Ambiguity might be the most useful item in the science fiction toolbox. Blade Runner’s mysteries still rob people of sleep, and you’d need a wall chart to work out Shane Carruth’s Primer. However, when used in rash abundance — as in this latest film from Mud and Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols — the results can leave the viewer in a rather less complimentary state of bafflement. The details in Midnight Special, Nichols’ homage-heavy sci-fi thriller set in his signature Deep South locale, are sometimes so scant as to be jarring. Yes, less is often more in Hollywood, but it can also be just plain less.

We open on a police broadcast as, from a motel room, two men (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton) and a boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, decked out in blue goggles) speed away in a car. The newscaster reports that the child has been abducted, but the affection between the men suggests otherwise. Next, we see a cult preacher (Sam Shepard) conducting a nighttime sermon. The Feds roll up and take the congregation in for questioning. It seems the boy was some sort of messiah to the group and the man who took him (Shannon) is his biological father.

Our full Berlin review of Midnight Special.

Berlin Review: With 'Midnight Special,' Jeff Nichols Offers Up a Very Special Sci-Fi Thriller
Michael Shannon and son go on the run in a mysterious and gripping nod to John Carpenter.
By Demetrios Matheou

Apparently, “Midnight Special” - the new Jeff Nichols movie, playing today at the Berlinale and starring the great Michael Shannon and Adam Driver - is… A SUCCESS. Can’t wait to see it! 

And Mr. Nichols, can you do me a favor, please? Can you cast Oscar Isaac in your next movie? Please, please, please. You know, like when you worked with Jessica Chastain and it was awesome.

I had been talking to [National Geographic editor] Kathy Moran about the hypocrisy of the West, and I really wanted to do a series on the fact that we ask people living in rural spaces in Africa to do impossible things—things that we would never do ourselves. So I put out the word in Kenya and in Tanzania that I was looking for victims of lion attacks. Now, the difficult part is that the victims are often attacked because they’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong things. They’re usually inside reserves poaching or fishing. In a way, that can diminish what’s happened to them, despite the fact that their poverty led them to take those kinds of risks. This gentleman lost his arms going fishing in the evening, and on his way back got jumped by these lions. It’s a quandary for me because, on the one hand, I want to talk about what it means to live with these animals. On the other hand, we are talking about protecting these spaces and these guys are treading on them.

- Reportage photographer Brent Stirton in a conversation with Nick Nichols, with whom he collaborated on a feature about lions for National Geographic’s August 2013 issue. Read more on the magazine’s Proof blog. Also, view a multimedia presentation of Brent and Nick’s work here.

Caption: Yusufu Shabani Difika lost his arms in a lion attack in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. Here his uncle bathes Difika, a father of two. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for National Geographic)

Orphan elephants being socialized in Kenya, by Michael Nichols. According to National Geographic, “What a scared orphan elephant needs more than anything is other elephants. The process of becoming socialized begins as soon as the worst injuries heal.” My heart!

So sad! So sweet! Read the whole article (from the September 2011 issue of National Geographic) and find yourself tearfully resolving to give money to an elephant-related charity in 2012.

Scaling The Mighty Redwood!!

In this incredible photograph by Michael Nichols, we see two scientists partway up a 350-foot tree. Botanist Marie Antoine (at right) can be seen passing a core sample of the tree’s wood—750 years of redwood biography—to canopy ecologist Giacomo Renzullo. Research now shows that the older such trees get, the more wood they put on.

by Michael Nichols