Bob Mondello

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career, "hired to write for every small paper in Washington, D.C., just as it was about to fold," saw that jink broken in 1984, when he came to NPR.

For more than three decades, Mondello has reviewed movies and covered the arts for NPR News, seeing at least 250 films and 100 plays annually, then sharing critiques and commentaries about the most intriguing on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine All Things Considered. In 2005, he conceived and co-produced NPR's eight-part series "American Stages," exploring the history, reach, and accomplishments of the regional theater movement.

Mondello has also written about the arts for such diverse publications as USA Today, The Washington Post, and Preservation Magazine, as well as for commercial and public television stations. And he has been a lead theater critic for Washington City Paper, D.C.'s leading alternative weekly, since 1987.

Before becoming a professional critic, Mondello spent more than a decade in entertainment advertising, working in public relations for a chain of movie theaters, where he learned the ins and outs of the film industry, and for an independent repertory theater, where he reveled in film history.

Asked what NPR pieces he's proudest of, he points to commentaries on silent films – a bit of a trick on radio – and cultural features he's produced from Argentina, where he and his husband have a second home. An avid traveler, Mondello even spends his vacations watching movies and plays in other countries. "I see as many movies in a year," he says. "As most people see in a lifetime."

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4:49pm

Fri May 24, 2013
Movie Reviews

More Time Together, Though 'Midnight' Looms

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 5:39 pm

Still Talking: After 18 years, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) apparently have plenty left to hash out.
Despina Spyrou Sony Pictures Classics

Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.

It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.

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6:14pm

Sat May 18, 2013
Movie Reviews

New 'Trek' Goes 'Into Darkness,' But Not Much Deeper

Originally published on Sat May 18, 2013 7:47 pm

Zachary Quinto as Spock, with Chris Pine as Kirk, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Zade Rosenthal Courtesy Paramount Pictures

The opening sequence of J.J. Abram's new entry in the Star Trek universe has all the ingredients of the classic franchise.

There's Kirk and his crew bellowing on the bridge, everyone worrying about the prime directive and our favorite Vulcan trapped in a volcano.

OK, I'm in. I may not be a fanboy anymore, but I sure was in my youth, and having these guys in their youths again is just as cool at the outset as it was last time.

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5:23pm

Fri May 10, 2013
Movie Reviews

Polley's 'Stories': A Family Saga Strikingly Spun

Originally published on Sat May 11, 2013 5:58 am

A young Sarah Polley and her actor father, Michael Polley, on a long-ago day; the photo is one of many family memories that surface in Stories We Tell, a superb meditation on dramatizing memory from the director of Away from Her.
Roadside Attractions

Sarah Polley grew up the fifth of five children in a Canadian theatrical family. Her father, Michael, is a transplanted British actor; her mother, Diane, was an actress and casting director. No wonder Sarah feels her family's narrative has the stuff of drama.

"I'm interested in the way we tell stories about our lives," she says in the film, "about the fact that the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down."

Prophetic words, those.

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4:51pm

Thu May 9, 2013
Movies

At The Movies, A Swirl Of Style And Substance

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 5:41 pm

Light It Up: Director Baz Luhrmann (right, with stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan on the set of The Great Gatsby) brought a lush visual sensibility to a tale whose tone not everyone thinks of as epic.
Matt Hart Warner Bros. Pictures

Here's a movie pitch: A celebrated millionaire, known for public extravagance, lives right on the water in a fabulous mansion. He's smooth but reckless, drives like a maniac, has a powerful enemy and — despite a rep as a playboy — has only one girlfriend, who barely registers on-screen.

You're the producer, so whaddya think? Does his story require lavish digital effects, swooping cameras, a rap soundtrack and the full-on 3-D treatment?

If I tell you his name is Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man, probably yes, right?

What if his name is Jay Gatsby?

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4:55pm

Thu May 2, 2013
Movies

In 'Iron Man 3,' A Metalhead Gets The Blues

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 6:07 pm

Window Dressing: Tony Stark's ongoing Iron Man research involves more than one suit of self-assembling armor.
Marvel

Y'know, I think this bummed-out superhero thing is catching. Depressed Bat-guy, brooding Spider-dude, even the Man of Steel seems existentially troubled in previews of his most recent incarnation.

And smart-alecky Iron Man? He'd appeared inoculated by Tony Stark's reflexive snark from succumbing to a similar ailment — but even he's having anxiety attacks these days. Ever since that Avengers dust-up with those unpleasant aliens last summer, he's evidently been having trouble sleeping.

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3:26pm

Wed April 17, 2013
Movie Reviews

Digging Into Ricky Jay's 'Deceptive' Card Tricks

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 8:37 pm

Veteran magician Ricky Jay reveals much about himself in a new documentary on his life of deception. His card-trick techniques? That may be another story.
Kino Lorber

When people talk about movie magic, they rarely mean card tricks. They're talking about digital wizardry and special effects.

But a new documentary called Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is all about card tricks — and a man who has devoted his life to them.

Card artist Ricky Jay keeps up a constant stream of chatter in his act onstage — everything from gambling poems to stories about The Great Cardini — and it's all very entertaining, but the patter is designed to distract you from what he's doing.

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4:24pm

Mon April 15, 2013
Movies

On The Big Screen, The Tax Guy Can Be Your Buddy

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 10:02 pm

The paying and collecting of taxes might not be the sexiest plot point in an industry that depends on sizzle. But that doesn't mean revenuers haven't made their mark on screen.
Airyelf iStockphoto.com

It's fair to say that the bakery employees who hooted and jeered "tax maaaaaan" when mild-mannered auditor Will Ferrell showed up in Stranger than Fiction were no fans of the Internal Revenue Service. In that, they're like a lot of us, no?

So it's intriguing that Hollywood generally treats tax inspectors as nice guys. On the big screen, it's typically their IRS bosses who are the bad ones.

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5:16pm

Fri March 29, 2013
Movie Reviews

A Film So Sumptuous, 'Renoir' Himself Might Have Helped Out

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 7:55 pm

Jean (Vincent Rottiers) assists his ailing father, the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), in his studio on the French Riviera.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

The year is 1915. A beautiful young woman bicycling through sun-dappled woods passes under an effigy of a German soldier and seems entirely unfazed. World War I is raging elsewhere in Europe, but here on the French Riviera life is serene.

The cyclist, Andree, is on her way to pose for an elderly Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), whom she somewhat startles by claiming to be an artist herself.

"An artist," wonders the great man.

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5:44pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 9:55 pm

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments this week on same-sex marriage, I'd like to point out a parallel evolution in what I see as a Hollywood mini-genre: films in which gay characters are either taken to court or seek redress in court for issues involving their sexuality.

Arguably the most famous question ever asked in a courtroom about a line of poetry — "What is the love that dare not speak its name?" — was originally put to playwright Oscar Wilde in 1894 by a British prosecutor. It was an attempt to trap Wilde into admitting to then-illegal homosexual conduct.

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3:32pm

Fri March 1, 2013
Movies

Fairy Tales For Grown-Ups? More Are On The Way

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 8:01 pm

Rachel Weisz plays the witch Evanora in director Sam Raimi's upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful. The film is one of nine upcoming Oz adaptations and tackles more frightening and adult themes than those that came before it.
Walt Disney Pictures

Adaptations of fairy tales are everywhere you look. The TV show Once Upon a Time and the police procedural Grimm are in their second seasons. Hansel and his sister Gretel are at the cineplex hunting witches with machine guns. Jack, of beanstalk fame, starts slaying giants today. And those aren't the only bedtime stories that have been redesigned to keep 20-somethings up at night.

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12:54pm

Fri February 22, 2013
Oscars 2013: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Despite Dark Themes, A Big Oscar Bounce

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 6:47 pm

Despite its dark themes (slavery and the Civil War are hardly feel-good topics), Lincoln, like other Oscar nominees, has done very well at the box office. Disney has spent about $10 million campaigning for the best-picture prize, hoping for a payoff down the line.
DreamWorks

How much is a best-picture Oscar worth? Not the statuette — winners are required to sell that back to the Academy for a buck if they want to get rid of it. No, what's the Oscar worth at the box office?

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5:44pm

Thu January 24, 2013
Monkey See

Home Video Review: 'Buster Keaton: The Ultimate Collection'

Buster Keaton, aka "The Great Stone Face," brought side-splitting comedy to the silent-screen era. Here, he's pictured in 1924's The Navigator.
Kino Lorber

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from NPR movie critic Bob Mondello. A quiet recommendation — because Bob is touting the Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc set of classic silent comedies.

Silent film had three great clowns. Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp is the one everyone remembers; all-American daredevil Harold Lloyd is the one who made the most money; and Buster Keaton was the genius.

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3:53pm

Mon December 31, 2012
Monkey See

Bob Mondello's Best Movies Of 2012

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 12:41 pm

Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) show that nothing can stand in the way of young love in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
Niko Tavernise Focus Features

A lot of movie box-office records fell in 2012. The comic-book blockbuster The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend in Hollywood history. Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to top $1 billion worldwide. And the box-office year as a whole is easily the movie industry's biggest ever. But what about quality? Perhaps surprisingly, the news is good there, too.

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5:09pm

Thu December 13, 2012
Movie Reviews

A 'Hobbit,' Off On His Unhurried Journey

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 8:01 pm

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) takes a fantastic adventure across Middle-earth in Peter Jackson's prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Fisher Warner Bros. Pictures

The Hobbit's path to the screen may have started out as tortuous as a trek through the deadly Helcaraxe, filled with detours (Guillermo del Toro was initially going to direct), marked by conflict (New Zealand labor disputes) and strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles (so many that the filmmakers threatened to move the shoot to Australia).

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4:24pm

Fri December 7, 2012
Movies

Hollywood Heights: The Ups, Downs And In-Betweens

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 11:50 pm

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Writer's Guild Awards in Beverly Hills in 1998.
Ron Wolfson Landov

Hollywood can make any actor look imposing by shooting from a low angle or building sets with short door frames. But the fact is that we want our heroes big and our villains bigger, and the average male actor is about the same size as the average American male — roughly 5 foot 9 1/2. And some very "big" stars have been a good deal less than that.

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