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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4:42pm

Wed December 24, 2014
Movie Reviews

'Selma' Manages To Be Both Passion-Inspiring And Measured

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 5:23 pm

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

1:03pm

Fri December 5, 2014
50 Great Teachers

What The Movies Taught Us About Teaching

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 2:09 pm

Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters.
The Kobal Collection

4:07pm

Thu December 4, 2014
Movies

Philae Comet Landing Reminiscent Of 'Armageddon,' 'Deep Impact'

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 8:46 am

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

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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9:12am

Thu November 20, 2014
Remembrances

Renowned Theater And Film Director Mike Nichols Dies

Originally published on Thu November 20, 2014 12:43 pm

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

4:06pm

Mon August 25, 2014
Movies

Director Richard Attenborough Brought Intimacy To Big Ideas

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 7:53 pm

Richard Attenborough's career in movies spanned decades.
Lois Bernstein AP

When Steven Spielberg was looking for someone who could make dinosaurs seem plausible in Jurassic Park, he asked fellow filmmaker Richard Attenborough to do something he hadn't done in almost 14 years: act. Plenty of performers could look at green screens and convey a sense of wonder. What Attenborough could do while playing the owner of Jurassic Park, figured Spielberg, was flesh out the bigger picture — the why. And when he did, it sounded almost as if he was stating the filmmaking credo he'd lived by all his life.

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5:41pm

Tue August 12, 2014
Remembrances

A Farewell To Robin Williams, Whose Antics Never Hid The Tenderness Beneath

Originally published on Tue August 12, 2014 9:45 pm

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

Transcript

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: He talked faster than the rest of us, he thought faster than the rest of us and now he has lived faster than the rest of. But, oh, the lives while he was with us.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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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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4:35pm

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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4:38pm

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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4:08pm

Mon April 7, 2014
Remembrances

Mickey Rooney, All-American Boy For More Than 90 Years, Dies

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 7:29 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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.

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6:37pm

Fri March 28, 2014
Movie Reviews

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

Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 6:42 pm

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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4:29pm

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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4:50pm

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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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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5:32pm

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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3:51pm

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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6:06pm

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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4:47pm

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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