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Caryn James

George Clooney Saves the World (Or At Least Art) in 'The Monuments Men'

  • By Caryn James
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  • January 29, 2014 12:25 PM
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  • 1 Comment
The Monuments Men begins with a captivating scene, set in Belgium during World War II. We see close-ups of a work of art -- van Eyck's oversized Ghent Altarpiece—hear banging, then see priests crate up the individual panels of the painting, put them in a truck in the dark of night and send it off for safekeeping.

Visceral, Tough, Apolitical: Mark Wahlberg in 'Lone Survivor'

  • By Caryn James
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  • January 10, 2014 12:21 PM
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With its solid but conventional filmmaking, Lone Survivor looks like one more popcorn–action movie, this time about Navy SEALS on a mission. But as it puts viewers in the center of a fatal fight in Afghanistan, Peter Berg's fact-based story becomes something timely and deeply important.

For 'Downton' Obsessives: Dan Stevens in 'Summer in February'

  • By Caryn James
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  • January 7, 2014 8:45 AM
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As I said in my review of Downton Abbey, Season 4, we all miss Matthew, and since Julian Fellowes has made it clear that the character is not coming back as a ghost, Summer in February is the closest we're likely to come to a post-death sighting.

BEST FILMS OF 2013

  • By Caryn James
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  • December 20, 2013 12:35 AM
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  • 6 Comments
I am absolutely certain about the top three films on this list. But the further down we go, the more absurd it seems to rank films as different as the Coen Brothers' wonderfully layered look at a struggling folk singer in the 60's and Martin Scorsese's bacchanalia of 80's excess.

Will Ferrell Creates Cable News in 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues'

  • By Caryn James
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  • December 18, 2013 12:30 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Cable news, and CNN in particular, is already such a compromised, pandering mess that it seems beyond parody. Still, there is something hilarious in the idea that a journalistic doofus like Ron Burgundy -- all hair and over-enunciation -- was the first to float the concept that shaped 24-hour news as we know it today. The scene in which Ron arrives at that brilliant idea is a perfect example of the goofy-smart humor of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

'American Hustle': When Brilliant Acting is More than Enough

  • By Caryn James
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  • December 11, 2013 9:00 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Bradley Cooper in pink hair curlers says it all. So does Christian Bale's giant pot belly and glued-down combover, and Jennifer Lawrence's poufy blonde 'do. It makes sense that a film about small-time cons reinventing themselves and a big FBI scam never quite lets you forget that you're watching bravura acting.

Emma Thompson: Non-Twinkling, Non-Cavorting and Wonderful in 'Saving Mr. Banks'

  • By Caryn James
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  • December 9, 2013 8:58 AM
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  • 1 Comment
The encouraging scene in the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks has Emma Thompson as the recalcitrant author P.L. Travers, telling her agent why she does not want Walt Disney to put her heroine on screen. "I know what he'll do to her -- she'll be cavorting and twinkling," she says, with great derision.

Christian Bale in the Brutal, Steel-Town Drama 'Out Of The Furnace'

  • By Caryn James
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  • December 4, 2013 8:59 AM
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  • 2 Comments
In Steve McQueen's artful 12 Years a Slave and Peter Berg's fraught Lone Survivor (opening soon), the violence is difficult to sit through, but worth it for those films' serious drama and wrenching realism. Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace doesn't come close to justifying its extreme brutality. This story of two brothers -- Christian Bale and Casey Affleck -- pushed to violence in a Pennsylvania steel town is so overwrought that their problems seem orchestrated by Screenwriting 101 rather than fate.

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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  • 0 Comments
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.

The Amazing Little 'Broken Circle Breakdown'

  • By Caryn James
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  • November 1, 2013 10:31 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Bluegrass and Belgium are two words I would not have thought to put in the same sentence (or thought about at all, really) before The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium's entry in the Oscar race. Bluegrass is a crucial element in the story, from the sexy beginning to the wrenching end of a romance between a musician and the woman who becomes his wife and a singer in the group. And this exquisitely made, exceptionally moving film -- told in an elegant pattern of present-day scenes and flashbacks, full of music that suits every graceful shift in tone, directed with authority and sophistication by Felix van Groeningen -- comes with a horrendous, understandable marketing problem.

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