MIDNIGHT SPECIAL seemingly premiered under everyone’s radar. I hadn’t seen many ads or trailers about it and basically bought my ticket on a whim. Jeff Nichols, the writer and director, has been a name popping up on a wide array of lists for a few years now. I’ve only seen his second most recent film, MUD (which I highly recommend), but I’ve heard amazing things about his other two films as well. To put it plainly, the guy has talent and I can assure you we will be seeing more of him in the near future. His newest feature, and his fourth collaboration with the outstanding actor Michael Shannon, is a new and refreshing spin on the science fiction genre. Like I mentioned, I walked into this movie without knowing much of anything about it, so after 20 minutes or so of no science fiction to be seen, I was a little thrown off when the little boy starts shooting white beams from his eyes. It’s maybe the most grounded in reality sci-fi story I’ve experienced since reading Arthur C. Clark’s CHILDHOOD’S END.

Alton is an 8-year-old boy who has been “kidnapped” by his biological father (played by Shannon) and taken away from their cult-like ranch in rural Texas. Their only objective is to make it to the secret coordinates by the end of the week without being caught by the other cult members and the United States government. Things quickly get out of hand as Alton is revealed to have supernatural powers beyond anyone’s understanding. Along the way they encounter obstacles ranging from the local police force, to satellites falling from the sky. Everyone wants the boy, but all he wants is to go home.

The story really sits on the father and son relationship between Alton and Roy and the mystery surrounding Alton’s powers and where exactly he comes from. We are only teased with what he is capable of and the knowledge he holds, but it is very apparent that his powers are great and only growing stronger. That was my favorite aspect of the film. By all accounts it’s a superhero movie. What sets it apart is that the characters don’t know they’re in a superhero movie. It feels genuine and real. Alton is just a boy and Roy is just a father trying to protect his son. They aren’t trying to save the world or defeat any antagonist. The cult wants him for their religious beliefs and the government wants him because they believe he is a weapon. It doesn’t matter and our protagonists are the only one’s who understand that.

I can’t get over how surprisingly deep this movie is. It hits several different dramatic themes about parenthood, loss, and innocence. It could have easily been a straight up drama without sci-fi elements, but the magic and mystery add to the metaphorical meaning. It’s also very unpredictable. There’s a scene that, in any other movie, would have led to an epic car chase down the interstate. What we get instead is a slow (in a good way) and incredibly visual series of events that came out of nowhere. It’s well paced, the characters connect with you, the cast is stacked (seriously, along with Michael Shannon are Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Sam Shepard, and Adam Driver), and the music is absolutely amazing. It’s rare that a science fiction movie… excuse me… it’s rare that an independently produced science fiction movie feels so real and grand all at the same time.

To reiterate, Jeff Nichols is going to do great things. In fact, he already has. The proof is in Midnight Special.

4 out of 5 stars

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL – Dir. Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

Run Time: 1h 52min

This week we’re talking about a classic sci-fi noir from the 80s in BLADE RUNNER and a retelling of the most famous horror film ever made with the A&E series, BATES MOTEL. Season four of Bates Motel just premiered, but it doesn’t hurt to get caught up now and you should definitely see Blade Runner before the sequel no one asked for comes out within the next few years.

But if these recommendations don’t suit you, check out Episode 16 or Episode 15 here!

BLADE RUNNER – Dir. Ridley Scott (1982)

Blade-Runner-Poster-blade-runner-8229832-998-1500There’s nothing much cooler than a mash up of film’s two coolest genres with film noir and science fiction. In fact, the only thing that could possibly make that any cooler is to throw Harrison Ford in the mix! Aside from ALIEN or maybe 2001, Blade Runner is arguably the most famous and influential sci-fi film of all time. And for good reason. It tells an incredibly human story about a bunch of robots trying to stay alive. Basically everything you need to know about the premise is given to you in text at the very beginning of the movie. Replicants are artificially intelligent beings, created for a specific purpose. They have life spans of four years before they are deactivated. Blade Runners are the replicant-cops so to speak, given the task of hunting down rogue A.I.s. Harrison Ford plays one such Blade Runner, attempting to terminate four replicants who stole a ship.

As far as sci-fi goes, it’s pretty basic. However, the way the story is told and the emotions the characters go through transcend this film into the upper echelon of cinema. Deckard, played by Ford, is one of the most brooding and interesting characters I’ve ever seen. He walks the line between a hardened “cop” and a struggling person so well that you’re always on the same page, but never quite sure what he’s going through. Unfortunately, Netflix only has the Theatrical Cut of the film, which is severely weaker than the Director’s Cut in my opinion. Regardless, you’re bound to be enthralled with the world you’re dropped into. It’s a true spectacle.

BATES MOTEL – Three Seasons

BatesWe all know Norman Bates, the owner and innkeeper of the Bates Motel from PSYCHO. We know, to a lesser extent, his mother Norma Bates, whom he murdered and hid in the basement when he wasn’t dressing as her. Now, we can learn even more about their strange and psychotic lives in the A&E series, BATES MOTEL! This contemporary prequel to the Hitchcock classic explains many of the things the 1960 film decided to leave out (for good reasons, probably). Teenaged Norman is played by Freddie Highmore with Vera Farmiga playing his overbearing mother. We see how they come to own the motel, their struggles with keeping it running, and all of the weird things happening in the town of White Pine Bay, Oregon.

It’s worth noting that not everything in the show adds up when comparing it to the film. They take some liberties to tell an interesting story about a young man who grows up to be a killer. Some of these liberties are completely rational and add to the overall story. Some of the others aggravate me a little. For one, Norman is a much less likable character than he was in Psycho… I guess that’s kind of weird to say since he kills people. They also introduce many new characters like Norman’s half brother and quite a few love interests. This keeps the tension high because we never know when Norman is going to snap. Overall, the show is really interesting especially when you detach it from the source material. There are enough side plots and characters that not everything is leading up to Marion Crane in the shower. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but definitely give it a try if you’re a fan of the film.