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Stories by Matthew Lickona

A visual feast at the Fest

San Diego Latino Film Festival trumps major movie release Beauty and the Beast

The great grinding gears of the pop culture PR machine would have you believe that Beauty and the Beast is the big movie news this week. But it’s not, and neither are the bleats of ...

Searching for The Sense of an Ending

Director Ritesh Batra discusses balancing past and present in look-back story

Director Ritesh Batra’s The Sense of an Ending adapts Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-winning novel about an aging Englishman named Tony (Jim Broadbent) who is gently forced to reckon with his past — in particular, the ...

Power strangers

Let’s meet the new kids on the block

The Disney live-action Beauty and the Beast opens this week. It stars Emma Watson from the Harry Potter movies. You are almost certainly familiar with both the movie and its star, and you probably know ...

War, before and after

Military matters in this week's new movie releases: Kong, Land of Mine, Ottoman Lieutenant

Starting with the end, then: both Kong: Skull Island and Land of Mine take place in the aftermath of war. Kong is set just as America is pulling out of Vietnam, leaving Sergeant Sam Jackson ...

Land of Mine is terse, tense, and terrific

Moving mine movie

Writer-director Martin Zandlivet’s terse, tense, and terrific post-WWII film Land of Mine establishes two of its three strengths immediately. First, star Roland Møller as Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen, his eyes radiating barely controlled emotion from ...

March comes in like a wolverine

Logan heads up a strong bunch of new movie releases

I liked the superhero movie Logan a lot, mostly because it was less about superheroes and more about keeping the flame of faith alive as the darkness closes in and about keeping civilization going by ...

Wolfman Western

There’s a reason for Logan’s surprising power and poignancy

With 2013’s The Wolverine, director James Mangold took a near-immortal, adamantium-clawed (thanks to a combination of mutation and rogue science) superhero named Logan and stuck him in a Big Sleep–style mystery movie. The results were...unimpressive. ...

Two takes on interracial romance

This week’s new movie releases include Get Out and A United Kingdom

In A United Kingdom, a black man falls in love with a white woman, and their romance is tested by all sorts of opposing forces. In Get Out, a black man falls in love with ...

Take cover from the storm and see these movies this weekend

A critic's job is to say "Hey, look at this!"

There is no delight in being contrary for its own sake. It's as dishonest a critical move as quote-whore cheerleading. It cries out, "Hey, look at me!" when, of course, a critic's job is to ...

“It was the funniest thing I had ever read”

Director Richie Keen on Fist Fight, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and media ex machina

Growing up in Chicago, Richie Keen would ride his bike down to where John Hughes was shooting Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and sneak onto the set. Later, he started as an actor before becoming a ...

Verbinksi on vacation

Madman's dream, A Cure for Wellness

With Pirates of the Caribbean, Gore Verbinski took a silly-spooky theme park attraction and built it into a multibillion-dollar defense of bucking the system and living by your wits. With A Cure for Wellness, he ...

Sequel report

Some follow-up movies (Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back) are considerably better than others (Fifty Shades Darker)

First things first: the 2017 San Diego Jewish Film Festival is underway, and runs through the 17th. Film lineup is here. I rather like the cutline: "Our Lives Projected." Between that and the first San ...

If you’re making art and getting paid for it...

You don't do anything when you're comfortable.

Guitarist William Wilson loves his children too much to suggest they follow in his footsteps. “It’s too hard,” he says flatly. Still, “the other day, I was talking to a banker, and when I told ...

Maybe not a good time at the movies, but a timely time

Some relevant movies open this week, including I Am Not Your Negro and Fire at Sea

How does the old curse go? “May you live in interesting times”? It is certainly an interesting time. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Each side is forever seeing further evidence of the other’s ...

James Baldwin’s notebook

I Am Not Your Negro makes San Diego premiere at Human Rights Watch Film Festival

I was sorry when my interview with I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck was cancelled at the last minute, in part because I wanted to ask him — out of genuine curiosity as ...

What’s in a name?

Naming names in this week’s new releases: Paterson, Toni Erdmann, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, and more

Adam Driver is a bus driver named Paterson in Paterson, New Jersey in Paterson, the new Jim Jarmusch film that earned a whopping five stars from Scott this week. Me, I’m holding out for Miles ...

Family values on the big screen

The ties that bind in this week’s new releases: 20th Century Women, The Ardennes, and more

Scott’s big (and mostly positive) review this week is 20th Century Women, Mike Mills’s memory of growing up surrounded by strong feminine figures of all sorts. (Greta Gerwig strikes again!) It’s one more example of ...

Monster Trucks and the marvel of confounded expectations

Mix them all together and voilà — instant aneurism!

I’m not sure which is a more salient critical experience: disappointed expectations (The Nice Guys), fulfilled expectations (Mad Max: Fury Road), or confounded expectations (John Wick). I’m thinking the second, just because it’s so rarefied ...

Movies can make you feel things

New January releases: Patriots Day, Julieta, and more

A lot of critics liked Patriots Day — The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr being a notable exception. I didn’t much care for it. Peter Berg’s dramatization of the Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing manhunt started ...

Patriots Day, a net cast wide but with little care

Berg’s Boston Marathon

Based on Peter Berg’s sprawling Boston Marathon bombing drama Patriots Day, here is what I know about Dzhohkar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers who planted pressure cooker bombs near the marathon’s finish line ...

The best isn’t Silence

New year, new movie releases: Hidden Figures, Train to Busan, and more

Hmph. Happy New Year, indeed. All y’all out there in movie-pass land had a chance to win tickets via the Reader to see an advance screening of Underworld: Blood Wars. But not us critics. Like ...

The Middlebrow Monk's best films of 2016

Critical listicle!

Matthew Lickona here. One of the painful things about looking back over the year in reviews is you get an eyeful of your unfortunate overuses. I’m going to try to excise “riveting,” “gripping,” and “fascinating” ...

Not with a roar, but a whimper

A fizzling end to a bang-up year of movies, including Passengers, Lion, and more

This is it, folks. Unless you know something I don’t, there will be no new releases next Friday, December 30. (Scott and I will take the occasion to post our two Top Ten Lists, which ...

A welcome break from opera — super, space, or otherwise

A good week of new movie releases, including Jackie and Rogue One

The Wikipedia entry for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story calls it “a 2016 American epic space opera film.” There’s lots more after that, but let me pause for a moment. “Space opera?” As in ...

Hello, ladies!

A good year for women on film, as exemplified in new releases The Eyes of My Mother, Miss Sloane, and more

I missed the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters. I also missed both versions of the “awful opera singer” story (Marguerite and Florence Foster Jenkins). Heck, I even missed Denial, despite the fact that it starred personal ...

Jump into a bag of humor and death

Eyes of My Mother is unnerving

First-time writer-director Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother feels unnervingly like a Diane Arbus photo that’s been stretched into a film. Which is to say, it’s unnerving, a shadowy black-and-white (well, black-and-gray) image of ...

Sometimes critics mean what they say

Musings and new movies: Manchester by the Sea, The Similars, and more

Duncan Shepherd had it easy. When he slammed a movie, people would accuse him of being elitist or of hating anything that wasn’t foreign (Eastwood and the Coens excepted). Sometimes they would accuse him of ...

San Diego Guide to Holiday Fun

Even if yuletide music burns your cochlea on contact ... something for you

I read somewhere that the reason you’re sad around Christmastime is because it’s a reminder of what you’ve lost since childhood: the belief that the world is a magical place that is interested in your ...

Light is a kind of noise

A tale of Marks in the dark, plus new releases including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Curmudgeonly grouch Scott Marks has, like some kind of critical Sam Jackson, had it with these blankety-blank cell phones in the blankety-blank theater! Read all about it here, and then scooch over to his rapturous ...

The Edge of Seventeen — the kids of today

Hughesian youth

Writer-director-producer Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen offers a verbally frank take on the horrors of adolescence — difficult parents, difficult siblings, difficult romantic interests, and even difficult best friends — gentled just enough ...

What should we name Trump: the Sequel?

The latest in presidencies and movies

Well, President-elect Trump scored a sleeper hit with his stunning election-day performance at the ballot box. And what do studios do after scoring a hit? They greenlight a sequel! Let's get the obvious options out ...

Doctor Not Too Terribly Strange

Doctor Strange, Gimme Danger, and more hitting movie theaters

On the wall of my office is a framed, tiny sketch of the Marvel comic book superhero Doctor Strange, drawn by Gene Colan the year before he died. My brother bought it for me at ...

Teresa Palmer on Mel Gibson’s new film

Interview with Hacksaw Ridge costar

Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the story of Desmond Doss, a man compelled by duty to join the Army during World War II and compelled by belief to avoid committing acts of violence. Palmer, who ...

A slow week at the movies is not the same as a weak week

Aquarius and The Free World among new theater releases

This week is a strong one for women here at The Big Screen. The big news is Sonia Braga, who not only plays a strong, intelligent woman in Aquarius, but also plays a strong, intelligent ...

Certain Women, uncertain concept?

Movies opening this week: London Town, A Man Called Ove, and more

Scott decided to dodge this week’s Santa Anas by ducking into the cool confines of his local cineplex and staying there. Our man in the dark took in five features this week, and if it ...

Jennifer Connelly discusses Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut

American Pastoral takes on nothing less than the fragile impermanence of the American Dream

Matthew Lickona: When Dawn is in the depths of her sadness and misery, she tells the Swede that she should have married one of the nice Holy Cross boys she knew when she was young. ...

All abuzz for American Honey

New movies opening this week include Long Way North and The Accountant

American Honey is the second movie from a Brit director about economic hardship in America that has won me over this year — the first being Hell or High Water. Where Hell is tight, polished, ...

The Birth of a Nation has a host of problems

Movies opening this week: The Girl on the Train, My Blind Brother, and more

As I was leaving the screening of The Birth of a Nation with my brother, he turned to me and said, “I’d say that was more like a TV movie than anything else, but that ...

The Birth of a Nation is passionate but careless

Nate Parker's Nat Turner

The Birth of a Nation — director, star, and cowriter Nate Parker’s take on Nat Turner’s failed slave uprising — may be a sadly timely movie. That certainly seems to be the point behind Mrs. ...

Deepwater Horizon, tronc, and other disasters

Movies opening this week: Queen of Katwe, Demon, and more

Last week I mentioned the Reader‘s original and longtime film critic, Duncan Shepherd. I arrived at the paper back in the mid-’90s, and often as not when I told people where I worked they’d reply, ...

I'll never know if Storks delivers

New movies opening this week: The Magnificent Seven, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, and more

Aaaand we're back! Eight, count 'em, eight piping hot reviews of new releases — but alas, Storks is not one of them. Our proprietary Reader review algorithm (affectionately dubbed the the Duncanizer), which calculates the ...

Jeff Feuerzeig on creating a character

Author: The JT LeRoy Story writer-director discusses truth and fiction

Matthew Lickona: When the scandal breaks about author Laura Albert having created the author JT LeRoy, you give us several phone messages from Laura’s answering machine, urging her to get a huge book deal right ...

Hollywood bets there’s gold in them thar woods! (Also, the womb.)

New movies opening this week: Blair Witch, White Girl, Snowden, and more

Apple founder Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t know what they want until you give it to them.” Maybe he’s right. I never dreamed people would want threequels to The Blair Witch Project and Bridget ...

Elizabeth Wood on sexuality in films

White Girl writer/director tells her first story

First-time writer/director Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl sets out to be a Great Gatsby for the 21st Century — and perhaps in the process, to depict the orgastic future that Fitzgerald mentioned at the story’s end. ...

Adam Nimoy on being the son of a famous Vulcan

For the Love of Spock director takes questions

Adam Nimoy is the son of Leonard Nimoy, a man who became so thoroughly associated with the character he played on Star Trek that he wrote a book titled I Am Not Spock, and then ...

The Disappointments Room appears

New movies opening this week: Sully, Little Men, and more

So here’s a spooky horror movie mystery: whatever happened to Before I Wake, a film Wikipedia says is opening today and which features an adorable moppet whose dreams manifest in reality? It seems to have ...

Does Sully sink or swim?

Reader movie critics talk it out

The title of Clint Eastwood’s latest, Sully, works as a two-edged nod to both titular hero and what the National Transportation Safety Board wanted to do to his reputation. There isn’t an American alive who ...

A fact of life: We’re going to die

New movies opening this week: The Light Between Oceans, Morgan, and more

That title reads better — or gets read better, anyway — with Orson Welles’s voice. So here’s a little snippet on mortality from F for Fake that I pretty much adore in this video. Go ...

Lo and behold a movie this weekend!

Movies opening this week: Lo and Behold, Hands of Stone, and more

It’s a quiet week on the new-release front, at least in terms of what we were able to see. I wanted Werner Herzog’s take on the Internet in Lo and Behold to be a little ...

Here comes Hell or High Water

Interview with director David Mackenzie and costar Gil Birmingham

The stars align in the Western sky. Hell or High Water is the sort of film that tempts the critic — well, tempts me, anyway — to start writing the sort of copy that might ...

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