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Caryn James

Review: Juliette Binoche in the Heartbreaking 'Camille Claudel 1915'

  • By Caryn James
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  • October 16, 2013 9:01 AM
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There is not a glimpse of Camille Claudel's graceful, eloquent sculptures in Camille Claudel 1915. But in an especially wrenching scene, as Claudel walks on the grounds of the asylum for mental patients where she will needlessly stay for decades, she picks up a piece of mud, begins to sculpt it in one hand like clay, then throws it to the ground as if it were an unbearable memory of her former life. Once the muse, student and lover of Rodin, the Claudel we see in 1915 -- so quietly and affectingly brought to life by Juliette Binoche -- is not some stereotypical artist lost in a mad hallucination, but a tragic woman whose family callously keeps her entrapped long after she needs the asylum's protection.

Top Films to Watch For From the 51st New York Film Festival

  • By Caryn James
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  • October 13, 2013 12:02 AM
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The New York Film Festival, which ends today, was an especially rich edition. Almost every film, in the main slate and the sidebars, was tempting. And while the festival was heavy with mainstream directors, the choices were anything but kneejerk. Some of the most familiar names took exhilarating new turns.

'Gravity': Alfonso Cuaron's Magical Storytelling

  • By Caryn James
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  • October 2, 2013 11:03 AM
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With Sandra Bullock free-floating and somersaulting head-over-heels through space, Gravity comes loaded with visual dazzle and technical wizardry. But its greatest stunt is the way Alfonso Cuaron takes a flat premise -- a medical researcher barely trained as an astronaut, floating alone for nearly 90 minutes of screen time -- and makes it an enthralling thriller. Bullock plays Ryan Stone, stranded when the space shuttle explodes, but the peril she's in resembles that of an old-fashioned movie heroine tied to a train track -- only in this 21st-century scenario she has to save herself. As he carries us from one near-fatal crisis to another, Cuaron's story-telling becomes the film's best, most magical special effect.

New York Film Festival Preview, 'Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq'

  • By Caryn James
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  • September 30, 2013 8:59 AM
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"The tragedy of Tanny is epic," Jacques d'Amboise says of his one-time ballet partner, referring to the event that makes Nancy Buirski's eloquent documentary Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq, a moving human drama rather than simply a film about a great dancer. Tanaquil Le Clercq was the current wife and muse of George Balanchine in 1956 when, while on a European tour, she was stricken with polio. In the worst kind of tragic irony, she never walked again.

Rudd and Giamatti in 'All Is Bright': Would You Buy a Christmas Tree from These Men?

  • By Caryn James
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  • September 25, 2013 9:05 AM
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An offbeat, affecting little dark comedy, All is Bright was called Almost Christmas when it was shown at the last Tribeca Film Festival. Luckily, nothing has changed except for the less blatantly seasonal new title. Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd play down-on-their-luck Canadians who come to New York to live in a camper and sell Christmas trees for a month, trailing a fraught personal connection.

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal In Surprising 'Prisoners'

  • By Caryn James
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  • September 16, 2013 9:02 AM
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Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners sounds cookie-cutter conventional, and in fact there is nothing fresh in the concept: two little girls are abducted, and the father of one of them goes after a suspect the police have released. The clock is ticking ... and other cliches we've heard way too many times before. But the film is so sharply directed, tautly edited, so rich and believably acted -- Hugh Jackman is the fierce and desperate father, Jake Gyllenhaal the obsessed but coolly rational detective -- that you quickly forgive its tired story. Nothing else is tired in Prisoners, one of the most intense, satisfying thrillers to appear in years.

Lynn Shelton's Family Close-Up, 'Touchy Feely'

  • By Caryn James
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  • September 9, 2013 8:57 AM
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  • 2 Comments
As we know from moisturizer commercials -- and are reminded by an unlikely source, Lynn Shelton's Touchy Feely -- extreme close-ups of skin are not pretty, full of cracks and lines and bumps. We see these shots because Rosemarie De Witt plays Abby, a massage therapist whose emotional life is quietly deflating, in a film that sets out to explore the emotional crevices beneath its characters' skins.

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?

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