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.

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.

Brooke is a New York spin-class instructor who plans to open a restaurant that will also be a hair salon and a community center, and furthermore has an idea for a TV show called Mistress America. This sort of aspirational multi-tasking is also characteristic of the movie that shares the name of the imaginary TV program: It's a contemporary Gen-Y satire, a throwback screwball comedy, and a notebook of random jottings by writer-director Noah Baumbach and writer-star Greta Gerwig, all stuffed into 84 minutes.

Some David Foster Wallace fans recoiled when they heard that sitcom veteran Jason Segel had been cast to play the Infinite Jest author in a movie. But Segel stretches impressively beyond expectations in The End of the Tour, an intriguing if not altogether convincing film. The actor is not just hulking physique and long hair wrapped in an unflattering bandana.

Imagine discovering a blog written by an attractive, vivacious woman who lives in a city torn by civil war. Imagine corresponding with that woman, falling in love with her, and receiving erotic messages and nude photos from her. Then imagine hearing that this online lover has been kidnapped, probably by her repressive country's secret police.

Almost three years ago, Joshua Oppenheimer unveiled The Act of Killing, a startling documentary about the 1965-66 mass killings in Indonesia. Its audacious ploy was to encourage unrepentant murderers to re-enact their deeds in the form of scenes from action flicks, a tactic that was extremely well-received by Western critics.

The rich are different from you and me. They can buy fresh bodies when the old ones wear out.

Well, at least they can in Self/less, a movie that raises provocative questions about identity and then doesn't think about them at all. In this sci-fi fantasy, rebottling your soul in a new vessel begets not contemplation but chase scenes. Lots of chase scenes.

Observing the consequences of the Mexican drug trade on both sides of the U.S. border, Cartel Land toggles between Arizona and the state of Michoacan, about 1,000 miles to the south. Only the latter of the twinned storylines really pays off, but that one is riveting.

A subtle portrait of an EDM Adam, Eden is neither a star-is-born fable nor a soul-is-lost parable. In 1992, teenage Paul (Felix de Givry) gives his life to Paris' house-music scene. Two decades later, he reluctantly takes it back.

"How much trouble can one poet be?" That's literature professor John Malcolm Brinnin's rhetorical response to his buttoned-way-down colleagues' fears about a writer's proposed visit to New York in 1950. Today, the query can't be heard as anything other than an inside joke. For the poet is Dylan Thomas, who was trouble for most of his 39 years.

Pages