Mark Jenkins

Mark Jenkins reviews movies for, as well as for, 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.

Even the most ordinary movies can be seductive, as Jean-Luc Godard knows all too well. In the 1960s, he was besotted with American commercial cinema, even as he rejected the U.S. policies that led it to make war in Vietnam.

There are as many mysteries in Alain Resnais' final film, Life of Riley, as there are in the movies that made his reputation almost 60 years ago. But where Hiroshima, Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad were shadowed by history, this sunny adieu is set in a series of make-believe gardens.

Director Ann Hui's The Golden Era tells of a female novelist and poet who lived in, as the Chinese curse puts it, "interesting times": from 1911 to 1942. Simultaneously sweeping and intimate, the three-hour drama overcomes many of the usual difficulties of depicting writers on screen. But it can't finesse one major impediment for Western viewers: Few of them know anything of its heroine, Xiao Hong.

Which is the better story: a massive conspiracy to use CIA connections to import cocaine into the United States, or the efforts of one reporter to uncover that intrigue?

Gary Webb, the protagonist of Kill the Messenger, pursued the first topic, and rightly so — even if it did destroy him. Director Michael Cuesta went with the second, probably because it's more manageable.

The world is ending, billions will die, and hell is, literally, coming to Long Island. But the rebooted Left Behind doesn't want to alarm you.

In Kevin Smith's best movies — and his worst ones, for that matter — the characters talk a whole lot of nonsense. That's also true of Tusk, the writer-director's second foray into horror. This time, the villain actually follows through on his nutty chatter. But he still spends a lot more time talking than torturing.

Memphis and God Help the Girl are both musicals of a sort, and portraits of musical capitals of a sort. The first is set in the home of some of soul music's greatest stars, but is too wispy and diffident for the average Otis Redding or Al Green fan. The second plays at being a more mainstream effort, but will appeal mostly to people who are such fervent Belle & Sebastian enthusiasts that they actually think of Glasgow as being in the same league as Memphis.

Within moments of arriving at an adult prison — "starred up" from a juvenile facility that couldn't handle him — Eric (Jack O'Connell) demonstrates how to use jail-issue toiletries to make a weapon. But it's not that toothbrush shiv that makes the 19-year-old deadly. It's his ferocious unpredictability, a quality mirrored by this edgy, naturalistic drama.

Just about everything clicks in director Ira Sachs' quietly eloquent Love is Strange, except the title. The longtime romance of painter Ben (John Lithgow) and music teacher George (Alfred Molina) doesn't seem at all odd. The men's lives, however, do take a sudden turn away from the ordinary.

The story begins in a mysterious flurry of morning activity that's soon explained. After Ben and George's nearly four decades together, same-sex marriage has become legal in New York, and the men have decided to take what hardly seems a plunge.

It might seem hard to describe The Giver without revealing some of those plot points that touchy suspense fans call "spoilers." But this brisk, deftly art-directed parable is basically unspoilable. Even viewers who know nothing of its source, Lois Lowry's 1993 novel, will be able to anticipate every development.

Building a submersible that can travel to the ocean's deepest point is a budget buster, even for the guy who made Titanic and Avatar. So it makes sense that the Deepsea Challenger, James Cameron's depth-taunting craft, would be designed for just a single passenger. Still, viewers of Deepsea Challenge may think of another reason the vessel's cabin was built for one: Cameron didn't want anyone else intruding on his close-up.

A freewheeling yet writerly style and a fully committed lead performance distinguish Child of God, prolific actor-author-director James Franco's latest literary adaptation. Even when the movie works, however, it's hard to see past the lurid details of the Tennessee tale, adapted from Cormac McCarthy's 1973 exercise in backwoods noir.

Fittingly, one of Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performances is in a movie about role-playing. The masterly actor mutters and growls his way through A Most Wanted Man as a spy who's simultaneously fighting two losing wars: against the West's enemies as well as his own putative allies.

Further deepening the movie's ambiguity, the American actor plays a German in a story whose payoff is pungently anti-American.

Viewers of earnest sci-fi dramas like I Origins are required to suspend disbelief, but the scripters of such movies have responsibilities, too. They can't introduce ideas so ridiculous, or suddenly twist their premises so illogically, that audiences are fatally distracted.

Banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi could hardly have found a more engaging surrogate than the four-legged co-star of Closed Curtain, the second movie Panahi has directed since he was officially forbidden from doing so. Making his entrance by hopping from the duffel bag that's hidden him, the dog called Boy embodies Iranian outcasts at their friskiest.