KRWG

Mark Jenkins

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for NPR.org, as well as for reeldc.com, which covers the Washington, D.C., film scene with an emphasis on art, foreign and repertory cinema.

Jenkins spent most of his career in the industry once known as newspapers, working as an editor, writer, art director, graphic artist and circulation director, among other things, for various papers that are now dead or close to it.

He covers popular and semi-popular music for The Washington Post, Blurt, Time Out New York, and the newsmagazine show Metro Connection, which airs on member station WAMU-FM.

Jenkins is co-author, with Mark Andersen, of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital. At one time or another, he has written about music for Rolling Stone, Slate, and NPR's All Things Considered, among other outlets.

He has also written about architecture and urbanism for various publications, and is a writer and consulting editor for the Time Out travel guide to Washington. He lives in Washington.

"Who needs France without the Louvre? Or Russia without the Hermitage?"

These questions, addressed to Francofonia's audience by director and narrator Alexander Sokurov, may recall Russian Ark, the Siberia-born filmmaker's best-known (and arguably best) movie. But while his new film is nominally about the Paris museum, it's less focused than Russian Ark. That 2002 cinematic pageant presented Russian history in a single, unedited 87-minute take that danced through the St. Petersburg landmark.

The weepiest man in country-music history, Hank Williams is an unlikely icon of the usually macho genre. But the composer of "Weary Blues from Waitin'," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive" was firmly rooted in the South. As he shifted from blues to gospel to "hillbilly," he remained a good ol' boy.

Paul Dedalus can be a man of action. The middle-class protagonist of the dynamic yet ultimately melancholy My Golden Days carries a gun into a tense negotiation with a drug dealer, and happily accepts a secret mission to carry documents and cash to Jewish refuseniks while on a high-school trip behind what was then the Iron Curtain.

In A War, a Danish commander whose troops are under attack by the Taliban calls in an air strike, and later has to answer for it in a courtroom. Eye in the Sky mashes those two narratives together. While a drone pilot in Nevada prepares to hit al-Shabaab terrorists in Nairobi, the morality of this potential action is debated by politicos in London.

Enigmatic writer-director Terrence Malick has made what is essentially the same movie three times in a row: Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and now Knight of Cups. It's time to ask if he knows what he's doing.

In Triple 9's beyond-shadowy opening, a group of reprobates discusses plans for a military-precision bank robbery. The illumination is so dim that a bit of Anthony Mackie's brow is about all that's visible. Subsequent scenes allow a little more light, yet this laughably nihilistic movie just gets darker and darker.

A river cruise is like a movie. The boat glides from scene to scene, the travelers get to know each other, and around the final curve awaits resolution, or perhaps revelation.

Chinese writer-director Jia Zhangke's films are grounded in the reality of his frigid, coal-dusted hometown, Fenyang. But that doesn't mean he's a realist. His complex latest film, Mountains May Depart, begins in Fenyang in 1999 as a stylized romantic melodrama and ends, two chapters later, in a place that's not yet actual: Australia in 2025.

At the beginning of The Club, four men and a woman are living quietly in a small Chilean seaside town. Their days are filled with prayer and religious songs, but also wine and greyhound racing.

When Aferim! debuted at the Berlin Film Festival a year ago, some called it a Romanian 12 Years a Slave. Now that it's on U.S. screens, there's an even closer analogy: Aferim! is Romania's The Hateful Eight.

The opening vignette of In the Shadow of Women shows a man in front of a wall, slightly off-center in the widescreen frame. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) does little more than chew on a bite of sandwich for about a minute, an opening that suggests this will be one of those French films that takes its time in pondering the ordinariness of daily life.

One day, late to pick up his 6-year-old from school, a low-level Bucharest civil servant attempts to distract the boy with a reference to their mutual hero, Robin Hood. "You're not Robin Hood," the kid (Nicodim Toma) tells his dad, Costi (Cuzin Toma).

Is that a dare? Maybe not to Costi, but certainly to writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu. He spins The Treasure into an adventure tale, albeit one that's short on adventure. This charmer is determinedly mundane and low-key, until an unexpected finale transforms it.

The business of America is business, to paraphrase a line delivered by Calvin Coolidge four years before 1929's version of The Big Short. But Hollywood, no small industry itself, rarely tells the stories of people like Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop and the inspiration for David O. Russell's Joy.

The immensity of the Holocaust requires the filmmaker — even one making an eight-hour documentary — to exclude many aspects of the systematic savagery. None has done so more resolutely than Hungary's Lazlo Nemes, director and co-writer of Son of Saul. The grim yet kinetic drama spends all its time at the shoulder of one man, and its only other major character is a corpse.

The two best American movies of the year so far, Spotlight and The Big Short, are both docudramas, yet are entirely different in tone. Where the former is sober and pitch-perfect, the latter is garish, overreaching, and farcical. All of which is justified by the real-life burlesque act that's its subject: Wall Street's 2008 implosion.

Paolo Sorrentino is only 45, but the Italian writer-director is looking forward to looking back. His last four movies are journeys into the past, featuring actors and characters older than himself.

In the best of them, 2013's The Great Beauty, the protagonist is a weary veteran journalist whose apartment overlooks the Coliseum. In Rome, nostalgia has a long timeline.

The world of Victor Frankenstein — red brick and gray skies, clanking gears and straining pulleys, exploding dials and jury-rigged gizmos — is utterly steampunk. But the latest resurrection of Mary Shelley's horror classic has a tech-era vibe that adds to its modest appeal.

In revisiting the saga of real-life swinging-London gangsters the Kray twins, Legend has two advantages over 1990's The Krays: Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy. The actor plays both the seething Ronnie and the cooler Reggie, and endows each with more palpable menace than did Gary and Martin Kemp, the prettier boys who starred in the 25-year-old precursor.

For most of the 1950s, Hollywood had the ideal screenwriter. He worked fast and cheap and even won Oscars. Also, he didn't mouth off in public, or try to take all the credit.

In fact, Dalton Trumbo didn't take any credit, at least under his name. That's because he was blacklisted for being a former communist — he was a party member from 1943 to 1948 — after spending 11 months in federal prison for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Roughly half of Gaspar Noe's Love consists of raw, unsimulated sex acts — presented in 3D, no less. Add a dollop of young-adult romantic upheaval and the result is the Franco-Argentinian filmmaker's blandest feature to date.

Of course, that's by comparison to his previous movies, which depict rape, murder, psychedelic drug experiences, and slaughterhouse horrors. Aside from one jealous scuffle in a crowded art gallery, there's no violence in Love, which would be a conventional melodrama if not for the abundant sex and flamboyant style.

When it comes to music, Afghanistan is famous for the Taliban's ban on it during their rule. And when it comes to Afghan women and music, well, they tend to face the same constraints as in every other arena. Yet women have competed on Afghan Star, the local counterpart of American Idol, since the program premiered in 2005. One of them, Setara Hussainzada, inspired Rock the Kasbah, a comedy set on the front lines of tribal strife and pop-music combat.

Your country may be wrong, Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies sadly admits. But it maintains that a solid American family man can always be trusted. In the Cold War, as at home, father knows best.

Eccentric Canadian cinephile Guy Maddin simulates battered 1920s films so brilliantly that it's easy to miss what else he does. His The Forbidden Room, co-directed by protege Evan Johnson, plays like an anarchic collage of late-silent-era melodramas, action flicks, and horror movies, just unearthed after going unseen for nearly a century.

But the film is more than just spot-on parody.

The world's most prolific banned filmmaker, Jafar Panahi has made three features since 2010, when the Iranian government officially prohibited him from working. The latest, Taxi, is the friskiest and most expansive. Its relative sweep, though, must be understood in terms of Iranian art cinema, which has always emphasized the things it can't show.

Long before Hot Bench, King Solomon reportedly ended a dispute between two women who claimed maternity of the same baby by ordering the child cut in two. But even the wisdom of Solomon would be insufficient to resolve the dispute at the center of Finders Keepers. That's because the foot claimed by two North Carolina men had already been severed from the leg that once hosted it.

A double bill from someplace near Hell, Black Mass and Sicario both feature extreme violence, ethically unmoored lawmen, and abundant father-child trauma. What links these two gangster epics most closely, though, is their doleful music. Neither Tom Holkenborg's strings (Black Mass) nor Johann Johannson's synths (Sicario) ever let viewers forget that they're watching a funereal procession.

Whether mummy or mommy, a creature whose face is cloaked in bandages is eerie. So it might seem reasonable for twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) to be distrustful when their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns from the hospital with a wrapped face. As Goodnight Mommy soon reveals, however, very little about the physically identical brothers is reasonable.

Having slipped into permanent darkness, the protagonist of Blind stays secluded in the Oslo apartment she shares with her husband.

Eventually we learn that her name is Ingrid, but her identity barely seems to matter. The world bustles past the shut-in, alone at her window, a voyeur who can no longer see.

In the climactic development of We Are Your Friends, a Los Angeles DJ has a breakthrough. Cole (Zac Efron) constructs a dance track from sampled sounds of his recent life, including zippers, staple-guns and remarks by the Girl Who Got Away and the Friend Who Died. Both the song and the scene are preposterous, but the autobiographical audio-collage neatly exemplifies the movie, an intermittently engaging medley of genres, moods and intentions.

Driving, stunned mainstream-media accounts of Gen-Y tastes report, is becoming less popular. But learning how to operate a car still serves as a straightforward metaphor for accepting responsibility and acquiring new skills. So straightforward, in fact, that Learning to Drive is barely capable of a left turn.

Pages