into caricature like Claudia’s sister Janine. But in fairness she comes right out of the books and was based on Ann M Martin’s actual relationship with her sister, so I’ll allow it (one classic novel this episode is based on is literally called Claudia and Mean Janine). I also thought Mary Ann’s Dad (Marc Evan Jackson) took me out of the realistic tone and was a bit silly in his neurosis for the show.


Other than that I absolutely loved The Baby-Sitters Club. It was clearly made with love and I hope that families embrace it and it becomes the hit it deserves to be.

9 out of 10

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