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Stories by Matthew Lickona

The trials of youth, up there on the screen

Youngsters dominate this week’s new movie releases, including Graduation and The Circle

Uh-oh. You’ve got America’s Most Beloved Actor (TM) Tom Hanks plus Emma Watson, the star of 2017’s biggest hit (Beauty and the Beast), in a techno-thriller designed to push everyone’s buttons about the companies whose ...

The Desert Oracle's Ken Layne

Protege of Country Dick Montana and Buddy Blue Seigal

In 1983, teenaged San Diegan Ken Layne had a revelation in Death Valley. “The teenage boys in my crowd would take whoever’s car that was working that weekend” — often, it was restaurateur Sam Chammas’s ...

Scampering caterpillars devour Anza Borrego's superbloom

Some sand verbena and desert sunflowers are hanging on.

By early April, the Anza-Borrego superbloom was all but over. Yellow puffs of blooming brittlebush still dotted the mountains on approach, and orange-petaled spindles still tipped the ocotillos’ tall tendrils, but the carpet of flowers ...

The unforgettable Unforgettable?

New movie releases this week include Katherine Heigl’s return to the big screen, plus The Promise, Truman, and more

Have you forgotten that the Katherine Heigl crazy-ex thriller Unforgettable opens today? Probably not, because you probably never knew it in the first place. Hey-o! But here’s what’s really unforgettable: Scott Marks liked it. Full ...

Colossal is colossal, and that includes Miss Hathaway

Fate of the Furious loses to Colossal in this week’s new movie race

“Why is Anne Hathaway the most hated star in Hollywood?” is just one of the first-page results when you google “Anne Hathaway Hollywood.” The others are similar. It’s almost enough to make you love her ...

Prose before bros

Cezanne et Moi, a story of two of the greatest figures of the 19th Century and their 40-year friendship

Artists are a famously difficult bunch: if they’re not wreaking havoc as they wrestle their demons into something fit for public consumption, then they’re plundering everyone and everything around them in service of their precious ...

On the road again: Robus and Myra, Roger and Sissy

"You oughta see what happens when I do the Shrine Auditorium with 5000 black people in there."

Look at my eyes now Pastor Robus of God’s Real Church — abused child, former Hells Angel, prison rape victim, two-time mental patient, twice divorced, and successful businessman who left it behind when God appeared ...

Queen of the Desert does not rule the movie releases

Take a look at Frantz, Mine, The Void, The Ticket, and Your Name

If you are a certain sort of enterprising soul — that is, the sort who doesn’t want to pay for stuff — you can find the video of Werner Herzog’s masterclass in filmmaking out there ...

Ido Fluk’s a director, not a puppeteer

The Ticket proceeds with the deliberate, inexorable force of a fable

Director and co-writer Ido Fluk’s The Ticket stars a lean and hungry Dan Stevens as James, a blind man who recovers his sight and immediately sets his sights on the horizon. The way he sees ...

Babies best babes

The Boss Baby tops this week’s new movie releases

I like to tell myself that I go into every film with a completely open mind, ready to praise or blame based entirely on what I am about to witness onscreen. But that’s not always ...

San Diego booksellers succumb

Book ends

Amazon’s got everything, but some illusions must be kept alive.

The Boss Baby gets its kids just right

Diapered disruption

The first sign that The Boss Baby will be a pleasant surprise — and not simply an exercise in sticking Alec Baldwin’s Scotch-mellowed tycoon’s rasp in the mouth of a CGI infant and chuckling at ...

It’s just Life

The other Reader critic gets the rest: Personal Shopper, Wilson, and Raw

Sometimes, life is kind. Not the movie Life, mind you. That wasn’t kind at all, even if it was kinda good. But real life. Your humble correspondent hit a serious low this week, so it’s ...

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, ...

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