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."

Pages

The Record
2:50 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

We Saw Andre 3000 Play Jimi Hendrix

Andre 3000 on set as Jimi Hendrix.
Wenn.com

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 11:23 am

This weekend was the first chance critics have had to see musician and actor Andre Benjamin play Jimi Hendrix, in a role that fans have complained has kept him from recording new music with his longtime partner in OutKast, Big Boi. NPR's film critic, Bob Mondello, screened All Is By My Side at the Toronto International Film Festival and sent this missive.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Teenage Graceland: A Temporary Home For Troubled Kids

In Short Term 12, Grace (Brie Larson) counsels Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an angry young man about to age out of the foster care system.
Cinedigm

Originally published on Sun August 25, 2013 9:22 am

A group foster home + abused and at-risk kids + tough love + junior staff nearly as troubled as their charges: The potential for cliche is everywhere in Destin Cretton's enormously engaging Short Term 12, and — happily — is everywhere avoided. What might seem on paper a cloyingly sentimental heartwarmer becomes, in Cretton's hands, a briskly believable, often funny, always invigorating and ultimately wrenching story of emotional fortitude.

Read more
Arts & Life
2:31 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 2:04 pm

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."

Read more
Movie Reviews
2:59 pm
Fri July 26, 2013

In Indonesia, A Genocide Restaged For The Camera

The opening of The Act of Killing, which seems like something out of a Bollywood musical, has a happy energy about it. But as we'll learn, the two men in the center led death squads in the 1960s, when an estimated 1.2 million Indonesians were killed. In Joshua Oppenheimer's astonishing documentary, they obligingly re-enact their crimes.
Drafthouse

Originally published on Mon July 29, 2013 10:01 am

"Genocide in Indonesia." Those words probably don't make you want to rush out to see a new movie.

But what if we add these: Genocide in Indonesia, with gangsters, cowboys, dancing girls, men in drag and splashy musical numbers. They're all part of the year's strangest documentary, The Act of Killing.

Read more
Monkey See
4:16 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue July 23, 2013 5:16 pm

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.

Read more
Arts & Life
4:14 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

For Actress Ruby Keeler, Another Opening, Another Show

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

Originally published on Wed July 17, 2013 5:11 pm

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.

Read more
The Salt
3:21 pm
Mon July 15, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 4:40 pm

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

A New Day, A Last Day, For One Man At 'Fruitvale Station'

Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, an Oakland man with a checkered past and a new determination to get his life right — until one terrible night at Fruitvale Station.
The Weinstein Co.

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 4:19 pm

Fruitvale Station, on the Oakland side of the San Francisco Bay: Grainy cellphone video from a day, four years ago, that commanded the nation's attention. Several young black men sit on a transit station platform, white transit police officers standing over them. There's shouting, scuffling, but nothing that looks worrisome.

Then what sounds like a shot.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

A Kindergarten, A Story And A Life In Shambles

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

Originally published on Sat July 13, 2013 4:39 pm

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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
9:58 am
Tue July 2, 2013

A Familiar Wild West, But The Guy In The Mask? Who's He?

There's a backstory for just about everything in Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger, including what drives the title character (Armie Hammer) to don the mask — and what's up with that dead crow Tonto (Johnny Depp) wears on his head.
Peter Mountain Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Wed July 3, 2013 5:25 pm

There's never been anything very lone about the Lone Ranger. He's always been accompanied by Tonto, his Native American sidekick; Silver his snow-white steed; and the William Tell Overture.

Read more
Book Reviews
5:03 am
Tue July 2, 2013

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

Originally published on Sat July 20, 2013 3:34 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.

Read more
Arts & Life
12:54 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

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

'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

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 7:22 pm

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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
11:00 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

For Pixar's 'Monsters,' A Sophomore Slump

For Billy Crystal's Mike, the big green eyeball of Monsters University, scaring hardly comes naturally.
Pixar

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 10:27 am

It's a big month for origin stories: first the Man of Steel, now the Eye of Green and the Abominable Furball of Blue — aka Mike and Sully, top scarers at Monsters, Inc. How did they become the best of the best, you ask? You didn't ask? Well, Pixar's got the answer anyway: They trained at Monsters U.

Read more
Movie Reviews
10:11 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

'World War Z': When Going Viral Isn't Such A Good Thing

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) puts his past as a U.N. investigator to work again when he and his family — not to mention the rest of the planet — are threatened by a zombie apocalypse.
Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 9:09 am

World War Z is clearly out to make a buck — and needs to, since with its well-publicized overruns, rewrites and production delays, it looks to have cost gazillions in screenwriter salaries alone — but for its first hour or so, you'd never guess this sprawling contagion epic had anything on its mind but action storytelling.

Read more
Movie Reviews
12:39 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

'This Is The End': The Apocalypse Is One Hot Party

James Franco (left), Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel are all playing themselves in Rogen's apocalypse comedy This Is the End.
Sony Pictures

Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 4:20 pm

So far, the summer's end-of-the-world movies (After Earth, Oblivion) have mostly been provoking unintended yuks, so it's kind of a relief that this week's offerings include one that actually means to be funny.

That This Is the End actually is funny — well, that's even better, especially as it's playing cleverly enough with form to keep your brain occupied, too.

It opens with actor Seth Rogen waiting at the L.A. airport for his comedian buddy Jay Baruchel. And the first thing you hear is a passerby saying "Hey Seth Rogen, what up?"

Read more
Monkey See
1:48 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 3:38 pm

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.

Read more
Monkey See
8:15 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Summer Movie Preview: Kids, Theft, The Apocalypse, And Joss Whedon

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing.
Elsa Guillet-Chapuis Roadside Attractions

Trending, trending. M Night Shyamalan sees dead people. I see trends.

Read more
Movie Reviews
2:49 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

More Time Together, Though 'Midnight' Looms

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

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 3:39 pm

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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:14 pm
Sat May 18, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Sat May 18, 2013 5:47 pm

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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
2:47 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Sat May 11, 2013 3:58 am

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.

Read more
Movies
3:09 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

At The Movies, A Swirl Of Style And Substance

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

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 3:41 pm

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?

Read more
Movies
3:14 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 4:07 pm

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.

Read more
Theater
2:59 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

On Broadway, One Runt To Rule Them All

The Broadway musical Matilda put NPR's Bob Mondello in mind of two other big-budget tuners with plucky kids at the center of the action — and got him thinking about what these shows say about their eras.
Joan Marcus

Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 6:16 pm

Broadway's newest family-friendly musical, Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl novel about a precocious child who proves smarter than all the adults in her life, opened earlier this month to some of the best reviews of the year.

While it's a brand-new show, seeing it jogged my memory — jogged it all the way back to my very first commentary for All Things Considered exactly 29 years ago.

Read more
Movie Reviews
1:26 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Digging Into Ricky Jay's 'Deceptive' Card Tricks

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

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 6:37 pm

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.

Read more
Movies
2:24 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 8:02 pm

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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu April 11, 2013

Earnest '42' Buffs Up A Golden Baseball Moment

Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) acknowledges the crowd in 42.
Warner Bros

Originally published on Fri April 12, 2013 3:20 pm

This Monday, every player in Major League Baseball will wear the same number on his jersey: 42, which was Jackie Robinson's number when, in 1947, he became the first black player in the majors, playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Today, baseball celebrates April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. But 66 years ago, not everyone saw his hiring as cause for celebration — and the earnestly grandiose biopic 42 means to illuminate that history-making moment, in which racial vitriol met its match in a ballplayer who let his talent do the talking.

Read more
Monkey See
3:03 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Badlands'

When Kit (Martin Sheen) meets young Holly (Sissy Spacek), it's a match made in cinematic heaven. The pairing of the young couple in Badlands was the beginning of prolific careers for both actors.
The Criterion Collection

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 7:56 pm

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from our critic Bob Mondello. This week, Bob is intrigued by the 40th anniversary of the film that put Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and director Terrence Malick on the map — Badlands.

The plot's based on a notorious duo and a real-life 1950s killing spree, but when boy meets girl on-screen in Badlands, they're adorable. She's 15, twirling a baton; he's older, styles himself after James Dean, and is the handsomest guy she's ever met.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:29 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 5:55 pm

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.

Read more
Movies
3:23 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 7:55 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:37 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

'The Croods': 3-D Cartoon Cavemen For The Whole Family

The prehistoric family in The Croods takes a visually stunning but comically tired road trip in the latest outing from DreamWorks Animation.
20th Century Fox

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 5:17 pm

The makers of the animated Vikings comedy How to Train Your Dragon have come up with an animated caveman comedy that might as well be titled How to Train Your Father. Instead, they've called it The Croods, and centered it on a cavegirl named Eep (Emma Stone) who has a dad she sees — entirely accurately, let's note — as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.

Read more

Pages