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 a quarter-century, 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 partner 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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5:14pm

Wed July 2, 2014
Movie Reviews

Sci-Fi Kid Flick 'Earth To Echo' Broadens The 'E.T.' Formula

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 7:20 pm

In Earth to Echo, Brian "Astro" Bradley, Ella Wahlestedt, Reese Hartwig and Teo Halm play a group of kids whose neighborhood is being destroyed by a highway construction project, forcing their families to move.
Patrick Wymore Relativity Media

Movie theaters were swarming with Transformers this past weekend, and that'll also be true over the July 4 weekend. So this may not seem to be the best moment to bring out a sci-fi flick made on a budget that wouldn't cover catering for Optimus Prime. But "small" has its virtues sometimes, and the kid flick Earth to Echo is one of those times.

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5:17pm

Mon May 26, 2014
Movie Reviews

Multiplexes Heat Up For Summer Blockbuster Season

Originally published on Mon May 26, 2014 5:43 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The long Memorial Day weekend usually marks the start of Hollywood blockbuster season. But it's been well underway with "Godzilla" and "X-Men" already in theaters. That said, there are another 87 would-be hits scheduled before Labor Day. We asked critic Bob Mondello for a selective preview.

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4:43pm

Fri May 23, 2014
Movie Reviews

Seeing The New 'X-Men'? Take Along A Teenager To Explain

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 6:36 pm

Professor Xavier and Magneto scheme to send Wolverine back to the Nixon-era past to avert a devastating war in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Alan Markfield/Twentieth Century Fox

The final "X" in the 20th Century Fox logo glows for an extra second as X-Men: Days of Future Past gets started, but what follows is darker than dark — a bleak, dire future in which all of Manhattan is a mutant prison camp.

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4:41pm

Fri May 2, 2014
Movie Reviews

In 'Belle,' A Complex Life Tangled In Class And Commerce

Originally published on Sat May 3, 2014 11:17 am

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a British admiral.
David Appleby/Fox Searchlight

Here's a unique specialty for a movie studio: slavery films. Last year, Fox Searchlight brought us an Oscar winner about a free black man hauled into 12 years of slavery. Now, in Amma Asante's Belle, the company is releasing what's essentially the reverse of that story — a similarly torn-from-life (though significantly less wrenching) tale of a slave girl who had the great good fortune to be raised as a British aristocrat.

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6:42pm

Fri March 28, 2014
Movie Reviews

Send Out The Doves: 'Noah' Lands On Solid Ground

Ila (Emma Watson) and her husband, Shem, are two passengers aboard the ark built by Noah to escape God's flood in Noah, Darren Aronofsky's imagining of the biblical tale.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The story of Noah's Ark is getting blockbuster treatment in Hollywood's new biblical epic Noah. Darren Aronofsky's film about the Old Testament shipbuilder has been sparking controversy — but there's no denying that the Great Flood, digitized, is a pretty great flood.

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4:09pm

Fri March 7, 2014
Movie Reviews

Review: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'

Originally published on Fri March 7, 2014 7:29 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Filmmaker Wes Anderson makes movies that are eccentric, pointedly artificial and, to his fans, very funny. From his early comedies "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tannenbaums," to last year's Oscar-nominated "Moonrise Kingdom," Anderson's movies have looked and sounded different from everyone else's in Hollywood. And critic Bob Mondello says that streak continues with his spoof of extravagant 1930s melodramas. It's called "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

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4:42pm

Mon March 3, 2014
Remembrances

Alain Resnais, Director And Master Of Disorientation, Dies At 91

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 7:19 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

The French filmmaker who shook up European cinema and offered inspiration to directors as varied as Woody Allen and David Lynch died on Saturday. Alain Resnais caused a sensation with his films "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and "Last Year at Marienbad" in the 1950s and '60s. Critic Bob Mondello offers an appreciation.

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5:06pm

Mon February 3, 2014
Movies

On Philip Seymour Hoffman, And His Many Appearances

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 8:16 pm

Philip Seymour Hoffman at a screening of The Master, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, during the 2012 Venice Film Festival.
Gabriel Bouys AFP/Getty Images

5:18pm

Sun February 2, 2014
Movies

A Century Ago Today, Chaplin Made His Film Debut — In A Dud

Originally published on Sun February 2, 2014 6:42 pm

Silent-film icon Charlie Chaplin, in character as the Little Tramp, takes aim with his walking stick circa 1925.
Edward Gooch Getty Images

2:59am

Mon December 16, 2013
Remembrances

Peter O'Toole, Exuberant From 'Lawrence' To His Last Role

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 10:35 am

Peter O'Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, died Saturday. He was 81.
AP

Blond, blue-eyed and wearing blazing white robes in Lawrence Of Arabia, Peter O'Toole was handsome enough — many said beautiful enough — to carry off the scene in which director David Lean simultaneously made stars of both his title character and his leading man.

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6:59pm

Wed November 13, 2013
Movie Reviews

Chasing Money, And Meaning, In 'Nebraska'

Originally published on Wed November 13, 2013 8:32 pm

After receiving a dubious letter, the aging Woody (Bruce Dern) heads off on a quest to collect $1 million, dragging his son David (Will Forte) along with him.
Paramount Pictures

Woody Grant has white hair, a cranky disposition and a stubbornness that just won't quit. When we meet him, he's being stopped by a highway patrolman as he's walking down the shoulder of a Montana interstate. His son David picks him up at the police station, and it turns out Woody was on an 850-mile stroll to Nebraska, to collect the million dollars promised to him in a letter.

David points out gently that the letter is an ad for magazine subscriptions, but he's no sooner got the older man back to his house then he gets a call from his mom: Woody has hit the road again.

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4:38pm

Sat November 2, 2013
Movie Reviews

This 'Time,' Supernatural Love Story Falls Flat

Originally published on Sat November 2, 2013 5:49 pm

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) that he has the ability to travel back and forth through time, a power Tim uses in his pursuit of love.
Murray Close Universal Pictures

There's a phrase in French — "L'esprit de l'escalier," meaning "staircase wit" — for that moment when you've lost an argument and are walking away, and waaay too late, think of the perfect comeback. If you could just rewind your life a few minutes, you'd win the argument.

That's pretty much the setup in the new British comedy About Time.

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12:40pm

Fri October 18, 2013
Movie Reviews

For A Free Spirit, A Grim '12 Years' In Chains

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 12:39 pm

Chiwetel Ejiofor (left) plays Solomon Northup, a New York freeman kidnapped into slavery in 1841 and eventually resold to plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
Francois Duhamel Fox Searchlight Pictures

Just a few years before the start of the Civil War, two anti-slavery books became best-sellers in the United States. One was Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Harriet Beecher Stowe opus that went on to become the best-selling novel of the 19th century.

The other was a memoir with a mouthful of a title: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and rescued in 1853 from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.

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5:59pm

Wed October 16, 2013
Movie Reviews

Beat Manifesto: 'Kill Your Darlings,' Figuratively And ...

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 6:39 pm

In Kill Your Darlings, Dane DeHaan (left) plays Lucien Carr, a man whose charm and wit quickly command the attention of the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) in their time at Columbia University. John Krokidas' film chronicles the "Libertine Circle" they inhabited — Ginsberg's nickname — and the events that would shatter it.
Clay Enos Sony Pictures Classics

Hollywood's been trying to get a handle on the Beat Poets for years. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac led wild — and influential — lives. But films about them, like Naked Lunch and On the Road, have never really clicked with audiences. Kill Your Darlings may fare better, partly because it stars Daniel Radcliffe, and partly because the story centers as much on murder as on poetry.

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2:29pm

Mon October 14, 2013
Arts & Life

Bob Mondello Remembers Columbus Day 1963, And A Visit To Camelot

Originally published on Tue October 15, 2013 9:24 am

President John F. Kennedy enjoys a moment of levity at this Rose Garden ceremony marking Columbus Day, 1963.
AP

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy hosted a Columbus Day ceremony in the Rose Garden, and I was there. Fourteen-year-old me, with my family. This was a fluke. The President had cracked a politically uncool Mafia joke a few days before. Not wanting to offend Italian-American voters, the White House quickly mounted a charm offensive — inviting government workers like my dad, with Italian surnames like Mondello, to celebrate a great Italian explorer, with the president himself.

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4:31pm

Wed August 7, 2013
Arts & Life

Libraries' Leading Roles: On Stage, On Screen And In Song

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 4:04 pm

Poor Donna Reed: Her Mary would have ended up working in a library — shudder — if not for the matrimonial intervention of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey. Happily, 1946's It's a Wonderful Life isn't the only lens through which pop culture assesses the worth of the institution and those who make it tick.
RKO Pictures Getty Images

When I was 9, I spent a lot of time at a public library just down the street; I was already a theater nerd, and it had a well-stocked theater section. Not just books, but original cast albums for Broadway shows old and new. One day, an addition: The Music Man, about a salesman who was crazy about a girl named, as one song put it, "Marrrrrrrion, madam librarian."

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6:16pm

Tue July 23, 2013
Monkey See

90 Years Later, 'Safety' Still The Last Word With Harold Lloyd

Originally published on Tue July 23, 2013 7:16 pm

Harold Lloyd (left) is the All-American Boy, a striver who'll brave nearly anything to get to the top and win The Girl. Noah Young is The Law (center) and Bill Strother is The Pal.
Criterion Collection

There may be no film image more iconic: Harold Lloyd, high above the street, dangling from the minute hand of a giant department-store clock.

The face of the clock swings down; the minute hand bends. It's been 90 years since the silent era's greatest daredevil shot that sequence, and it still has the power to prompt shrieks and laughter.

Lloyd's character was the All-American Boy, innocent in his horn-rimmed glasses, eager to climb the ladder of success — and like many a social striver before him, he was plagued by anxiety that he'd fall before he got to the top.

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4:38pm

Sat July 20, 2013
Book Reviews

You'll Want To Hang Up On These 'Secret Conversations'

Originally published on Sat July 20, 2013 5:34 pm

A country girl from Grabtown, N.C., Ava Gardner arrived in Hollywood in 1941 knowing she couldn't act but, gorgeous as she was, she never had to let that slow her down. Her beauty — which reportedly intimidated Elizabeth Taylor — won her not just film roles and studio-paid acting lessons, but the attentions of all-American boy Mickey Rooney, whom she married and divorced before she turned 21. She had a similarly brief union with bandleader Artie Shaw — she called those two her "starter husbands" — before a tempestuous, headline-making marriage to Frank Sinatra.

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5:53pm

Wed July 17, 2013
Arts & Life

For Actress Ruby Keeler, Another Opening, Another Show

Originally published on Wed July 17, 2013 7:11 pm

Broadway performer Ruby Keeler was a source of optimism for many during the Depression era, and nostalgia hit audiences hard when she returned to the stage decades later.
General Photographic Agency Getty Images

Ruby Keeler was an unknown actress when she starred in the 1933 production of Busby Berkeley's 42nd Street.

But the movie was so popular she was able to land two more splashy musicals that same year — and seven more by the end of the decade. There was nothing extraordinary about her talents as a vocalist or as an actress, but audiences of the Depression era really bought into Keeler's "innocent" onstage persona. In fact, they craved it.

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5:13pm

Mon July 15, 2013
The Salt

In Argentina, Coca-Cola Tests Market For 'Green' Coke

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 6:40 pm

Coca-Cola Life, a new product being rolled out in Argentina with a green label, is being marketed as a "natural" and therefore lower-calorie cola.
Coca-Cola

3:12pm

Sat July 13, 2013
Movie Reviews

A Kindergarten, A Story And A Life In Shambles

Originally published on Sat July 13, 2013 6:39 pm

Mads Mikkelsen's Lukas is a recently divorced kindergarten teacher whose life is turned upside down when officials leap to conclusions after a 5-year-old says something that suggests improper conduct.
Magnolia

Lukas works in a Danish kindergarten, and it's clear he's in the right place: When the kids look at him, they see a great big toy.

That's especially true for 5-year-old Klara, the lonely daughter of Lukas' best friend, Theo. Klara's folks fight a lot, and her teenage brother is too busy looking at dirty pictures with his buddies to pay her much attention.

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2:54pm

Fri June 28, 2013
Arts & Life

Bullock And McCarthy, Packing 'Heat' (And Laughs) In Boston

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 9:22 pm

'Heat' Stroke: The genius of this buddy-cop comedy is in its pairing of Sandra Bullock (left, as a by-the-book process nerd of an FBI suit) with Melissa McCarthy, who plays a sloppy Boston detective with no patience for procedure.
Gemma La Mana Fox

Summer movies, as you may have noticed, are overwhelmingly male-dominated. But this summer, there's an exception: The Heat, a buddy cop flick with a distaff difference.

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4:08pm

Thu June 6, 2013
Monkey See

When 'G' Movies Are For Kids, Do Kids Avoid 'G' Movies?

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 5:38 pm

The 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz was rated G. The 2013 film Oz the Great and Powerful was rated PG. The difference? Maybe a little violence and a womanizing leading man.
AP/Walt Disney Pictures

If you're a parent with small children, summer is traditionally a time when there's lots for them to see at the multiplex. That's not untrue this summer. But if you're specifically looking for a film with a G rating, you may just be out of luck.

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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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6:09pm

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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5:42pm

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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