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Caryn James

Oprah and Forest Whitaker in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 26, 2013 10:27 PM
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  • 3 Comments
Lee Daniels' The Butler is some serious, probably effective Oscar bait. It is also -- these things so often go together -- audience-pandering History Lite. Forest Whitaker, as a butler who serves at the White House through eight Presidents, from Eisenhower to Reagan, gives a dazzling performance; he is by far the film's greatest strength. But even he can't make up for a movie calculated to spoon feed viewers a civil rights lesson that lets us feel good about the country's progress, without adding much substance or nuance to the conversation.

Hate Kung Fu, Love This Film: Wong Kar Wai's 'The Grandmaster'

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 21, 2013 9:02 AM
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Some reviews need more context than others: the very idea of a kung fu movie, even an artistically made one, makes me want to scream with boredom, yet I was enthralled by The Grandmaster. Wong Kar Wai's film is technically about a real-life hero named Ip Man, one of China's great martial arts masters. But as you experience it, the film is poetic, operatic and historically sweeping, as lush and seductive as any of Wong's previous, more conspicuously ambitious works, including In the Mood.

'The Patience Stone': An Afghan Woman With Global Impact

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 13, 2013 10:08 AM
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The Patience Stone is an exceptional, eloquent film with a richly specific setting and global resonance. Directed by Atiq Rahimi, it is the story of an Afghan woman in a war-torn village, keeping watch over her once-belligerent, now comatose husband. The plot turns on a question that gets to the heart of a problem facing oppressed women everywhere: left alone to care for herself and her two daughters, how can a someone whose every move had formerly been controlled by her husband possibly fend for herself?

DVD: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan in the Exquisite 'What Maisie Knew'

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 12, 2013 9:10 AM
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If they hadn't kept the title, you might not guess that Scott McGehee and David Siegel's What Maisie Knew was based on Henry James' novel -- and that's high praise for this contemporary, Manhattan-set variation, with Julianne Moore as a rock singer and Steve Coogan as an art dealer. A lovely example of how to extract the essence of a book and make it new on screen, the film borrows James' challenging narrative strategy, telling the story of a child of divorce -- a scandalous event when the book was published in 1897 -- from the little girl's point of view. As Maisie observes her parents and their new relationships, she sees far more than a 6-year-old can understand.

'Broadchurch': BBC America's Great New Detective Series

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 5, 2013 9:05 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Great detective series are never about the crimes; they're about great detectives, and BBC America's Broadchurch has one. With a depth that goes beyond formula drama, Olivia Colman plays Ellie Miller, a wife and mother in the sea- side town of Broadchurch, who finds herself investigating the murder of the 11-year-old boy next door, her own son's best friend. Ellie has a practical, crimped hairstyle that may be the worst in the history of haircuts. She wears the drab gray pantsuit that lady-detectives in most crime shows try to glam up; she doesn't. She is empathetic, engaging, and down-to-earth -- qualities that only grow as she slowly realizes that someone in her own apparently wholesome community, someone she has to know, killed that little boy and left his body on the beach.

Top Ways (Sarcastic and Not) Futuristic 'Elysium' Reflects Today

  • By Caryn James
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  • August 2, 2013 9:45 AM
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Matt Damon can save almost any film for me, and the perfectly competent, entirely predictable Elysium may be where "almost" kicks in. Like most summer action movies -- from Man of Steel to World War Z -- it has an intriguing premise that gets lost mid-way through in the barrage of special effects and action. Elysium was written and directed by South African-born Neill Blomkamp, who also made the much smaller, more sharply dystopian District 9, with its sci-fi allegory of apartheid. Even here his skewering social observations shine through, at least in the early scenes.

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