Caryn James

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.

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.

'Blue Jasmine': Woody Allen's Most Successfully Tragic Yet Witty Film

  • By Caryn James
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  • July 22, 2013 2:50 PM
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Witty about social pretensions, eloquently moving about failure and loss, acerbic about family relations -- Blue Jasmine feels like a rich destination Woody Allen has been heading toward for years. It's as if the sibling drama of Interiors were handled (more successfully) with credibility and humor, and Manhattan's skewering observations about money and class given tragic weight, in a film that elicits full, grounded performances from actors as predictably good as Cate Blanchett, as head-spinning as Andrew Dice Clay.

'Only God Forgives': Ryan Gosling in a World of Sick Pups

  • By Caryn James
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  • July 16, 2013 9:01 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Take Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas out of the equation, and Only God Forgives is no more than a stylish midnight movie about murder, vengeance and drug-dealing in Bangkok. But there they are, exuding talent and legitimacy: Gosling stony-faced yet magnetic as Julian, who runs a boxing gym, and Scott Thomas breaking her own mold in a Donatella Versace platinum wig as his drug-boss mother, Crystal. They make this the latest in Nicolas Winding Refn's strenuous attempt, after the cult-y Valhalla Rising and the mainstream Drive, to blur the line between exploitation and something that approaches art. They almost help him get there.

Michael B. Jordan in Taut, Flawed 'Fruitvale Station'

  • By Caryn James
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  • July 12, 2013 9:03 AM
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Fruitvale Station is tense, galvanizing and a little disappointing -- an odd combination that is easily explained. The drama, which won both the arty Grand Jury Prize and the populist Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is brilliantly acted by Michael B. Jordan in the fact-based story of Oscar Grant, a young black man trying to pull his life together, who was shot to death by a white transit cop in Oakland. His performance is matched by Octavia Spencer's as his mother. And Ryan Coogler has directed an extremely well-made example of a certain kind of film: gritty-indie style, full of hand-held tracking and camera-phone inserts. But Coogler's screenplay is too neat and manipulative -- a quality that undermines the film artistically, yet may be the key to any commercial success. Fruitvale makes everything easy on the audience.

Steve Carell in the Sweet, Endearing 'The Way Way Back'

  • By Caryn James
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  • July 5, 2013 9:00 AM
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Just when it seemed that the days of overpaying for Sundance movies had ended, this year Fox Searchlight spent almost $10 million for the very conventional-sound coming-of-age movie The Way Way Back. That deal sent me into the screening room recently wondering if they'd lost their minds; I left thinking they're smarter than ever. The film is warm, engaging, and thoroughly charming even though we can predict every turn in the story of 14-year-old Duncan, who finds his inner, confident self over the summer.

'World War Z': Deja Vu, Plus Brad PItt and Zombies

  • By Caryn James
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  • June 21, 2013 8:49 AM
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Brad Pitt chasing zombies should not be boring to watch, especially if you like Brad Pitt, which I do, and zombies, which I'm perfectly OK with. Improbable though it sounds, Marc Forster's World War Z is dull and pretty easy to dislike, partly because it so slavishly follows the tired and increasingly tiresome formula of summer action movies: family in danger, hero springs into action, then we're all bludgeoned with an hour of uninspired special effects.

Stealth Netflix Arrival: Matthew Rhys in Clever Suspense Film 'The Scapegoat'

  • By Caryn James
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  • June 17, 2013 9:45 AM
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If you like Matthew Rhys as the Americanized KGB agent in FX's terrific 80's spy series The Americans, and think he might be even more dashing with his natural-born British accent, then Netflix is streaming a film for you. In The Scapegoat, set in 1952 and based on a Daphne du Maurier story, he plays the dual role of John Standard and Johnny Spence, one a recently laid-off teacher of Greek, the other his lookalike, the ne'er-do-well son of a once-rich factory-owning family now struggling to stay afloat. Written and directed by Charles Sturridge (a director of the classic Brideshead Revisited), with EiIeen Atkins ideally cast as the family's imperious, morphine-addicted matriarch, The Scapegoat is darkly delightful, with swapped identities, intrigue, murder, and a great pile of an aristocratic house to rival Brideshead. Made for ITV and shown on television in Britain, (and on the Ovation network here) it plays like an exceptional installment of Masterpiece Mystery, except it's not.

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