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.

The latest teen-girl fiction series to become a movie franchise, Divergent delivers adolescent viewers some bad news and some good news. The bad is that the dystopian future will be just like high school, with kids divided into rigid cliques. The good is that adulthood will be just like high school, so teens face no major surprises.

If you're only going to see one film about the Battle of Stalingrad — and there are many — Stalingrad would be the wrong choice. Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk's treatment of the World War II turning point is shallow and contrived, if sometimes impressively staged. The movie wins points, however, for sheer wackiness.

Relocating Dangerous Liaisons, the 18th-century French erotic intrigue, to 1930s Shanghai is a bold move. And yet it's not especially surprising. In Chinese movies, that city in that decade frequently serves as shorthand for decadence. And what could be more decadent than two debauched ex-lovers cold-heartedly planning to destroy the innocence of not one but two virtuous women?

The original French title of The Big Picture — an adaptation of a novel by American expatriate writer Douglas Kennedy — means "the man who wanted to live his life." That's pointedly ironic, since this existential thriller is about a person who seeks personal freedom by becoming somebody else.

"O Sole Mio" and Enrico Caruso aren't simply Italian. They're Neapolitan, the product of a city whose music is worldly, carnal and more closely linked to Andalucia than to Rome or Milan.

Even devotees who know all that are likely to learn a few things from Passione, John Turturro's cinematic rhapsody to the music of the city he, with affable pretentiousness, calls "Napoli." But the information doesn't come from cultural historians and ethnomusicologists.

When Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards project was announced some seven years ago, its boosters — who included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Borough President Marty Markowitz — touted the scheme's extraordinary potential. But there was nothing unusual about the developer-politician alliance recounted by Battle for Brooklyn. The way this deal went down exemplifies how urban redevelopment is done all over the United States.

Like dolphins, elephants are too playful for their own good. They like to learn tricks, and to please their new human friends. Next thing they know, they're in showbiz.

That's what happened to Flora, an orphaned baby elephant purchased in 1984 by David Balding for his one-ring circus. In one sense, Flora is indeed One Lucky Elephant, the title of Lisa Leeman's engaging documentary. The Missouri ringmaster had always wanted an elephant, and as a childless bachelor he treated Flora as a surrogate daughter. He even named the circus after her.

In the opening sequence of Puzzle, director Natalia Smirnoff quietly introduces both her intimate style and her protagonist's plight. Reduced to bustling hands and a worried face by a series of a close-ups, a woman single-handedly makes and serves a birthday dinner. It's only when Maria (Maria Onetto) brings out the cake that we realize she's been slaving on her own birthday.

Famous for cunningly wrought crime stories — his Infernal Affairs series begat Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed — the Hong Kong director Andrew Lau scouts new territory, both emotional and geographical, in the Beijing-set melodrama A Beautiful Life. He successfully balances satire and sentimentality in the first half, but loses his bearings in the sappier second part.

One of New Zealand's most popular live-entertainment acts is a set of small-town lesbian leftist twins who've been involved in just about every political issue that roiled their homeland over the last three decades, from apartheid to the nuclear-free zone to Maori land rights. (And, unsurprisingly, gay rights.) Yet somehow Jools and Lynda Topp remain as about as controversial as Bert and Ernie.

It's a tad more grotesque than the greatest examples of the samurai genre, but basically 13 Assassins proceeds in classic Japanese sword-battle mode. There's nothing unexpected in this well-made picture, aside from the name of the director: Takeshi Miike.

A better history lesson than it is a drama, The Conspirator acknowledges the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War in a studious, almost reverent mode. History buffs will recognize the name of Mary Surratt, the title character, but many Americans have heard only of her more notorious acquaintance: John Wilkes Booth.

From 1996's Basquiat to 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, painter turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel has steadily advanced his skills. But his new Miral stumbles, both thematically and stylistically. The two things that undermine the director's balance? Peace and love.