Sometime in the 1600s, somewhere in New England, a Puritan family finds themselves on the edge of a dark and mysterious wood with only God’s words to guide them. This setting will eventually lead to the Salem Witch Trials, but this is one family against evil. Debut director Robert Eggers really steeps you in a dismal landscape of pray or perish. The language, costumes and settings sound and look authentic. The natural lighting really sells the murky mood. The young actress Anya Taylor-Joy is a joy to watch as she rips apart this role. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie rain down fire and brimstone with their performances. This is important because the suspense here doesn’t rely on effect. Instead, it builds as the dialogue becomes more dynamic, and the environment closes in on the characters. It will cast a spell a on you – worth a watch.
You have to give Robert De Niro some credit. He refuses to retire into stuffy dramatic roles. No, when he’s not doing Oscar-nominated David O. Russell films, he’s tossing in weird comedies like this. Here, he teams up with Zac Efron for litanies of raunchy jokes. The setup is pretty basic – Efron is the uptight straight-man. De Niro is a horny, old man, spouting offensive remarks. The upside is the remarks are funny for the most part because they’re coming from a horny, old man. The plot falls too in line, but most of this script was expressively built for politically incorrect one-liners. Sacha Baron Cohen’s longtime writing partner Dan Mazer (“Da Ali G Show,” “Borat” and “Bruno”) directs, and he lends a certain timing to the silliness. Just let reason fly out the window and roll with the ridiculousness – barely worth a watch.
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“I Smile Back”
Sarah Silverman is known for her comedy. Her standup pushes boundaries and goes in unexpected directions. Here’s another unexpected turn – a role where she’s not funny at all. She absorbs and manifests this adaptation of Amy Koppelman’s novel about depression, self-destruction and attempts at redemption while playing a wife and mother, ripping herself apart with drugs and illicit sex. The filmmakers prop a reliable cast around her – Josh Charles as her husband and the kids played by Skylar Gaertner and Shayne Coleman. They come across as real and rounded people, not stock characters. It allows Silverman to burrow in deeper and excavate this character’s bones, discover the nerves. She delivers every scene with the certainty and the strength of a seasoned dramatic actor. Even with the dire tone, her breakout performance will make you smile – worth a watch.