Tag Archive: Escape to Witch Mountain


Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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midnight-special-cast

Review by C.J. Bunce

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.

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A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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