Mark Jenkins | WYPR

Mark Jenkins

"Why choose to be unhappy?"

Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard), the protagonist of From the Land of the Moon, addresses that question to the man who's agreed to marry her. But it might just as well be directed to Gabrielle herself, or to veteran French writer-director Nicole Garcia, because both sink into sorrow as if it were a feather bed.

Although Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is visually overstuffed and sometimes cloaked in darkness, one thing is easy to see: how its principal setting, the sprawling space-station Alpha, parallels writer-director Luc Besson's utopian filmmaking vision.

As it winds north through rural Thailand, Pop Aye makes only a brief stop at a Buddhist site. But there's plenty of karma in writer-director Kirsten Tan's affecting low-key drama, beginning with its human protagonist's quest to repay what he owes his elephant companion.

Partisans on either side of Northern Ireland's "Troubles" will naturally gravitate to one of The Journey's two principals: Republican Martin McGuinness or Unionist Ian Paisley. But for those watching at a certain distance — from across the Atlantic, say — the movie is as much a clash of acting styles as a political debate.

Playing McGuinness, Colm Meaney emphasizes warmth, humor, and naturalness. As the older and chillier Paisley, Timothy Spall is more mannered, relying on such gear as false teeth that make his occasional grin even more menacing than his frequent scowl.

Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square protests ended with a military massacre that left hundreds dead. Hong Kong's 2014 Occupy Central movement ended with a pizza party. Talk about one country, two systems.

That's too flippant, of course. As depicted in the friskily titled Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, the Hong Kong protests do appear something of a lark. But the Occupy Central protesters were attacked with batons, tear gas, and flash grenades, and the encampments were eventually destroyed. Unruly-haired Joshua Wong, now 20, was one serious teenager.

From the pages of sober financial journals to Hollywood's slapstick-econ adaptation of The Big Short, commentators often note that no American banks were indicted in the wake of the 2008 financial cave-in. Hoop Dreams director Steve James is here to say that's not true. In May 2012, New York's district attorney brought charges against Abacus Federal Savings Bank and 19 of its employees.

After a millennium of mystical and/or pious Arthurian lore, someone — could it have been Guy Ritchie? — determined that the once and future king needed the Guy Ritchie treatment. But then someone — could it have been the selfsame Ritchie? — concluded that snarky attitude wasn't enough. And so we have King Arthur: Legend of The Sword an intermittently amusing mashup of frisky medieval-gangsta flick and ponderous sub-Tolkien war saga.

"We all die here together."

That vow, heard several times in Last Men in Aleppo, is apparently a common response to the suggestion that life might be better in Turkey or Germany than in the rubble of what was once Syria's biggest city. The country's White Helmets, who pull survivors and corpses from bombed buildings, will stay as long as there is anyone to aid.

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.

Pages