Ebertfest 2019

Posted on April 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

Copyright 2019 Ebertfest

The 21st Ebertfest (formerly Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival) was one of the all-time best. I was honored to be included on the panel of women critics and filmmakers discussing the opportunities and portrayals of women. It was a thrill to share the panel with so many women I admire, including “Bound” stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, Alliance of Women Film Journalists founder and director Jennifer Merin, Sony Classics’ Michael Barker, Stephen Apkon, actress/critic Carla Renata (known as The Curvy Critic), and writer/director/producer Rita Coburn, who was at the festival to present her marvelous documentary about Maya Angelou.

I was also invited to do the Q&A following one of my favorite films, “Rachel Getting Married.”

The festival closed with “Sideways,” and our discussion afterward included an appearance from Virginia Madsen, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role.

Join us next April in Champaign/Urbana!

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Behind the Scenes Festivals Gender and Diversity

JxJ Comes to Washington DC

Posted on April 2, 2019 at 11:51 am

Washington DC’s Jewish Film Festival and Jewish Music Festival are joining forces to become JxJ, a multi-disciplinary cultural event encompassing the performing and visual arts that will take place from May 8-26, 2019 in the Nation’s Capital.

The Jewish Film Festival, now in its 29th year, has a great line-up of international films, with premieres, tributes, and events with filmmakers. I’m especially looking forward to 100 Faces, a British film with 100 Jews, one born in each year from 1917-2017.

Here the filmmaker explains the project:

The documentary about Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures and a major figure in the establishing of Hollywood.

Carl Laemmle – Film Trailer from James L. Freedman on Vimeo.

Seder-Masochism I’m a huge fan of Nina Paley’s brilliant, gorgeously animated Sita Sings the Blues and have been waiting impatiently for this follow-up.

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More from SDCC 2018: MAD Magazine, Nancy, and Witches!

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 10:07 pm

More from San Diego Comic-Con 2018:

Copyright MAD 2018
MAD Magazine: This was the first MAD panel with the new staff, following the magazine’s move from New York to LA in January. Bill Morrison and the less-usual gang of idiots introduced themselves “as the all new hip, cool, MAD,” reassuring us that “we’re just as slovenly and dull and ordinary as the staff in New York.” Then they proved it by showing us a series of hilarious tweets from people who really hate the new version and feel very, very strongly about it.

Morrison showed us some new features and introduced us to new staff, and made some of the room’s long-time fans by promising to bring back some beloved MAD classic sections like “The Lighter Side Of…” and “A MAD Look At….” He also promised that it would not always reflect “the white male perspective.” They’re also staying up to date with a Twitch channel for watching people do things.

And there was a tender tribute to the beloved Nick Meglin, the heart and soul of MAD, who died in May.

How to Read Nancy It has been said that the comic strip “Nancy” endures only because it takes less energy to read it than to skip it. It is both iconic and generic — a panel of “Nancy” is used to illustrate the term “comic strip” in the American Heritage Dictionary. Creator Ernie Bushmiller kept a copy open to that page in his studio.

Scholars Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden not only wrote a book about what is often considered the simplest comic strip ever; they wrote an excellent and very smart one. It seems somehow fitting that the strip they selected for deep analysis was the one that happened to fall out of a book and was thus easy to photocopy. And yet, it could be used to illustrate nine aspects of comics language. “The gag takes precedence over everything, including temporal reality,” they explained. “It’s a real kid in a completely unreal universe.” The gag may be simple, but the composition is very sophisticated, both in individual panels and in the strip as a whole.

WitchesSuperheroes tend to be male. Female characters with special powers tend to be witches. And the witches panel at Comic-Con had women from shows like the original and remake of “Charmed,” the original “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (also about to be rebooted), and “Supernatural” to talk about feminine power and the threat powerful women have been perceived as over the centuries. Nell Scovell (creator of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and author of the acclaimed memoir Just the Funny Parts) talked about the wish fulfillment of the power of magic — to movie objects with our minds or to go back in time. Sabrina was a teenager finding her own voice and the powers were a metaphor for that. It was “a way to run all the old teenage stories through this new lens.” She also worked on the original “Charmed,” where “you undercut the horror with the sisterhood. They can be badass and then have tea,” like the Patsy and Edina on ‘Abfab,’ whose friendship makes their outrageously selfish behavior less appalling.

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SDCC 2018: Leonard Maltin

Posted on July 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The name of the panel was “You’re Wrong, Leonard Maltin,” and the audience was invited to argue with one of America’s most respected and beloved film critics. Disagreement there was, but all presented with affection and good humor, delightful moderated by Jessie Maltin Hadfield, his daughter.

Maltin began by quoting Steven Colbert: “opinions are like mixtapes–I don’t want to listen to yours.” He continued by citing Harlan Ellison: “Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion.” He also cautioned us about ranking movies in top ten lists, top one hundred lists, etc. “They have one purpose only — for people to argue.”

All images copyright 2018 Nell Minow

The first challenge was to one of his most controversial reviews, just two stars for “The Dark Knight.” Remember this was at Comic-Con, where people have very strong feelings about superhero movies. “Each film is rated on how well it meets its own goals,” Maltin said.” (That’s my approach as well.) He stuck with his verdict on “Deadpool 2” as well. “We’ve seen it before. Mildly amusing but not cause for celebration.”

Maltin said that he always wants and even expects a movie to be good. Even when it is disappointing, he looks for a good moment or a good performance he can highlight in his review.

Maltin shared some good stories, especially one about shooting a five minute segment with Warren Beatty, dressed as Dick Tracy. “He will reshoot until somebody turns out the lights. He may still be shooting.”

By the end of the panel it was clear that people had very strong opposing views about movies but everyone loves Leonard Maltin.

Just as much fun — Maltin also appeared on a delightful panel paying tribute to the delightfully trashy Queen of Outer Space, starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and celebrating its 60th anniversary, and of some of the other cheesy Warners films of the era.

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Critics Festivals

SDCC 2018: Dazzling New Technology

Posted on July 29, 2018 at 9:38 pm

It’s fun to see the stars and get a glimpse of upcoming films and television series, but one of the highlights of San Diego Comic-Con every year is the chance to get a look at new technology.  Some of the highlights this year:

The Amazon Cube  Amazon Fire had a spectacular exhibit taking up an entire building a couple of blocks from the Convention Center. The star of the show was the new Cube, a combination of their FireTV and Echo. The small cube controls your television. No more remote controls, trying to figure out which one works the DVD player and which one works the cable.  You just speak to it, and it guides you seamlessly though all of the options — channels, streaming services, games, music.

EVO  I was utterly captivated by the tiny spherical robot from Ozobot. Beginning coders of all ages can program it to do all kinds of amazing tricks like following your finger all around a table. If you do not want to program it with the modular commands, you can take colored markers and draw on a piece of paper to make it follow the path you lay out, spin, and change direction. It has superhero skins, so you can have the Hulk interact with Ironman.

Cellarius Imagine someday that the most eagerly anticipated media property at Comic-Con was created not by media professionals but by the fans. That’s the idea behind Cellarius, a kind of Wikipedia of fiction.  Anyone can join, suggest or amend characters, and contribute to the plot.  Here’s how they describe it:


Copyright 2018 Sean Murray

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