Death at a Funeral is a frenetic slapstick comedy showing how even the most meticulously planned funeral can wind up in chaos. Director Frank Oz, best known for his work on The Muppet Show and for directing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, has skillfully orchestrated a cast of mostly unknown British actors along with American Peter Dinklage. With one family member parading nude on the roof and something amiss inside the coffin, insanity rules.
Evening is exquisite, with Vanessa Redgrave on her deathbed, with her daughters, portrayed by Toni Collette and her real-life daughter Natasha Richardson, standing vigil. She looks back on her life while conscious and in dreams. Claire Danes is the woman in her youth in long flashbacks in this absorbing family saga. Patrick Wilson co-stars as a long-ago love, and Meryl Streep and Glenn Close make cameos.
Vitus is an absorbing Swiss movie about a child prodigy whose parents want him to become a concert pianist, but who has other ideas. The great German actor Bruno Ganz co-stars as his free-spirited grandfather.
License to Wed is a dreary attempt at comedy. Mandy Moore and The Office star John Krasinski are soon to wed, and go to Robin Williams, a quirky minister who puts them through a prenuptial test to see if their marriage will hold. The performances are fine, but the screenplay does them in.
Introducing the Dwights stars Brenda Blethyn as a small-time singer in smoke-filled dancehalls, trying to keep her dysfunctional family together. It's one of those offbeat movies to seek out for its enchanting leading lady. And keep your eye on Emma Booth, a possible rising star.
Rescue Dawn is the true story of German-born Dieter Dengler, who dreamed of flying jets. That he did, in the secret bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War, only to be shot down. He was taken to a remote POW camp in the thick jungle, where he forged a daring escape. Christian Bale's range-from Batman to American Psycho to this-is incredible. He takes on an incredibly demanding role, with sidekick Steve Zahn as a fellow prisoner.
Joshua is a creepy thriller starring Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga as the parents of a brilliant boy, portrayed by Jacob Kogan, who has trouble adjusting to the arrival of a baby sister. In a movie reminiscent of The Bad Seed, the boy begins behaving in very strange ways, ever more sinister. It's a familiar structure, but when done well, as is the case here, it seems fresh and absorbing.
Talk to Me stars Don Cheadle, who sooner or later will get an Oscar. Perhaps it'll be for this performance as a real-life legendary local deejay in Washington, D.C., 40 years ago. Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene was an ex-convict who convinced an executive at a ratings-starved radio station to give him a chance at hosting his own show. The wonderful English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays his mentor, and Martin Sheen the dubious station head. The heyday of Greene encompassed the turbulent '60s and the "Me" generation of the following decade. The movie shows how he helped calm the city after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and amassed a huge audience of loyal listeners until his fast living did him in.
Goya's Ghosts stars Javier Bardem as a devious monk and a portrait subject of Francisco Goya, Spain's greatest painter of that time. Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgaard has the title role. He and Natalie Portman, as Goya's muse, are woefully miscast in this Milos Forman-directed epic. The movie is ruined with some English actors tossed into the confusing mix.
Resurrecting the Champ stars Josh Hartnett as a young Denver sportswriter whose stories keep getting spiked by his editor, portrayed by Alan Alda. Then the reporter comes upon a homeless man who says he's a former heavyweight contender and Rocky Marciano's sparring partner. Samuel L. Jackson, the most prolific star of his generation, is in that role in this film based on a true story. The reporter knows a story about this character may be his ticket to the New York Times or even a Pulitzer. Hartnett gives his best performance, and Jackson is a poignant co-star.
Moliere stars Romain Duris in a colorful costume light comedy about France's greatest playwright of the Restoration. Mistaken for a man of the cloth, he manages to woo the wife of an oblivious rich patron in this satirical take on those times. Laura Morante gives a sultry yet poignant performance as Moliere's lover. It's tres French, but its comedic rhythms are universal.
No Reservations is a remake of the 2001 German movie Mostly Martha. This wonderful romantic drama stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a master chef in a downtown restaurant who's forced to care for her suddenly orphaned niece. Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine has to make a drastic adjustment in her life, too. Aaron Eckhart of Thank You for Smoking and Erin Brockovich co-stars as a newly hired top chef who competes with her in the kitchen, and of course is the eventual love interest. Like the current Ratatouille, the food itself is a co-star and the New York backgrounds are authentic. And Ms. Jones reportedly prepped by working the tables at a restaurant where she was repeatedly mistaken for herself! It's a fine date movie.
Jeffrey Lyons has been a film critic since 1970 and has reviewed nearly 15,000 movies and 3,000 plays. The son of Broadway columnist Leonard Lyons, whose The Lyons Den was the most respected column of its day (1934-1974), he is the critic at WNBC-TV, and is seen on 200 NBC stations. His Lyons Den radio reports are heard on more than 100 stations nationwide.