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."

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) swaggers down the street at the start of Filth swiping balloons from children, ogling their mothers, flipping off foreigners and smirking as he ticks down a list of what makes Scotland a place where he feels he can be cock-of-the-walk.

"This nation brought the world television, the steam engine, golf, whiskey, penicillin and, of course, the deep-fried Mars bar," he snorts. "We're such a uniquely successful race."

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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.

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.

The world has already seen 28 Godzilla movies — 29, if you count Roland Emmerich's 1998 Hollywood remake (which most of us don't). So why is another one opening this week?

In The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg invented Facebook. In Now You See Me, he mastered magic tricks. In Rio, his animated macaw learned to fly, and his Lex Luthor will soon be nemesis-ing the caped crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. But it's safe to say that none of those pictures asked half as much of Eisenberg as Richard Ayoade's The Double, which requires him, pretty literally, to meet himself coming and going.

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.

British actor Bob Hoskins died last night of pneumonia at 71. He'll certainly be remembered for starring with cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit — but that was just one of many films in which he played tough guys with soft hearts.

Sex and violence mean one thing in Hollywood, quite another overseas. At any rate, it'll seem that way to anyone watching this week's most alarming foreign-language films: Francois Ozon's coming-of-age saga Jeune et Jolie, and the Argentine thriller The German Doctor.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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With his long face and hangdog appearance, actor John Turturro is no one's idea of a matinee idol — not even his own — so he raised a lot of eyebrows when he cast himself as the title character in Fading Gigolo. Even more when he cast Woody Allen as his pimp. So it may come as a relief when things don't go as wrong with what turns out to be a surprisingly sweet little dramedy as they might have.

A small budget doesn't mean a film can't have big-name stars or high production values. Witness the rural Southern drama Joe, which brings Nicolas Cage back to indie films, and Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, which turns the city of Detroit into an otherworldly landscape. Their low-budget aesthetic also allows these films to turn Hollywood conventions inside out.

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Mickey Rooney, who lived a long life on stage and screen, died last night at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93. For a while, the star seem to have it all, but he ended up playing the comeback kid as our film critic Bob Mondello remembers.

Say the name Alan Partridge in Britain, and everyone knows who you're talking about: An airheaded, funny and entirely fictional broadcaster prone to saying things like, "You can keep Jesus — as far as I'm concerned, Neil Diamond will always be King of the Jews."

British comedian Steve Coogan has been playing Partridge on radio and TV for more than 20 years. Recently, the character made a successful leap to British movie theaters — and his new movie may make a successful leap across the Atlantic as well.

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.

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier has found all sorts of ways to provoke moviegoers in the past — with metal spikes in Antichrist, by ignoring narrative conventions in Dogville, by presenting depression as the only reasonable reaction to the world as we know it — and then destroying that world — in Melancholia. And as if this last weren't enough, he told a Nazi joke to a crowd prepared to shower him with adulation at Cannes.

Nick and Meg have gotten into a bit of a rut in Le Week-End, and to get out of it they're "celebrating" — if that's the word — their 30th anniversary by heading back to a city they last saw on their honeymoon. Nick has even booked a room in the same hotel — which is not, alas, quite the way Meg remembers it. "Beige," she sniffs.

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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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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.

When people talk about Bollywood movies, they usually mean Indian romances with extravagant musical numbers. But there are smaller Indian films, too, and one that has earned international acclaim at film festivals is opening tomorrow in major U.S. cities. It's called The Lunchbox.

Harold Ramis, who died Monday at 69, helped create such hits as Animal House, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Meatballs and others. And he brought an impish spirit to all of them.

Onscreen he was a big smiling lug: shaggy, upbeat, cheery. He was almost always a supporting player, but invariably a forceful one you really couldn't ignore.

American art-house audiences are being offered an intriguing exercise in double vision over the next couple of weeks: two movies about Palestinian informants and their complicated relationships with Israel's secret service, one directed by a Palestinian, the other by an Israeli. Their similarities turn out to be nearly as intriguing as their differences.

There's a fascinating tale to be told in The Monuments Men, George Clooney's new film based on the true story of a search for looted art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. In real life, with fighting still raging on the battlefields of Europe, a small team of art experts searched urgently for tens of thousands of missing paintings and sculptures. The movie's audience will search for something a little different.

So here's the setup: It's 1987. Frank, a convicted murderer, has escaped from a New Hampshire prison, and he's holding Adele, a fragile divorcee, and her 12-year-old son, Henry, captive in their own house until they eat his chili.

Turns out it's good chili — so good that it inspires Adele, whom the handsome convict has tied up very gently and tenderly, to reminisce about a conversation she and her son had about his sex education class. Seriously, it's some good chili. And did I mention that Frank is handsome?

The lake in Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake is gorgeous — aquamarine, pristine, surrounded by pebbly beaches and dense woods. Families cluster on the far side of it, but on the side we see, there are only men. It's a gay cruising spot, frequented by mostly nude sunbathers and swimmers, many of whom come here often enough to know each other by sight if not by name.

Conventional wisdom has it that television is where the creative action is these days, and yes, there are some terrific shows on cable.

But there are things it's hard to do on the small screen, and the year's most cinematic film delighted in reminding audiences why they like seeing movies in theaters.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi came to international attention last year when his film A Separation won the Oscar for best foreign language film. His latest picture, The Past, has been showered with awards, too — at the Cannes Film Festival and from critics groups in the U.S. I saw The Past in September at the Toronto Film Festival, and it has haunted me ever since.

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.

Stephen Sondheim has written quite a few classic musicals — Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods — but he's had just one hit song, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music. And, as he tells an audience in Six by Sondheim, it was a tricky one to write because the star who had to sing it, Glynis Johns, wasn't a singer with a capital "s."

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