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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."

The World War II drama, Land of Mine , has what sounds like the season's proudest, most patriotic title, but it's actually a dark pun — a reference to the more than one million land mines the Nazis buried on the Danish coastline, hoping to deter an Allied invasion. Perhaps the strategy worked, since American and British forces landed miles away in Normandy on D-Day, but it left Denmark with a booby trapped west coast, and a logistical problem of staggering proportions. The coastline wasn't...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Two new films look at women who in mid-life find themselves in drastically altered circumstances. One is "Jackie," with Natalie Portman playing Jacqueline Kennedy. The other is the French film "Things To Come" starring Isabelle Huppert. Critic Bob Mondello says they would make a fine award season double feature. BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The philosophy professor played by Isabelle Huppert in "Things To Come" is...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Here's an almost unbelievable journey - a 4-year-old boy swept thousands of miles from home who 25 years later struggles to find his way back. A few years ago when writer Saroo Brierley spoke to NPR about his early life, it sounded like the plot of a movie. Today, it is a movie, and critic Bob Mondello says "Lion" is quite a trip. BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Saroo is 5 when we meet him, a kid who dashes confidently...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Among the many things to be thankful for today, let's include Hollywood, which has been working hard to distract us from real life. Movies featuring superheroes and animated animals set box office records in 2016. And still to come to a theater near you - haunted real estate, droids and lightsabers and dad jokes. NPR's movie critic Bob Mondello has our holiday preview. BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Someone say droids and...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: J.K. Rowling might have conjured her last "Harry Potter" novel, but she is still making magic. Her film "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them" takes place decades before Harry was born. It's a prequel of sorts, centered on a not-quite-so-young wizard who accidentally releases some unusual creatures in 1920s New York. And speaking of creatures, the animators at Studio Ghibli are releasing "The Red Turtle" for...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Mel Gibson's last directing project was the human sacrifice film "Apocalypto" in 2006. His new movie "Hacksaw Ridge" is also about human sacrifice. This time, it's in an apocalypse called World War II. Andrew Garfield stars. Gibson is behind the camera. And critic Bob Mondello says they're a pretty effective team. BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: There are formulas to war movies. And for a while, "Hacksaw Ridge" follows one...

We keep hearing that this election is like no other, but when I watch old movies, I often hear echoes of what's going on in the campaign. The guy who opines in A Face in the Crowd (1957), say, that in the then-new age of television, "instead of long-winded public debates, people want capsule slogans." Though the stellar ratings for this year's presidential debates suggest that people are actually looking for a little long-windedness these days, his thoughts on sloganeering still apply nearly...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: The highly-praised movie "Moonlight" opens today in select cities. It's a drama about a black man's coming of age in South Florida, a story of trouble, trauma and unexpected grace. In a moment, we'll hear with actor Mahershala Ali, who provides some of that grace. But first, critic Bob Mondello reviews "Moonlight." BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Chiron is a skinny 10-year-old hiding out from bullies who want to beat him...

The tragedy was local, yet seemed to speak to the whole of journalism: On July 15, 1974, reporter Christine Chubbuck pulled out a revolver during a live evening newscast in Sarasota Florida, and as her coworkers looking on in horror, shot herself in the head. The what was simple, the why hard to fathom, and that's no less true in Antonio Campos' compelling retelling of the tale in his biopic Christine . He begins with an image of Chubbuck on a TV monitor, practicing her delivery by pretending...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: We're going to remember one of the world's most celebrated film directors. Andrzej Wajda died Sunday evening at the age of 90. His films reflected Poland's troubled 20th century and were sometimes difficult for foreign audiences. But critic Bob Mondello says they're worth the effort. BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: If you're looking for evidence of filmmaking smarts, it's right there in Andrzej Wajda's first black-and...

If you're looking for evidence of Andrzej Wajda's filmmaking smarts, it's right there in his first, black-and-white movie, made in 1955. A trench-coated young man races through Warsaw at the height of World War II, past corpses dangling from streetlights, pursued by Nazi soldiers who chase him into a building and up a central staircase. He's only just committed himself to the resistance, but he's breathtakingly effective, shooting soldiers as he goes higher until his way is blocked by bars....

In theory, the two new movies dealing with America's racial history ought to describe a cinematic straight line: Nate Parker's provocatively titled drama The Birth of a Nation imagines the events leading up to an 1831 slave revolt, while Ava DuVernay's documentary, 13th , examines the legacy of the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. A matched set...yes? In practice, the underlying social narrative is twisty, and the films intersect in complicated ways. The Birth of a Nation...

One of the nation's biggest environmental disasters is now the season's big disaster flick. Sound insensitive? Well, rest assured the filmmakers were aware of — and have managed to sidestep — any qualms audience members are likely to have. Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the oil drilling rig that turned into an inferno in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana — a story of tragic, entirely avoidable missteps and astonishing personal heroics. Engineer Mike Williams is our entry point to the...

Movie remakes have not been setting the world on fire lately. The all-gal Ghostbusters will maybe break even. Ben-Hur and Tarzan each cost — and lost — a fortune. So what's Hollywood pushing this weekend? The Magnificent Seven , a remake of a remake — admittedly, one with a decent pedigree. In Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), a pickup band of seven sword-wielding rōnin are hired by a Japanese farming village to protect it from bandits. Only three of them walked away at the end. In the...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: The Toronto International Film Festival wraps up this weekend. It's the largest film festival in North America - some 300 films in just 10 days. Now, many of these movies will be released widely in the next few months. NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello, is at the festival, and he joins us now. Bob, how was it? BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It was amazing. I had - actually, it is amazing. It's still going on. I had the...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: A forgetful fish named Dory turned out to be this summer's big movie star. (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING NEMO") ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim. ALBERT BROOKS: (As Marlin) Dory, no singing. CORNISH: Dory easily topped superheroes, ghost busters and star trekkers. Summer's important for Hollywood, and the box office total this year will be more than $4...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's 1989 in the new movie Southside With You , and two attractive young lawyers are going out for the first time. Were their names not Michelle and Barack, we might not be along for the ride. But they are, and the ride is sweet in the idyll constructed by first-time feature-writer/director Richard Tanne. These two not-yet-lovebirds may work together at a prestigious law firm in Chicago, but on this particular morning, it's their folks who are doing the cross-examining. Michelle's parents...

The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins , both in real life and in the various fictions built around her. In Stephen Temperley's two-character play Souvenir , Florence's story — that of a wealthy 1940s arts patron who became quite famous as a really terrible opera singer — was used principally as a vehicle for ridicule and laughs. She was turned into a '20s French doyenne in Xavier Giannoli's César-winning film Marguerite (2015), which viewed her with...

New York indie filmmaker Ira Sachs makes quietly observant relationship movies that are designed to get under an audience's skin in the gentlest of fashions, but to the most emotional of effects. His last film, which dealt with the pressures the outside world exerted on a marriage, was called Love Is Strange . His latest is called Little Men , but might easily be subtitled "Friendship Is Strange." It centers on two 13-year-olds in Brooklyn: Tony (Michael Barbieri), a boisterous, confident,...

American theater lost its mother on July 29. Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler, widely regarded as the matriarch of America's regional theaters, died at 91 of congestive heart failure in Washington, D.C. Fichandler altered the cultural landscape in ways she could hardly have imagined when she started out. In 1950, when Americans wanted to see professional theater, they pretty much had to go to Broadway or wait for Broadway to come to them. Ten blocks of midtown Manhattan was where stage...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk Here's how Alfred explains villainy to Batman in The Dark Knight : "Some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn." Movie audiences have a long history with onscreen malefactors who would happily fan the flames if the world ever caught fire, the imprisoned super-villains in the movie Suicide Squad being the latest incarnation. These bad...

The first time Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in a film ( Sleepwalk With Me ) he played a stand-up comic. This was not a huge stretch for him, as he is, himself, a stand-up comic. His second film, Don't Think Twice , doesn't stray too far from that model. It's about an improvisational comedy troupe a lot like the one in which Birbiglia got his start. And if this seems like quite a bit of navel-gazing for one filmmaker, rest assured that Birbiglia's been keeping it funny. The group...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1TawOepKxE We don't call Hollywood a "Dream Factory" for nothing. Have a vision of the sort of place you'd like to live? Tinseltown can bring it to life, whether you're thinking along the lines of Walt Disney's Main Street, Andy Hardy's Carvel, Idaho, or the " Somewhere That's Green " envisioned by skid-row resident Audrey in the satirical musical Little Shop of Horrors: A matchbox of our own
A fence of real chain link
A grill out on the patio

This piece was inspired by NPR's summer recommendation series, Read, Watch, Binge! Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats will gather in Cleveland and Philadelphia for a ritual that has become almost entirely ceremonial: Each party will "select" pre-selected presidential candidates. Of course, it's all for show. There hasn't been a second round of voting (a second ballot) at a major party presidential convention since 1952. But I know exactly what a "contested" convention would be...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Actress Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the most popular film of all time, retired from showbiz decades ago, apparently feeling that 49 films, two best actress Oscars, and a best-selling memoir were accomplishment enough for one career. Friday in Paris, she celebrates her 100th birthday, which seems a good moment to reflect on the mix of sparkle and resilience that marked her public life. She got her start onscreen as a sweet Hermia in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream,...

1982: a big year for initials. Steven Spielberg releases E.T., and Roald Dahl publishes The BFG. The former stands for Extra-Terrestrial, the latter for Big Friendly Giant — characters who are similarly positioned as outsiders in a child's world where adults are mostly absent. Spielberg has told interviewers he read The BFG to his children when they were small, knowing that, to them, he was kind of a big friendly giant. Now, with a digitally transformed (spindly neck, elephant ears) and...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Roaring '20s are in full roar when we meet fabled editor Maxwell Perkins in Genius, but to look at him, his nose perpetually buried in a manuscript, you'd never guess he is walking through a New York that's populated by flappers and swells swilling bathtub gin. On the street, on a train, in his office awaiting a new writer, this chaperone to Scribners scribes (who included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald) is not at all a demonstrative man. As played by Colin Firth, in fact, you'd...

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