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.

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.

Filmmakers can struggle to prevent their swaggering villain from upstaging their innocuous hero. Writer-director Andrea Di Stefano clearly didn't worry about that when making Escobar: Paradise Lost. If he did, he wouldn't have cast Benicio del Toro as the bad guy.

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.

Wouldn't it be nice if Beach Boy Brian Wilson's troubled life were as easily understood as Love & Mercy makes it appear? Where the Pet Sounds auteur is known for multi-part harmonies, director Bill Pohlad's biopic is a series of simple duets.

French director Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery is a comic reworking of Madame Bovary, but that's merely the first of the movie's several layers. The bilingual film is adapted not from Flaubert's classic but from British cartoonist Posy Simmonds' graphic novel, set in contemporary times and with the Boverys as a London couple that just relocated to Normandy.

Cary Fowler is an easygoing, soft-spoken Tennessee native who travels the world with an urgent message: The human race may starve to death. If that threat becomes likely, however, people can turn to the biological archive that director Sandy McLeod's documentary calls The Seeds of Time.

At the beginning of Forbidden Films, documentarian Felix Moeller's camera warily contemplates a fortified bunker. The contents are, a curator warns, "literally explosive" — Nazi propaganda films on highly flammable nitrocelluloid stock.

"Inappropriate," today's foremost throat-clearing adjective, is the appropriate response to The D Train. This squirm-till-you-snicker comedy is about two immature males confronted with sexual possibilities they can't handle. One of the guys is 14; the other is his father.

Marie Heurtin was born blind and deaf just five years after Helen Keller, and she experienced a similar liberation through the discovery of sign language. The French girl's tale is the harsher one, since Keller didn't lose sight and sound until she was 19 months old and was able to communicate in a limited way with another girl before the breakthrough dramatized in The Miracle Worker.

24 Days recounts the grisly fate of Ilan Halimi, the young Jewish Parisian who in 2006 was kidnapped, held for ransom and tortured beyond what his body could endure. But it's not Ilan who addresses the camera at the beginning of the film. It's his mother, Ruth Halimi (Zabou Breitman).

As much fun as a tree full of toque macaques, Monkey Kingdom is arguably the most entertaining of Disneynature's eight features. But purists will recoil as soon as The Monkees theme enters, and there are times when the story told by narrator Tina Fey probably doesn't reflect the extraordinary images directors Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill captured.

The latest British movie to play the imitation game, Ex Machina, is the directorial debut of novelist-screenwriter Alex Garland. This time, the stakes are higher than the Nazi conquest of Europe. The talky sci-fi puzzler turns on nothing less than the potential displacement of humans by artificially intelligent cyborgs.

Then again, maybe the film is just another riff on the battle of the sexes.

At the end of The Fast and the Furious, Brian (Paul Walker) gives former enemy Dom (Vin Diesel) a car so he can drive alone into the sunset. Fourteen years and six films later, there's precious little alone time for the Furious clan. This lucrative franchise has so many recurring characters that they really should trade in their muscle cars and charter a team bus.

Noah Baumbach's best movie since 2005's The Squid and the Whale, While We're Young navigates into more mainstream territory while losing none of the writer-director's rueful wit. Oddly enough, the comedy's major weakness is that it's over-plotted, hardly an issue with such Baumbach flawed-character studies as Frances Ha and Greenberg.

Withdrawn and inarticulate, the heroine of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter lives primarily inside her own imagination. And during at least two crucial scenes, this deadpan comedy seems to crawl in there with her.

The man at the center of 3 Hearts has a unreliable ticker. That may seem a brazen contrivance, but the movie is a melodrama that relishes such narrative ploys. Shot with handheld camera, director and co-writer Benoit Jacquot's movie looks like a naturalistic drama. But the script says otherwise.

It's unclear what commerce is left undone in Unfinished Business, a fumbling mix of sentimental family fable and gross-out sex comedy. Maybe the movie was originally titled Unfunny Business, but someone decided that would be bad for, well, business.

Grim, terse and jumpy, '71 effectively evokes the chaos of early-1970s Belfast. A little too effectively, perhaps, since some sequences are as bewildering as the four-way civil war the movie re-creates. American viewers may wish the film came with both subtitles and a study guide.

'71 can be recommended, though, to viewers who don't mind a little bewilderment in the cause of an authentically visceral experience. After all, Northern Ireland residents who lived through The Troubles were probably also confused much of the time.

In John Boorman's first semi-autobiographical film, 1987's Hope and Glory, war came to the school-age protagonist's London. In Queen and Country, set roughly a decade later, the director's alter ego goes to war — except that he doesn't. As the Korean conflict rages, 19-year-old Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) is drafted, trained and sent into service as a typing instructor.

Seen mostly in a cell-like white room, the characters in Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem circle each other fruitlessly, seeking a resolution that's probably unachievable. Both the scenario and its severity suggest a play by Sartre or Beckett. But these actors are trapped not in an existential void but a rabbinical one.

A serial-killer spoof set in a parody of small-town U.S.A., The Voices wants desperately to be bizarre. But it manages just to be a little odd, and that's mostly because its vision of American gothic was crafted on a German soundstage by a Franco-Iranian director.

In one of Timbuktu's first vignettes, jihadists open fire on traditional sculptures, shredding wooden bodies with bullets. It's foreshadowing, of course: Human flesh will later face the same guns. But the moment is also a fine example of Abderrahmane Sissako's lyrical style. The Malian-Mauritanian director has made a film of unforgettable anger, yet tempered his outrage with humor, compassion and visual poetry.

A circumstance that might well qualify as a fate worse than death is to continue living after one side of the human equation — body + mind — has been canceled. For a jaunty account of an active brain in a withering physique, see The Theory of Everything; for a more anguished view of the opposite situation, there's Still Alice.

Although set in Bruno Dumont's home region of northern France, L'il Quinquin finds the writer-director in unexpected territory. The film is a arguably Dumont's first comedy, and was made as a four-part TV miniseries.

Yet with its relaxed pacing, inconclusive plot and elegant widescreen cinematography, the movie doesn't feel much like TV. And its humor is less a matter of overt gags than bemused attitude, which shows that the Dumont of Humanite and Hors Satan has barely relocated at all.

Otto Wall, the protagonist of Goodbye to All That, is well-meaning, clumsy and a little dull. The movie embodies his character perfectly.

The tale of Moses is not exactly fresh cinematic material, so anyone attempting an update would to be wise to have a theme. The subtitle of Exodus: Gods and Kings suggests that Ridley Scott intended just that. The director must have meant to contrast the decadent Egyptian pharaohs, who imagined themselves divine, with the humbler servant of the Hebrew G-d.

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