Mark Jenkins

There are many explanations for Bertrand Russell Berns' relative obscurity. The subject of Bang! The Bert Berns Story flopped as a performer, and so turned to songwriting and producing. He sometimes composed under aliases such as Bert Russell and Russell Byrd. And several of his tunes became associated with their performers, who were widely assumed to have written them.

Also, Berns died young, succumbing to the long-term effects of childhood rheumatic fever at 38. It was 1967, and rock 'n' roll was just beginning to be chronicled by sympathetic observers.

Everything is a little off in the small French seaside town of Slack Bay — even gravity. Bruno Dumont's period farce is punctuated by frequent pratfalls, and some of his characters can barely stand upright. Yet toward the movie's end, several of them become lighter than air, and threaten to float away.

Midway through Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, the title character sketches a diagram of his intersecting business, political, and charitable connections. Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere) is at the center of the web, and yet he's barely there at all.

Take my alcoholic girlfriend... please.

Colossal begins as a variation on the musty Henny Youngman line, crossed with a self-consciously wacky riff on the genre known in Japanese as daikaiju ("big strange beast"). But the premise can't sustain a nearly two-hour movie, so writer-director Nacho Vigalondo adds more twists, designed not only to keep the plot moving but also to partly exonerate Gloria, its heroine.

Gloria is fundamentally nice. (She has to be; she's played by Anne Hathaway, who rarely does mean.) But when she acts out, she really acts out.

Cézanne et Moi opens with one of the most difficult things to depict on screen: the inner toil of an artist at work. Yet the first character to appear is not painter Paul Cezanne but the movie's "moi": novelist Emile Zola, a friend of Cézanne for most of his life.

The namesake of Wilson is the kind of guy people try to avoid on the bus, at the sidewalk cafe, or while using the adjacent urinal. Yet the makers of this deadpan comedy want us to spend 90 minutes with him.

The experience isn't painful, but it is a little frustrating. Playing the reclusive, misanthropic, yet oddly gregarious title character, Woody Harrelson is as engaging as the man's personality allows. But Wilson struggles with tone, shifting from monotonously bleak to predictably satirical to improbably sanguine.

In 1919, a German miss and a French gent gingerly approach each other across the no-man's-land between their two countries. For Francois Ozon, director and co-writer of Frantz, the romance is less tentative. The French filmmaker's melodrama is a love letter to German-born director Ernst Lubitsch, as well as to painter Caspar David Friedrich.

The awkward flirtation between the Chinese and American movie industries continues with Rock Dog, an amiable but generic talking-animal cartoon about a mastiff who dreams of rocking in the free world. Not that the movie has a political subtext: The only oppressor that Bodi (Luke Wilson) seeks to escape is his caring but rigid dad, Khampa (J.K. Simmons).

Opening a few miles from its namesake, The Great Wall introduces a group of European knaves who have somehow trekked to northwestern China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Most prominent among these thieves and mercenaries is William (Matt Damon), who's supposed to be British, although the actor doesn't further burden his stiff line readings with a feigned brogue. The outlanders' goal is to acquire some gunpowder, a Chinese invention with solid commercial prospects in war-happy Europe.

Earth girls are easy, at least when you're only boy ever born on Mars. From a small settlement on the red planet, a 16-year-old orphan strikes up a video-chat flirtation with an alienated Colorado high schooler, also parentless. She is, of course, The One — because nothing random could occur in the shipshape universe of The Space Between Us.

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