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Stories by Matthew Lickona

There be (lots of) dragons

A consideration of sources.

The hobbit in The Hobbit may get the title, but it's pretty clear by now that the real star of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy is the dragon Smaug. This isn't exactly surprising; Jackson's roots are ...

The Hobbit's unreal things

There be dragons

My favorite moment in The Desolation of Smaug, part two of Peter Jackson’s epic expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s book The Hobbit, came when the titular hobbit and his thirteen dwarvish companions were buried under ...

"So you see, Dr. Jones, it really is a small world after all."

Surely someone's done this already.

I mean, why else would Disney buy the aging Indiana Jones franchise unless Indy was close to discovering the truth?!?

The movie critic's measuring stick

Richard Brody's top 10 list is not the same as mine, which is fine, but also interesting.

I overheard a fellow critic at a screening recently saying what a terrible year it had been for movies. His conversational fellows seemed to agree. I haven't been playing the critical game long enough to ...

Jesus Christ. At the movies?

Spoilers ahead, folks. I need to see Gravity again before I can really go after my co-critic for his dismissal of a film that actually manages to dramatize the Christian notion of being “born again” ...

Paul Walker is dead, no word on The Fast & the Furious film franchise

"Oh, my God," said my friend, staring at her smartphone. "Paul Walker died in a fiery crash." For a split-second, it registered as maybe a joke. Paul Walker? The star of the Fast & Furious ...

Spike Lee's Oldboy lacks the original’s creepy heart

Spike Lee’s remake of Chan-wook Park’s celebrated tale of a man who is mysteriously imprisoned and then just as mysteriously released has plenty of spattered brain matter and sadistic gut-punches. What it lacks is the ...

Interview with Bruno Gunn and Meta Golding, the actors who play Brutus and Enobaria in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Capitol is the villain

The stakes-raising gambit that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire plays in order to surpass the original Hunger Games is this: after Katniss's rebel-tinged victory in the 74th Games, President Snow decides to make the 75th ...

Life during wartime

A new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, has found that in 2012, the mean level of gun violence in PG-13 films exceeded the level of gun violence in R-rated films. That’s just gun violence ...

Thor: The Dark World party game

In case you're bored after the movie

Here's how to play: Thor: The Dark World steals from a lot of films. Like, a lot. Pick one of them. Then, change one of the famous lines from that film to make it into ...

Interview with Anchorman actor and comedian David Koechner

Champ Kind returns to San Diego for three nights at the American Comedy Company

David Koechner is probably best known for playing San Diego sportscaster Champ Kind in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Michael Scott's obnoxious friend Todd Packer on The Office. Personally, I'm very fond of ...

New releases opening this week: 12 Years a Slave, Ender's Game, and more

Everybody loves 12 Years a Slave. Well, almost everybody. Look, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, Marks is just a contrarian from the School of Armond White. Of course he's not going to like a ...

Opening Shot: All Is Lost

Because a good opening shot tells you something, like a good opening sentence

The image above is actually the film's second opening shot. It's the opening of chapter one in the story. What comes before is a prologue. The prologue opens with a shot of an utterly calm ...

New releases opening this week: Bad Grandpa, The Counselor, and more

Never mind the middlebrow

Poor Scott. Forced to damn Bad Grandpa with faint praise. Only three stars, alas. For any other franchise save Marty Movies Inc., that would be high praise. Here, there is the unmistakable pungency of disappointment. ...

The Grinch helpfully illustrates the fortunes of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Tom Clancy's corpse is barely cold, and already they're pissing on his creation

So word has just come that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit has been bumped from a Christmas Day release date to...mid-January. Thank you, Mr. Grinch, for making it clear just what that means. Judging from the ...

Trailer Park: Captain America: Winter Soldier

a.k.a. Iron Man Lite

Not too much to say here, except maybe that this looks like a pretty terrible superhero movie and maybe a pretty good spy thriller, except for the godawful music. I mean, I enjoyed being a ...

The good old days

No, seriously: the good old days

The image above is taken from a Paramount Pictures ad that ran in Vanity Fair back in February of 1920. (The magazine is running a bunch of its old content on its website in celebration ...

Opening shot: The Counselor

Because a good opening shot tells you something, just like a good opening sentence

So, here you have a straight path, Route 54. But if you turn from the straight path, you wind up in Juarez, Mexico. What's in Juarez? Why drugs and drug violence, of course. And what ...

Trailer Park: That Awkward Moment

Actually, it's more of an "end that trend" bit, but still.

So, first up: this trailer is red-band for a reason. Proceed with caution. Right, then. For a few years in a child's life, any reference to poop or pee is inherently hilarious. The reference can ...

Interview with A.C.O.D. star Adam Scott

The man is everywhere these days.

Matthew Lickona: What did the script do right that attracted you to this project? Adam Scott: I thought it was really funny. I thought it was kind of a new, untapped genre — the divorce ...

Captain Phillips: Unacceptable exceptionalism

We've all got bosses.

If you can get past the bombastic score and the wavering, seasick camera and what is perhaps the hackiest, laziest opening-scene conversation of the year, you might find something remarkable in Captain Phillips: a quietly ...

The brutal spectacle of You Will Be My Son

A family thing

You can’t choose your family,” goes the old saying. You Will Be My Son tells the story of what may happen when you try. It’s not a surprising story, but it is a satisfying one. ...

Mutual wounds

Destin Cretton’s award-winning Sundance short film, Short Term 12, gets a feature-length expansion.

Soul death

Interview with Afternoon Delight writer-director Jill Soloway

Matthew Lickona: How did you pitch this film? Jill Soloway: A mom rescues a stripper and realizes that she’s the one who needs rescuing. ML: So Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is the mom in that sentence, ...

Modern English Society

Ah, raised stakes. Is there any movie you can’t weaken, even as you seek to ratchet up the significance and tension of the crisis at hand? My top-of-the-head answer for favorite film of Summer 2013 ...

Pacific Rim's sense of fun

Godzilla vs. Mechas

Hey, did you hear the one about how the foreign market now accounts for 75 percent of the take on big studio releases? How ’bout the one where China, Japan, and the U.K. are the ...

The Long Ranger

Silver — hey-o!

The list of things that are terrible about The Lone Ranger is long. Reading a complete version might take longer than the film itself (a murderous 2 hours and 20 minutes). It might also be ...

Before Midnight: For starters, you’re crazy

Modern Greek drama

As Before Midnight draws near to its titular hour, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) gets a mid-argument chance to make a list of his beloved Celine’s (July Delpy) flaws. “Well, for starters, you’re fucking crazy,” he begins ...

Dammit, Jim

Boldly going nostalgic

Star Trek into Darkness is a showcase for director J.J. Abrams at his most J.J. Abrams-y. Do you identify Abrams by his fondness for lens flares? You will not be disappointed. Lens Flare spends enough ...

The "great" character

Gatsby née Gatz

Anyone who’s seen the screamy, thudding trailers for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby knows that it is not a paint-by-numbers cinematic re-presentation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegant, economic novel. The numbers are there, of course: ...

Lumbering Man

More metal mancrush

Iron Man 3 is, like its hero Tony Stark at the outset and Stark’s girlfriend Pepper Potts at another point in the story, a hot mess. It does what third installments tend to do: revisit ...

Malick’s (un)romantic musings

The world is poisoned and so are we.

"Why do we come back down?” asks Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. Why, after mounting to transcendence, do we sink back willy-nilly into everything we sought to transcend? To take an ...

Shut up, racist

Black in blue

Television veteran Chadwick Boseman gives a fine, canny performance in 42 as Jackie Robinson, the man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Well, except for when he talks ...

Impossible Germany

Lore: History by the losers

Lore is a loser’s history of World War II, a less fantastical, more moving post-apocalyptic wasteland film out of Australia than the one that starred Mel Gibson back in 1979. Less fantastical because it’s set ...

Oz the Great and Powerful's cheap carnival magic

Yet another prequel

The production notes for Oz the Great and Powerful came with a heads-up: “Please note that this movie stands alone and shouldn’t be compared to any other versions of the Oz films.” I’m fine with ...

Shadow World: John Dies at the End

Title as spoiler alert?

In the interest of objectivity, I suppose I should start out by saying that it’s difficult for me to be objective about John Dies at the End. It hits too many buttons for me to ...

Side Effects' nasty mechanics

Back in 1989, indie film director Steven Soderbergh broke onto the scene with his first film, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, a seamy, sticky drama about sex, lies, and videotape. Here in 2013, he is giving ...

Cat mitzvah

A shaggy dog story about a nearly hairless cat in 1920s Algiers. He serves his master the rabbi, but he loves his mistress, the rabbi’s fleshy daughter. When he eats the family parrot and so ...

Gangster Squad = Gangster Goulash

Bad cop, bad cop

Judging by the dewy exhalation that sighed forth from at least half the audience in attendance at the prerelease screening, it may be that the opportunity to put sensitive, handsome Ryan Gosling in a suit ...

Tricksy Orcs

It would be easy, and it is certainly tempting, to use a review of The Hobbit as the occasion for an all-out assault on High Frame Rate (HFR) digital cinema. HFR is, after all, the ...

Chernobyl Diaries: No Discovery, No Development, No Surprise

What a wasted opportunity. Somebody — presumably writers Oren Peli and Carey and Shane Van Dyke — had the fine idea of capitalizing on the current anxieties surrounding nuclear power in a post-Fukushima world (hello, ...

The Wise Foolishness of I Wish

I wish there were more films like I Wish: films that capture the wise foolishness and foolish wisdom of children without making them into miniature adults. Films that take seriously the efforts of children to ...

A Cat in Paris: Standard-Issue Action, Except Slower and More Colorful

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I always ask, “Why animate?” when I run into an animated feature. But good or bad, I do it. Jean-Loup Felicioli and ...

Where Do We Go Now? A Battle of the Sexes, Both Whimsical and Deadly Serious

In his book Democracy in America, French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville claimed that in our fair country, religion had a greater influence on women than it did on men. This was well and good, he ...

Movie Reviews: Mirror Mirror, Wrath of the Titans, Free Men, Delicacy

It’s easy to imagine some Hollywood exec seeing certain scenes from Tarsem Singh’s The Fall and thinking, “Holy Tentpole, boys, here’s a director who has rediscovered the art of the breathtaking vista! And look what ...

Movie Reviews: The Woman in Black, The Flowers of War, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

My first reaction to The Woman in Black was “all nerves, no heart.” But I have a weakness for the sort of nerve-stretching that the film employs. The sort that comes from a long shot ...

You Have To Know Yourself

“This is my Harley,” says Junior with pride. He hovers over the motorized kiddie motorcycle, which sits in the living room of Chris and Laura’s Santee home. Junior is five; his sister Lizzie is three. ...

Joy to the Screen

Scott: The first inkling that Christmas was not a holiday for Hebrews came from a neighbor kid, the fine Aryan specimen Timothy Murphy: “My Uncle Roy says Jews celebrate Christmas by staying home and counting ...

Movie Review: Shame, London Boulevard, New Year's Eve

In the early moments of Shame, we learn that sex addict Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) has a huge member, as if nature was instructing him in the way he ought to go and he was ...

Movie Review: 50/50, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, My Afternoons with Margueritte, and Shut Up Little Man!

A slice-of-life indie about a young man facing cancer, overstuffed with Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick as the world’s worst beginning therapist, and Anjelica Huston. Rogen looms especially large as ...

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