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Caryn James

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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  • 4 Comments
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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  • 0 Comments
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.

'Man of Steel': Superguy For Our Times

  • By Caryn James
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  • June 13, 2013 9:02 AM
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  • 4 Comments
If casting really were everything, Man of Steel would be phenomenal: Henry Cavill soars away with the title Best Looking Superman Ever; Russell Crowe brings emotional depth to the role of his father, Jor-El; Michael Shannon glowers as Jor-El's power-hungry nemesis, General Zod, yet makes us see that Zod believes he's trying to save their planet from destruction. (Why Jor-El has an Australian accent and Zod sounds American remains a nagging mystery. Are they from different parts of Krypton?) Diane Lane and Kevin Costner are unexpected but touching as the lovable and loving Earth parents who found the baby Superman when his pod from outer space crashed on their Kansas farm.

Michael Douglas, Kitsch and Depth: Soderbergh's 'Behind the Candelabra'

  • By Caryn James
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  • May 21, 2013 12:45 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Despite the earnest pr spin surrounding it, Behind the Candelabra invites us to laugh at - not always with - the grinning, gaudy Vegas spectacle that is Liberace. But Michael Douglas' performance is also deep, sympathetic and brilliant, an act of impeccable mimicry that reveals the essence of a man defined by his fame as surely as he is encased in his spangled tux. The wonder of Steven Soderbergh's hugely entertaining film is that it beautifully walks the line between hilarious kitsch and character study.

Good and Bad Surprises in Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'

  • By Caryn James
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  • May 6, 2013 10:26 PM
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  • 5 Comments
Novel? What novel? I went into Baz Luhrmann's 3-D, Jay Z-soundtracked The Great Gatsby assuming that the kindest, smartest approach would be to forget there was ever a book behind it. Surprisingly, the film is more attached to F. Scott Fitzgerald than I expected, and that turns out to be its downfall.

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