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.

In space, not many people can hear you scream. In fact, traveling in a manned spacecraft is probably a bit like working on a soundproof movie set — which is plainly where Europa Report was shot.

Tricked up with split screens and digital-video glitchery, this low-budget sci-fi saga emphasizes the claustrophobia and monotony of a long journey beyond Earth's gravity. But it also borrows gambits from horror movies, withholding information and eliminating characters one by one.

Hong Kong action-crime maestro Johnnie To makes films about good and evil, but he's not in the habit of neatly distinguishing the two. So he might seem at a disadvantage in mainland China, where the censors don't tolerate moral ambiguity. With the canny Drug War, however, the director proves himself entirely up to the challenge.

Two decades ago, when stupid Hollywood comedies were relatively smart, they lampooned their own sequelitis with titles like Hot Shots! Part Deux. The genre has become less knowing since then, so the follow-up to 2010's Grown Ups is named simply Grown Ups 2.

Grown Ups Minus 2 would be more apt.

Like its predecessor, this is a vehicle for Adam Sandler, his pals and whatever they think they can get away with. That means some creepy sexual insinuations, if not so many as the first time.

The fourth collaboration between actor Steve Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom is much like their first: Both The Look of Love and 2002's 24 Hour Party People are antic, self-conscious film bios about impresarios on the fringes of showbiz — soft porn and punk rock, respectively. But somehow the new movie, though it doesn't skimp on the nudity, the cocaine or the Britpop, is the blander of the two.

During his 20-year career, Jem Cohen has shown his films in museum auditoriums more often than in commercial theaters. So it's fitting that Museum Hours, the arty documentarian's latest feature-length effort, is so indebted to Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. Cohen likes to happen upon stories and images, and the 19th-century Austrian culture palace is brimming with both.

An amiably shaggy combination of science lesson, whimsical musing and alarm bell, More Than Honey isn't as urgent as its eco-catastrophic subject — the possible destruction of the world's critically important honeybee populations — might seem to require. But the documentary's most memorable vignette is suitably unnerving: a visit to northern China, where the threatened disappearance of bees has already come to pass, leaving workers to pollinate fruit trees ... by hand.

As a relatively young man, French director Alain Resnais made films about loss, remembrance and the ghosts of a recent history that included the Holocaust, Hiroshima and the brutal Franco-Algerian war. He was 89 when he directed his latest film, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, which also considers the presence of the past. But the director's concern with real-life horrors has been replaced here by an outlook that's both playful and explicitly theatrical.

Like the recent Mud, The Kings of Summer is a tale of feral adolescent pals in search of freedom and adventure. The movies even share essentially the same awkwardly contrived climax. But of the two films, The Kings of Summer is more of a comedy, with a depiction of the eternal war between teen and parent that's downright farcical.

A disastrous father-son endeavor about a calamitous father-son expedition, After Earth doesn't play to the strengths of any of its major participants.

Current-events buffs probably think they know the tale of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Prolific filmmaker Alex Gibney may have thought the same when he began researching his film We Steal Secrets. But this engrossing documentary soon diverges from the expected.

Even the movie's title, or rather the source of it, is a surprise. Not to spoil the fun, but it's neither Assange nor one of his allies who nonchalantly acknowledges that "we steal secrets."

In its final months, the George W. Bush administration hastily organized a mineral-rights auction for federal land in Utah, much of it near national parks. Environmentalist and economics student Tim DeChristopher attended the sale and — impulsively, he says — bid on and won 22,000 acres he had no intention of exploiting.

The feds came down on him like a ton of oil derricks. DeChristopher was threatened with as many as 10 years in prison, and ultimately spent 21 months behind bars.

Onstage, in front of an audience, the young woman seemingly goes into a trance, overcome by a power that shakes and contorts her. The commotion appears profoundly sexual; she grabs at her crotch as she writhes. When the woman reaches some kind of release, the spell is broken, and she becomes calm. She leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause.

In the opening minutes of Something in the Air, the protagonist carves an "A" (for anarchy) into his school desk, and participates in a street demonstration that ends in a punishing flurry of police billy clubs. "The revolution's near," apparently — to quote the 1969 Thunderclap Newman hit that provides the film's title.

Being a movie actor is glamorous servitude. On the silver screen, the actor's presence is necessarily bigger than life — yet it's often yoked to parts that are much smaller.

The dreary Arthur Newman inspires such musings not just because it's about role-playing, but also because its two principals are so clearly acting — if for no other reason than they're famous Brits playing ordinary Yanks. This is a movie that wants viewers to believe that Colin Firth, best known to filmgoers as King George VI, is a nobody from nowheresville.

The opening sequence of Paradise: Love doesn't really have anything to do with what follows, but it does establish director Ulrich Seidl's unflinching eye. At a pavilion somewhere in Austria, a group of cognitively challenged children, many apparently with Down syndrome, ride bumper cars under the supervision of Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel). There's no hint of sentimentality, no attempt at reassurance.

The off-screen protagonist of Herman's House, Herman Wallace, already has a dwelling for his body: a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka Angola. But the documentary's on-screen protagonist, Jackie Sumell, wants him also to have a place for his soul: a dream house for a man who desperately needs dreams.

Pretty but inert, To the Wonder is a vaporous mystery wrapped in a gauzy enigma — a cinematic riddle that'll appeal principally to those eager for another piece, however tiny, of the puzzle that is Terrence Malick.

To the Wonder continues in the lyrical-to-a-fault mode of the writer-director's The Tree of Life; in fact, this film includes some footage originally shot for that one. But it excludes Rachel Weisz, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper, Jessica Chastain and Michael Sheen, who all reportedly played roles that vanished from the final cut.

Crisp in execution and classic in ambiance, The Company You Keep is star Robert Redford's most persuasive directorial work since 1994's Quiz Show. It's a pleasure to watch, even if the payoff is rather less substantial than the backstory.

There are moments, as Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine informed us, when the barely controlled rage that is masculinity can be tempered by feelings for woman and child. But eventually the male Id will erupt, and everything will go to hell.

That happens more than once in Cianfrance's new The Place Beyond the Pines, a would-be epic that shifts from character to character and story to story to show how fury passes from fathers to sons. But too much of this seething drama is devoted not to characterization but to posturing.

What's the difference between an action figure and an action star? Very little in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which features no performances of note, even from such combat-tested thespians as Bruce Willis, Jonathan Pryce and Dwayne Johnson.

The sequel to 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the latest Joe is a near-surrealistic mashup of serious themes and juvenile humor, realistic locations and cheesy CGI. Adapted to 3-D after it was shot, the movie is also one of the most aggressive examples ever of the chucking-stuff-at-the-viewer aesthetic.

Christopher Nicola, the avid spelunker who introduces No Place on Earth, has an appetite for the dramatic.

"Every cave I enter has a secret," he intones, as the documentary cuts between Nicola's New York City home and his progress through tight underground passages.

Shot entirely in Hackney — a mostly ungentrified London borough — My Brother the Devil has a strong odor of authenticity. The main characters are of Egyptian origin, but their friends include people rooted in West Africa and the Caribbean. All are linked by poverty, alienation and a gangsta worldview popularized by American movies and hip-hop.

There are some funny bits and characters around the edges of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, but its core is empty of humor. In fact, this purported satire of Las Vegas magicians is a three-void circus: the script, the central character and the main performance.

The committee-written screenplay begins with the premise that, 20 years after the illusion-busting Penn and Teller set up in Vegas, there could still be a market for a pair of old-school tricksters who call themselves Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton.

The opening shot of Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills may look somewhat familiar. As in the Romanian writer-director's previous film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a young woman strides purposefully while a handheld camera follows mere inches behind. She's on a mission to help a close friend, her resolve demonstrated by the way she marches against two lines of travelers who've just disembarked from a train.

Dead Man Down is the first American film from Niels Arden Oplev, director of the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it's not very American. This twisty existential thriller is set in a New York City that's as sun-deprived as Stockholm in January — and one in which nearly everyone speaks English as a second language.

Explosions rattle the crew. The air is turning fetid. And the captain has ordered a descent toward "crush depth." Yet everything is on course in Phantom, the newest model of the old submarine-from-hell picture.

But the predictability of writer-director Todd Robinson's film is, well, predictable. There are only so many things that can happen in the close quarters of an imperiled sub. What Robinson purports to do is show those familiar undersea events from a different vantage point. All the characters in Phantom serve in the Soviet navy of the 1960s.

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love opens far from Tehran, in a noisy Tokyo bar.

"When did I lie to you?" asks an unseen woman, ensnarled in a difficult cellphone exchange. The viewer is already trying to decipher this person, without even glimpsing her.

In the opening sequence of The Sorcerer and the White Snake, two monks step through a giant gate and find themselves in a new world — one made entirely of computer-generated images. Only Fahai (Jet Li) and his disciple Neng Ren (Zhang Wen) are human.

"Don't believe everything you see," the older man warns.

It's the drug's fault, man. That's the defense offered by the perpetrator brought to trial in Side Effects, a stylish, vaguely Hitchcockian dud. But what excuse does this fatally silly movie have?

The film, reportedly the final big-screen effort for prolific director Steven Soderbergh, begins in a New York apartment where something bad has happened. Blood on the floor, smeared and tracked by footprints, suggests murder, suicide or extreme clumsiness.

Adapted from a French graphic novel and outfitted with an ethnically diverse cast, Bullet to the Head is an artifact of a newly internationalized Hollywood. But that doesn't mean it feels especially new.

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