If I had to pick one film I could see today, out of everything that's done and waiting for release, and it was only me who could watch it, and it could be anything, I don't think I'd pick “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” After all, it'll be in theaters within the month, and I'd rather have that experience with my kids first.
No, I think I'd pick the next film from Jeff Nichols. After all, “Midnight Special” has been flying below the radar so far, and the people I've spoken to who are in a position to know something about the movie have been acting like they have this big, special secret, super-pleased about whatever it is that they've seen that I haven't, and slowly but surely, it's been driving me crazy.
I like Jeff Nichols films in general so far. “Shotgun Stories” was a very strong early movie, and “Take Shelter” is a film that rewards repeat viewings and careful consideration, the kind of movie that grows in hindsight. “Mud” was a film I liked a lot, a quietly great little picture that is just good, solid filmcraft, another demonstration of just how natural a storyteller Nichols is. The idea of a guy like him making a studio sci-fi chase film (pretty much all the details we've heard about it so far) is exciting precisely because it's so unlikely.
Even so, I might not have named “Midnight Special” the film I'm most curious about if not for the new poster that just arrived for the film. Considering how carefully they've kept details about the movie quiet so far, this poster becomes an intriguing mystery, something I love in this age of everything being so pre-digested.
Not sure what I'm talking about? Check this out:
First, there's that tag line. “He's not like us.” And the image that goes with it is pretty compelling. What's with the kid's eyes, and why is he reading a Superman comic? What does that tell us, if anything?
In this week's “Entertainment Weekly,” Nichols dropped a wee bit more description of the film. “The son happens to have unique gifts,” he told them. “It's a weird word to use, but his girts are, um, supernatural. 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind,' 'E.T.', 'Starman,' they were my inspirations – very propulsive journeys that work when you can't predict what's going to happen next. This is my sci-fi chase film.”
Nichols has revealed in his previous work that he has a particular knack for directing young actors, which seems like it would be important if he's going to pull off the film that poster promises. And the cast is led by Michael Shannon, who has been a constant in Nichols's films so far, so it looks like he's got his favorite actor back in the mix. It's all terribly mysterious, and I'm hoping it turns out to be a great, heartfelt genre film that changes the way we think about Nichols, and the way the studios think about him.
Fingers crossed. “Midnight Special” opens March 18, 2016.