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Caryn James

Review: 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver'

  • By Caryn James
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  • April 28, 2014 11:45 AM
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Just because John Oliver was so brilliant sitting in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, that doesn't mean he should have cloned it for his HBO series, Last Week Tonight.

Al Pacino, 'Phil Spector,' and Media Justice

  • By Caryn James
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  • March 21, 2013 9:12 PM
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  • 1 Comment
The gigantic frizzed-out wig on Al Pacino's head might be enough to make you curious about Phil Spector, the new HBO drama written and directed by David Mamet. In a multitude of wigs as conspicuously creepy as the actual Spector's, Pacino plays the fantastically successful music producer and reputed loony-tunes guy convicted of the 2007 murder in his home of Hollywood wannabe and club hostess Lana Clarkson. The first question the film raise isn't about the murder though. It's an issue that comes up with both Pacino and with Mamet today: are you getting the good or the evil twin? Pacino the actor who can still dazzle, or the over-the-top sputtering blowhard? Mamet the disciplined writer of The Untouchables and Glengarry Glen Ross or the self-indulgent filmmaker (The Winslow Boy) who dictates that everyone to speak in artificial, terse Mamet-talk?

Review: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Stoppard and HBO's Dreamy 'Parade's End'

  • By Caryn James
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  • February 26, 2013 9:07 AM
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  • 0 Comments
In Part 3 of HBO’s lyrical, nuanced, romantic and tough-minded World War I era series, Parade’s End, the aloof Sylvia Tietjens says of her aristocratic husband, “Christopher is the last decent man in England. How dare they put their knives into him – he’s mine.” By then we know that she is not simply complaining that Christopher’s colleagues in the British government have turned on him; she is saying the he is hers to manipulate and torture in an endless dance of love and hate. This is the most fun we’ve had with Edwardians since Downton Abbey.

The 'Girls' Episode That Leaves the 'Girls' Behind

  • By Caryn James
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  • February 8, 2013 9:31 AM
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Every now and then on ‘Girls,’ Hannah leaves her girlfriends and her search for success and rent behind, and we see deeper aspects of her character – revelations for both Hannah and for us. Last season it was a road trip to her parents and the hometown she has outgrown. This season it arrives with the next episode, called “One Man’s Trash,” as she steps into an upscale Brooklyn brownstone at the off-handed invitation of a neighbor, played by Patrick Wilson.

'Girls,' Season 2: Where Does Lena Dunham End and Hannah Begin?

  • By Caryn James
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  • January 8, 2013 9:01 AM
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  • 1 Comment
With the ultra-sharp new season of Girls,  I finally understand – though I don’t agree with – the Lena Dunham backlash. For all I know, in real life she’s perfectly likable. But her character, Hannah, is the most squirm-inducing character on television. Hannah’s total self-absorption (as if the world should be interested) and defiantly strong self-image is combined with its reverse: the cringingly bad self-image her bravado masks, and utterly self-destructive relationships. Who would want to be this whiny mess’ friend? But Dunham plays her so convincingly that the distance  between herself and Hannah seems to vanish – which is especially weird, considering that Dunham is the writer/director/actor/ and Judd Apatow protegee with a  reported $3.5 million book deal and Hannah is a struggling, post-college mess.

'Girls' Ends Its Season More Brilliant Than Ever

  • By Caryn James
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  • June 17, 2012 9:05 AM
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  • 3 Comments
There has been so much ink, web time, energy and hot air devoted to Lena Dunham’s Girls that there can’t possibly be any synonyms for zeitgeist left unused. Is her HBO series inbred in its casting and elitist in its characters, as charged? Sure it is, but so what? The actors are terrific; the elitism is part of its young-educated-ambitious-kids scenario. And the show, which started off savagely smart, funny and honest, has only gotten better through the season.

Jeremy Irons In 'The Borgias' Stunning Season Finale (Video)

  • By Caryn James
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  • June 17, 2012 9:00 AM
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  • 0 Comments
On a day packed with season finales, two wildly different series stand out: Lena Dunham’s increasingly brilliant Girls on HBO (for a preview, click here) and the extravagant Neil Jordan-created Showtime drama, The Borgias, which ends its glorious and gory second season tonight with one of its most affecting episodes -- and an ending that would feel unresolved if we didn’t know a third round is in the works.

Femme Fatale Meets Literary Lion: Nicole Kidman And Clive Owen in "Hemingway and Gellhorn"

  • By Caryn James
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  • May 28, 2012 9:00 AM
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Three of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives were maternal or authority figures. There was Hadley, the starter wife, gentle but nearly eight years older than the young Hemingway. Then the boyish-figured Pauline came along, took charge and led him away -- willingly, but still. Wife number four, white-haired Mary, was the ultimate maternal caregiver for the older, lionized writer. But wife number three was a whole other story, as we see in Philip Kaufman’s sometimes dazzling, sometimes cliched HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn. War correspondent and femme fatale, Martha Gellhorn was the only Hemingway wife who could match his daring and ambition, who could challenge his fame, who viewed him level-eyed as an equal. The relationship was destined to flame out as soon as her independence and growing reputation threatened his control.

Where Even The Spoons Are Political: "Veep" and "Scandal" Do D.C. For TV

  • By Caryn James
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  • April 17, 2012 11:51 AM
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  • 1 Comment
“We live in a culture now where it’s almost like we are used to being lied to,” Julia Louis-Dreyfuss said in a recent New York Times Magazine piece about her HBO series Veep – to which any thinking person can only respond, “ALMOST?”  (Or hope that she delivered that line with more irony than the profile made it sound.)

Game Change: Julianne Moore, Sarah Palin and Lamebrain Politics

  • By Caryn James
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  • March 7, 2012 8:45 AM
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  • 3 Comments
Sarah Palin can whine all she wants, but no reasonable person believes that the creators of Game Change went out of their way to make her look shallow and ridiculous – she didn’t need any help with that. But the HBO film will certainly play better to people who see Palin as a blight on politics. This behind-the-scenes dramatization of her abrupt choice and disastrous campaign as John McCain’s running mate is a fast, smart and totally enjoyable tragi-comedy. Julianne Moore is an impressive Palin clone, right down to her confident walk and wave. But Game Change is also a cynical (if all too obvious) cautionary tale about the bubble-headed way elections work today. Palin just happens to be the best example we have.  

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