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.

Opening a few miles from its namesake, The Great Wall introduces a group of European knaves who have somehow trekked to northwestern China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Most prominent among these thieves and mercenaries is William (Matt Damon), who's supposed to be British, although the actor doesn't further burden his stiff line readings with a feigned brogue. The outlanders' goal is to acquire some gunpowder, a Chinese invention with solid commercial prospects in war-happy Europe.

Earth girls are easy, at least when you're only boy ever born on Mars. From a small settlement on the red planet, a 16-year-old orphan strikes up a video-chat flirtation with an alienated Colorado high schooler, also parentless. She is, of course, The One — because nothing random could occur in the shipshape universe of The Space Between Us.

In Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's impeccable A Separation, emotional devastation results from minor misunderstandings, caused largely by class divides and religious differences. The subtle contrivances of that 2011 film became more overt in its follow-up, The Past. Now Farhadi has made a drama that billboards its theatricality, opening on the vacant set for a Tehran production of Death of a Salesman. The parallels with that Arthur Miller play that arise over the course of the film'are one reason Farhadi titled it The Salesman.

Set on an apparently tropical island, The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge) exalts the cycle of life and celebrates the beauty of nature. Yet this dialogue-free animated fable could hardly be more anthropocentric.

The man around whom the film revolves is introduced literally at sea, battling to survive the stormy waves of a slate-colored ocean. The sketchily drawn, button-eyed survivor soon washes up on a remote isle. It's inhabited mostly by insects and crustaceans — the sand crabs provide low-key comic relief — although sometimes a larger creature comes ashore.

When a man vanishes in a Hollywood studio movie, the disappearance is usually the prelude to disclosing a hidden, violent life. But Claire in Motion is an indie domestic drama, so its revelations are less sensational. In fact, they're kind of bland.

Claire (Breaking Bad veteran Betsy Brandt) and Paul (Chris Beetem) are a faculty couple at Ohio University. Their shared surname is Hunger, but Paul is the only one who's been experiencing it.

The Ardennes forest is best known as the site of the Battle of the Bulge, although one of the sibling protagonists of The Ardennes associates it with idyllic family vacations. But by the time Kenny (Kevin Janssens) prevails on Dave (Jeroen Perceval) to revisit the rugged Belgian woods, another war has erupted.

We meet Dave first, as he dives, fully clothed and masked, into a pool. The camera is below the plunging figure, which makes for a dynamic and disorienting image.

In Jim Jarmusch's 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive the members of a vampiric odd couple live continents apart, but are linked by shared hipster tastes in music and literature. The writer-director's Paterson is essentially the same movie, except that this time the lovers live together in New Jersey, and have very different enthusiasms. Yet they're just as hip, in their gentle, domestic way.

Spiritual quandaries — or at least questions of guilt — lace most of Martin Scorsese's films. Yet despite his Catholic upbringing, the director worships primarily at the church of cinema. Thus his stately if not quite transcendent adaptation of Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel Silence is as much a chance to impersonate great Japanese auteurs as it is an investigation of faith under duress.

Even non-Christians must allow that the New Testament is a formidable document. So any attempt to write what Jaco Van Dormael's comedy calls Le tout noveau testament (The Brand New Testament) requires careful deliberation. But the Belgian writer-director and his co-scripter, Thomas Gunzig, just didn't think very hard about their undertaking. The result is a satire whose whimsies and sight gags frequently click, but whose philosophical impact is negligible.

One of the visual motifs of the stark and shocking Lao Shi (Old Stone) is a cigarette burning in the dark. As the movie's taxi-driving protagonist inhales, the tip pulses red like a warning beacon. It signals danger on the road.

The hazard is explained casually in the opening scene, in which Lao Shi (Chen Gang) waits while listening to a radio report about a driver who hit someone, but didn't kill him. Rather than be responsible for the victim's medical costs, the driver backed up and ran over him. In China, life can be cheaper than hospital bills.

In his defining moments on screen, Toshiro Mifune was glowering and silent, as if careful not to let slip a hint of his next move. To judge by Mifune: The Last Samurai, he was much the same off screen. Of the surviving friends, colleagues, and family members interviewed for this instructive but staid and unsurprising documentary, none has anything startling to reveal.

Yves Saint Laurent collides with Cormac McCarthy in Nocturnal Animals, a domestic melodrama/thriller that proceeds along two parallel tracks to a dead end. The second feature by fashionista-filmmaker Tom Ford boasts some gripping scenes and a few stabs at satire, but ultimately offers little beyond its assured sense of style.

Unlike most horror flicks, The Monster offers solid performances and a real-world subtext. But those virtues aren't enough to keep the movie from getting stalled in some big bad woods, miles short of profundity.

The tale's Little Red Riding Hood is Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), a tween whose relationship with her single mom, Kathy (Zoe Kazan), has become irreparable. The fault is not Lizzy's. Kathy is an alcoholic whose mothering ranges from simply neglectful to overtly abusive. So the two set off, not to grandma's house, but to dump Lizzy with her father.

Before Dog Eat Dog even reveals its title, one of its three central characters has already killed two people. Does Mad Dog slay his pious ex-girlfriend and her teenage daughter because he's a sociopath and drug fiend? Or is he driven insane by the overwhelming pinkness of the women's home?

It might seem that Dan Brown takes his art-history/conspiracy thrillers very seriously. Yet there's one clue, hidden in plain sight, that he doesn't: He keeps letting director Ron Howard turn them into silly movies. Maybe it's Howard or producer Brian Grazer who's nervous about the moderately subversive elements in Brown's cleverly plotted, clunkily written novels. Or perhaps it's star Tom Hanks, the usually gung-ho actor who plays Brown's hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, with an uncharacteristic skepticism.

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