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Interview with JUNGLE producer Dana Lustig

October 19, 2017

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Producer Dana Lustig is as resilient as Yossi Ghinsberg. Who is Yossi Ghinsberg? Well, he’s a lot of things now – a motivational speaker, a humanitarian and an author – but thirty-seven years ago, when he was a 21-year-old adventurer, he managed to survive an uncharted region of the Bolivian Amazon jungle on his own for three weeks.  He wrote a book about his terrifying ordeal which became immensely popular in his native Israel as well as an international best-seller, and now, Momentum Pictures is releasing “Jungle” a feature-length thriller starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ghinsberg, that tells of his harrowing experience. This wouldn’t have happened without Lustig apparently.  I was told this by her publicist – not those exact words, but the email I received stated, “Lustig is the one that actually convinced Yossi to turn his story into a feature film – she’s the catalyst for all of this!” Read more…

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KILLING GUNTHER (2017) review

October 16, 2017

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written by: Taran Killam
produced by: Taran Killam, Ash Sarohia and Steven Squillante
directed by: Taran Killam
rated: R (for violence, language and some sexual material)
runtime: 92 min.
U.S. release date: September 22, 2017 (VOD, Amazon & iTunes) & October 20, 2017 (limited)

 

If you go into “Killing Gunther” because it’s the latest movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger then you’ll be disappointed. The actor gets less screen time in this action comedy than Harrison Ford did in “Blade Runner 2049”, which means he’s in “Killing Gunther” for somewhere around the last twenty minutes of the hour and a half runtime (and that’s a generous estimate), despite playing the titular hitman. Just like I instantly wanted more of Ford when he finally appears, this movie, written by Taran Killam (who also stars in and makes his directorial debut here)  is in desperate need of Schwarzenegger. I sighed in relief once he showed up, yet felt like the previous hour had been wasted. It’s as if a friend of yours invites you over to watch a movie at his home theater, but he winds up talking your ear off about a whole lot of nothing for an hour before the movie even starts – that’s “Killing Gunther” in a nutshell. Read more…

BABY DRIVER (2017) review

October 16, 2017

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written by: Edgar Wright
produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Nira Park
directed by: Edgar Wright
rated: R (for violence and language throughout)
runtime: 113 min.
U.S. release date: June 28, 2017

DVD/Blu-ray release date: October 10, 2017

 

Surprise surprise! It’s actually been a good movie summer! But the bigger (and most welcome) surprise is the handful of quality features released amongst the few solid big-budget superhero blockbusters (“Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and the one worthy CGI-heavy franchise extending sequel (“War for the Planet of the Apes”), and it just so happens that three of them were heist flicks. None of them were sequels, reboots or remakes and one of them was the eagerly-awaited “Baby Driver”, the inventive and highly-entertaining new movie from writer/director Edgar Wright. It’s an aggressive comedy heist that merges a specific musical playlist with acutely choreographed action in an infectious manner, like an adrenalized musical, making it one of the most memorable movies of the year. Read more…

CIFF 2017: Breathe & Lady Bird

October 15, 2017

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When an actor takes the helm of feature-length filmmaking for the first time, I initially wonder why the subject they have directed was chosen. In the case of the biographical drama “Breathe”, directed by Andy Serkis (best known for his sublime motion-capture work in the “Lord of the Rings” and recent “Planet of the Apes” films) and the dramedy “Lady Bird”, directed by Greta Gerwig (“Mistress America” and “Frances Ha”), both actors are directing something very close to them. Serkis is friends with producer Jonathan Cavendish, who is the son of the subject of the film and Gerwig is loosely basing her own experiences growing up in Sacramento, California for her film. None of that information is needed prior to seeing either of these films – both of which will be getting significant year-end word-of-mouth – but it is nevertheless interesting to learn how and why these two actors chose the material they did for their directorial debuts.  Read more…

MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS (2015) review

October 13, 2017

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written by: Johnny O’Reilly
produced by: Katie Holly and Johnny O’Reily
directed by: Johnny O’Reilly
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: October 13, 2017 thru October 19, 2017 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)

 

It may seem odd that Irish-born writer/director Johnny O’Reilly has made a film that acutely epitomizes life in contemporary Moscow, but this is a guy who studied Russian in college and worked as a journalist in Russia and Ireland before embarking on filmmaking. The multi-narrative drama “Moscow Never Sleeps” is his second feature-length film and in its marketing it’s being compared to “Short Cuts”, “Crash” and “Magnolia”, like just about every other film with intersecting characters and storylines often are. O’Reilly has made a sprawling and somber tale that finds its titular sleepless city sitting front and center, just as imperative to the five storylines that bleed into each other. It’s an energetic, relatable and contemplative film that reminds us that no matter what city we reside in, no matter our place in life, there are people going through what we’re experiencing. Read more…

CIFF 2017 preview

October 12, 2017

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The Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) is upon us once again! In its 53rd year, the festival promises to offer an eclectic look at life around the world and right here in our back yard, delivering a variety of genres and styles for film enthusiasts to scour over. Like every year, covering the festival is a daunting task, as I attempt to watch as many films as possible, land some interviews with visiting filmmakers or actors and then, of course, there’s writing about it all. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, I guess. Below you’ll find mini-reviews of the festival films I’ve seen so far, but first a brief rundown of highlights…. Read more…

WALKING OUT (2017) review

October 7, 2017

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written by: Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith
produced by: Brunson Green and Laura Ivey
directed by: Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith
rated: PG-13 (for bloody injury images, some thematic elements and brief strong language)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: January 21, 2017 (Sundance) and October 6, 2017 (limited)

 

If you’re yearning to get back to freezing mountain ranges visiting Utah in “Wind River”, you might be interested in “Walking Out” which places us in the unforgiving terrain of Montana. Both films premiered at Sundance this year and can now be seen in select theaters. Apart from their wintry environment, they are very different films, “Wind River” being a harrowing procedural and “Walking Out”, a tale of a father/son struggling to survive harsh elements. It’s the third feature from brothers, Andrew J. Smith and Alex Smith, both of whom directed and wrote the adaptation of David Quammen’s American short story, a compelling wilderness adventure that transfers affectively to the big-screen. Read more…