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Caryn James

Not Too Sappy, Not Too Harsh: Dench and Coogan in 'Philomena'

  • By Caryn James
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  • November 19, 2013 9:02 AM
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If you're going to tell a heart-warming story about a sweet, wronged little old lady, it helps -- even if she is played by Judi Dench -- to have a hard-nosed, mordantly witty, cynical journliast along to offset the sugar quotient. That is the brilliant strategy behind Philomena, the fact-based story of Philomena Lee (Dench), whose 3-year-old son was forcibly taken from her by Irish nuns who were her supposed protectors, and adopted away to America. Soft-voiced and touchingly craggy-faced, Dench is the heart of the film. Steve Coogan is its brain; he is a producer, he co-wrote the screenplay (with Jeff Pope) and he suavely plays Martin Sixsmith, a one-time hotshot and now umemployed reporter, who can barely say the words "human interest story" without sneering.

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.

Stranger Than Life: Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano In The Fabulist 'Ruby Sparks'

  • By Caryn James
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  • July 24, 2012 9:45 AM
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Neurosis hasn’t seemed this adorably sane since Woody Allen. Clever, funny, expertly walking the line between arty and mainstream, "Ruby Sparks" is a lovable romantic comedy, with Paul Dano as a novelist who writes a dream girl, and Zoe Kazan – Dano’s real-life partner, who wrote the screenplay  - as the fictional woman who fantastically comes to life, leaving her underwear around his apartment, cooking him eggs.

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