Reviews of new releases: Interstellar, Nightcrawler, and two docs

Nightcrawler (2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic as the ambitious sociopath Louis Bloom. His obsessed one-tracked mind is creepy. To me, the last 15 minutes of the film are the most thrilling.
About the need to be first, which is everywhere nowadays; The first to report the news, the first to tweet the news. As another reviewer wrote, whenever I see news footage of crimes/accidents now, I'll probably think of Lou Bloom.
What’s even more disturbing is these nightcrawler guys exist. The social commentary is actually similar to Gone Girl. The amorality of newsgathering and making money from people’s tragedy is an issue we are facing right now with the likes of TMZ.
Other themes are exploiting interns in unpaid positions, working bad hours in terrible conditions, and satire on our current culture of over documentation, where everything is immediately available for public consumption, even if it shouldn’t be. About the drive for more viewers rather than what is moral.
Lou Bloom is a monster we made. We can barely avoid the news and watching/reading about death and destruction. If we boycotted it maybe it would decline, though I think it’s unlikely for news to change. Most of the sensationalism we really don't need, but news has to be extreme these days to break through the clutter unfortunately.
The director is quoted as saying another aim of the film was to show how the media preys on people’s fears. The report is usually strung together with some other incident “to give you a sense that there’s some nefarious pattern”. He said that such reports support the queues of Americans wanting to buy guns because they’re “terrified of some nebulous threat out there”.
Nightcrawler has been compared to many other movies such as Network, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Ace in The Hole, La Dolce Vita, and it also reminded me of the disturbing scene listening to the radio in Wild At Heart (1990), which sums up why I dislike the news media today (of course exaggerated in Lynch's film). Unlike Interstellar, Nightcrawler didn’t wear its influences on its sleeve in such an obvious way.
As Jake Gyllenhaal talked about in rotten tomatoes interview, there is so much of Lou in us. We all have ambition and want something we don’t have. It’s a bit of a warning but also hilarious. If you are disturbed by Lou, you could look at yourself and ask, what part of yourself are you disturbed by. Not a question a lot of people like to ask themselves.
Rating 8.5/10

Interstellar (2014)
Entertaining while it lasts, but I felt afterwards I was thinking about plot holes and influences, rather than what the film had to say thematically. In fact I don’t think the film had much of anything to say, which is a shame, except the obvious warning on climate change. Luckily the sets and locations look great and the acting is solid, so even though I find Interstellar strangely empty, it was never boring, and a great spectacle on the big screen. Director Chris Nolan is quoted as saying the film is really about being a father. I agree with another reviewer: “Visionary movies require a bigger vision”. Perhaps the film requires a second chance. My gut reaction tells me it’s not particularly original. A blockbuster that works as a thrill ride, yet leans far too heavily on other sci-fi movie influences.
Interstellar is probably among my least favorite from Nolan's filmography. I'm still giving it a generous score of seven because I think all of his films are at least admirable from a technical standpoint.
Rating 7/10

The Look of Silence (2014) (documentary)
A powerful and disturbing documentary which is a sequel to last year’s Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing. It isn’t as groundbreaking, but is equally as chilling. With the same director on board, this time Oppenheimer focuses on a smaller group of people, especially the victims. Thematically about the co-existence of perpetrator and victim in the present day, atrocity without justice, survivors confronting their relatives' murderers, and breaking the silence which people have been suffering under for years.
A victim (Adi who is an eye doctor) does his job in the local community, while striking up conversations about the atrocities that caused the death of his brother Ramli. You really feel his pain. Sight is a metaphor, the perpetrators are asked to look at the ugly truth.
Side by side with these violent descriptions, the documentary juxtapositions peaceful and heartfelt family moments. This is quite jarring, and showcases how barbaric yet loving humans can be. The 100 year old senile father perhaps is the luckiest one, as he can’t remember his son or the horrors that took place.
The mass murderers who are interviewed talk openly about the killings, but are uncomfortable discussing politics and who is responsible. They disturbingly talk about drinking the blood of the victims which they see as a method of avoiding insanity. I sense the family who lost their boy are not seeking revenge, but an apology, and a desire to co-exist.
Interestingly the US is accused of encouraging Indonesians to punish the communists.
In some ways, the genocide of the so-called communists is even worse than the persecution of the Jews during WW2, because the Indonesian perpetrators have not been held accountable for their brutality, as there is a perception among them that their actions are benefitting the state by defeating the enemy. Some of them are remarkably still in government, and it is hard to believe how anyone could vote for them. A documentary that has stayed with me days after I had seen it.
Rating 8/10

1989 (2014) (documentary)
New documentary about the events leading up to the fall of the Berlin wall. Released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the historic event. The doc is praiseworthy for its groundbreaking reconstructed footage of late 80s politics. The doc humanizes both the politicians and the family we follow, they are fleshed out quite well, so you care about them. Unfortunately we don’t really get into the mindset of why they want to escape from DDR, which could have been explored.
From what I’ve heard the material is reliable and has been fact checked by historians.
The story of Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh and his place in history deserves attention, and is told in a mainstream, easy-to-understand way. Perhaps the storytelling is almost too simplistic, the film lacks the depth and rewatchability factor of Anders Østergaard’s previous doc Tintin and I (2003). For me, 1989 is a one time watch.
On the plus side, it’s quite suspenseful considering we all know how it ends. You could argue what is conveyed could be summed up in a few sentences, but on the other hand the feature length format means it’s easier to empathize and get drawn into what was at stake. However if you want more detail and angles on the 1989 events, you have to look elsewhere.
Broadcasting the doc in cinemas simultaneously across Europe was a fitting idea given the events depict important European history, and you could text message questions for the live debate afterwards. The most interesting topic discussed during the live transmission was the Ukraine crisis, which by some is perceived as a possible new cold war. The expert questioned opinioned that European countries are currently too dependent on Russia, Germany gets 35% of their gas from Russia, and other countries even more, and to avoid dependence on Russia, renewable energy is a way forward. He also remarked pessimistically that Russia regret relinquishing power over the iron curtain countries and maybe Ukraine is an attempt to win back what had been lost by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989. However there were optimistic observations as well, as they had invited former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklós Németh and world famous economic Jeremy Rifkin to speak.
Rating 7/10

Agree or disagree? Seen any new releases recently? As always, comments are welcome


  1. Ha, I'm giving Interstellar 5/10 and I do think it's generous. Unlike you I was so bored during this movie. Awful film, I counted 5 good scenes in the entire thing.

    1. @Sati: I liked Interstellar a bit more than you did, but I don't think it's among Nolan's best scripts. I hope he does a smaller film next time like Memento, although I doubt this will happen with the power he has in Hollywood right now to do anything he wants.

  2. I need to see Nightcrawler but I'm far behind in seeing the new good ones. I agree with your thoughts on Interstellar. It looks good on the big screen, but I think it will loose a lot of praise once it hits home.

    1. @The Vern: I agree you can make a case for Interstellar as an enjoyable film on the big screen, and it has that initial wow factor, but I don’t see it becoming a classic. You should check out Nightcrawler when you get the chance!

  3. Hey Chris! I'm totally w/ you on Interstellar that it got me thinking about the plot holes more than the wormholes, ahah. It's still worthwhile but far for being a masterpiece.

    Boy I really need to see Nightcrawler and also The Look of Silence since I was so impressed by The Act of Killing, albeit it's a disturbing film.

    1. @Ruth: Looks like we agree on Interstellar, at least on the Cooper plot hole early on.
      Curious what you think of The Look of Silence, it’s a good companion documentary to The Act of Killing, and equally as disturbing.

  4. Glad you liked Nightcrawler! Lovely review! Solid film although I think my expectations were a little too high. That shot of gyllenhaal when that guy was being carried into the ambulance was horrifying! Can you imagine what he was like as a child? I was really interested how he stirred the conversation away from where he grew up during that dinner scene.

    1. @Lights Camera Reaction: Thanks, yes Gyllenhaal was pretty creepy intense with those eyes, wasn’t he? Lou Bloom might have come from a dysfunctional family(the usual excuse I know). It appears Lou is trying to repress that part of his life. I would say he has problems that he hasn’t dealt with.

  5. Gyllenhaal was terrific in Nightcrawler. I hope that film continues to pop up during this awards season. I loved Interstellar initially, but it hasn't stuck with me long. I'm going to give it a second look soon to see if it holds up.

    1. @Josh: I too hope Gyllenhaal is recognized during awards season. I had problems with Interstellar but it was worth seeing on the big screen and wowed me on a number of occasions.

    2. I saw Interstellar again and LOVED it. It might not make my top 5, but it felt like a much tighter and more emotional film on a second look. Still very powerful, and the performances were great. There wasn't anything too ridiculous in the script for me, especially when compared to The Dark Knight Rises (and arguably Inception). Still, I know that's a major issue for a lot of people, as are the homages to other films (which didn't bother me either) .

    3. @Josh: Happy Interstellar holds up for you on second viewing, and I do think the characters are more likeable than in 2001.
      (SPOILERS AHEAD about Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey:

      2001: A Space Odyssey is my #1 of all-time, I almost know it off by heart, so the space travel to me felt very familiar and borderline ripoff in Interstellar. Yes each film is different, but the travel to Saturn/Jupiter is almost identical in both films, and the talks with folks via screens on earth is also lifted directly from Kubrick. Another similarity, instead of HAL 9000, Matt Damon is the saboteur, and HAL is a far more interesting character. There's also a robot that talks. I think Nolan went too far with these homages. I prefer the mystery of Kubrick’s film, Interstellar is unchallenging popcorn entertainment for me where you just shut your brain off after a long week at work. It should have been released as a summer blockbuster, but they wanted it closer to award season. Sounds like I hated Interstellar, but I actually quite enjoyed the thrillride :)


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