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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4:55pm

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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5:29pm

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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5:33pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Movies

Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 9:55 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.

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3:32pm

Fri March 1, 2013
Movies

Fairy Tales For Grown-Ups? More Are On The Way

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 8:01 pm

Rachel Weisz plays the witch Evanora in director Sam Raimi's upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful. The film is one of nine upcoming Oz adaptations and tackles more frightening and adult themes than those that came before it.
Walt Disney Pictures

Adaptations of fairy tales are everywhere you look. The TV show Once Upon a Time and the police procedural Grimm are in their second seasons. Hansel and his sister Gretel are at the cineplex hunting witches with machine guns. Jack, of beanstalk fame, starts slaying giants today. And those aren't the only bedtime stories that have been redesigned to keep 20-somethings up at night.

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12:54pm

Fri February 22, 2013
Oscars 2013: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Despite Dark Themes, A Big Oscar Bounce

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 6:47 pm

Despite its dark themes (slavery and the Civil War are hardly feel-good topics), Lincoln, like other Oscar nominees, has done very well at the box office. Disney has spent about $10 million campaigning for the best-picture prize, hoping for a payoff down the line.
DreamWorks

How much is a best-picture Oscar worth? Not the statuette — winners are required to sell that back to the Academy for a buck if they want to get rid of it. No, what's the Oscar worth at the box office?

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1:14pm

Fri February 15, 2013
Movie Reviews

Say Yes To 'No': Retro Political Thriller Packs A Timely Punch

Originally published on Fri February 15, 2013 4:18 pm

Brash ad man Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) brings a youthful, positive energy to a campaign aimed at ousting a dictator in the political drama No.
Sony Pictures Classics

In 1988, Chile's brutal military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was facing international pressure to legitimize his regime. Confident that the opposition was splintered, and that state-run media could control the political dialogue, his administration agreed to a simple yes-or-no vote on extending his rule.

It was a vote that even Pinochet's opponents expected to go his way — but it didn't, for reasons made both compelling and instructive in Pablo Larrain's rousing Oscar-nominated drama, No.

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5:44pm

Thu January 24, 2013
Monkey See

Home Video Review: 'Buster Keaton: The Ultimate Collection'

Buster Keaton, aka "The Great Stone Face," brought side-splitting comedy to the silent-screen era. Here, he's pictured in 1924's The Navigator.
Kino Lorber

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from NPR movie critic Bob Mondello. A quiet recommendation — because Bob is touting the Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc set of classic silent comedies.

Silent film had three great clowns. Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp is the one everyone remembers; all-American daredevil Harold Lloyd is the one who made the most money; and Buster Keaton was the genius.

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3:03pm

Tue January 15, 2013
Monkey See

Home Video Review: 'Slings And Arrows'

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 7:16 am

Richard (Mark McKinney) and Sanjay (Colm Feore) get up close and personal in the zany backstage comedy Slings and Arrows.
Ken Woroner Acorn Media

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. He recently caught an online episode of the Shakespeare-centric comedy Slings and Arrows and says it reminded him how much he liked the whole series.

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4:28pm

Mon December 31, 2012
Monkey See

Bob Mondello's Best Movies Of 2012

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 12:41 pm

Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman), Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) show that nothing can stand in the way of young love in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
Niko Tavernise Focus Features

A lot of movie box-office records fell in 2012. The comic-book blockbuster The Avengers had the biggest opening weekend in Hollywood history. Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to top $1 billion worldwide. And the box-office year as a whole is easily the movie industry's biggest ever. But what about quality? Perhaps surprisingly, the news is good there, too.

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5:25pm

Thu December 13, 2012
Movie Reviews

A 'Hobbit,' Off On His Unhurried Journey

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 8:01 pm

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) takes a fantastic adventure across Middle-earth in Peter Jackson's prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Fisher Warner Bros. Pictures

The Hobbit's path to the screen may have started out as tortuous as a trek through the deadly Helcaraxe, filled with detours (Guillermo del Toro was initially going to direct), marked by conflict (New Zealand labor disputes) and strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles (so many that the filmmakers threatened to move the shoot to Australia).

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4:24pm

Fri December 7, 2012
Movies

Hollywood Heights: The Ups, Downs And In-Betweens

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 11:50 pm

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Writer's Guild Awards in Beverly Hills in 1998.
Ron Wolfson Landov

Hollywood can make any actor look imposing by shooting from a low angle or building sets with short door frames. But the fact is that we want our heroes big and our villains bigger, and the average male actor is about the same size as the average American male — roughly 5 foot 9 1/2. And some very "big" stars have been a good deal less than that.

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4:53pm

Tue November 20, 2012
Movie Reviews

For Pi, A Wonderful 'Life' Finds Its Way To Film

Originally published on Tue November 20, 2012 6:14 pm

Pi takes in the bioluminescent wonders of the sea.
Twentieth Century Fox

When your dad owns a zoo in India, as Pi's dad does, it's perhaps natural to regard animals as your buddies. Cool if you're talking goats and turtles; less cool if the animal you decide you want to pet is a Bengal tiger.

"He's an animal, not a playmate," his terrified father shouts. "Animals have souls," the boy replies gently. "I have seen it in their eyes."

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12:01pm

Fri November 16, 2012
Movie Reviews

'Tis The Season For Oscar-Bait Adaptations

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 8:07 pm

Leo Tolstoy's Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams) and Anna (Keira Knightley) come to life in Joe Wright's adaptation of the classic Russian novel Anna Karenina.
Laurie Sparham Focus Features

It's the sort of juxtaposition that often arises at this time of year: novel adaptations arriving in droves at movie theaters, hunting for Oscar nominations.

J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical The Hobbit and Yann Martel's lifeboat adventure Life of Pi are coming soon, and this week Leo Tolstoy's romantic tragedy Anna Karenina goes head to head with Matthew Quick's romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook.

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5:45pm

Thu November 8, 2012
Movie Reviews

Bond Is Back And Living Up To His Reputation

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 6:02 pm

Daniel Craig returns for a third outing as James Bond in Skyfall, the 23rd installment in the spy movie franchise, and its 50th-anniversary release.
Francois Duhamel Sony Pictures

Istanbul: Somebody's stolen a hard drive with info sensitive enough that ... oh, who cares? Bond is giving chase, and that's all that matters — cars careening through bazaars, motorcycles flying across rooftops until Daniel Craig's 007 lands atop a speeding train.

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5:04pm

Mon November 5, 2012
Movies

Lincoln's Screen Legacy, Decidedly Larger Than Life

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 5:49 pm

Lincoln's life has been adapted for the screen so often that there's room for the artistic liberties of films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Twentieth Century Fox

He's a statue in many a monument, a profile on the penny, a face on the $5 bill, and an animatronic robot at Disneyland. He's even carved into a mountain in South Dakota. So, of course, Abe Lincoln has been a character in the movies — more than 300 of them, in fact.

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5:58pm

Fri October 19, 2012
Monkey See

Home Video Review: Universal's 'Classic Monsters' Collection

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 7:12 pm

1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon is featured in the new release of Universal's classic monster movies.
Universal Pictures

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from film critic Bob Mondello. This week, Bob's getting ahead of the Halloween curve, with an 8-disk Classic Monsters collection from Universal Pictures.

The scene you know best is nowhere to be found in the novel Frankenstein. No electrifying the creature with lightning, no ecstatic doctor's cry of "It's alive, it's aliiiiiiive!"

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5:31pm

Fri October 12, 2012
Pop Culture

Vice Presidential Debate Mirrors 'American Idol'

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 8:14 pm

Vice President Biden and Republican Paul Ryan at Thursday night's debate.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

The first two debates of the 2012 election cycle have had stratospheric viewership on TV. Critic Bob Mondello isn't surprised. He argues we've spent the last decade training the public to watch contests on television and then vote — think American Idol and Dancing with the Stars.

During the debates, networks all but beg us to kibitz in social media, which makes instant judgment universal. We're encouraged to watch for the purpose of reacting.

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5:48pm

Thu October 11, 2012
Movie Reviews

'Argo': A Rescue Mission With Real Hollywood Style

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 5:13 pm

John Chambers (John Goodman) serves as a guide to the ins and outs of the movie business for CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck).
Claire Folger Warner Bros. Pictures

Ben Affleck's new thriller, Argo, chronicles a secret CIA rescue mission — a mission that remained classified for years. When details finally came to light, the operation sounded like something only Hollywood could come up with. As we find out, there's a reason for that.

It's 1979, and the Iranian public's hatred for their U.S.-backed shah erupts when he leaves the country. A crowd grows around the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — they're climbing the gates and taking dozens of Americans hostage.

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4:07pm

Thu August 23, 2012
Theater

In The Theater Of Politics, Staging Is Everything

Originally published on Thu August 23, 2012 6:16 pm

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, arrives to announce his choice of running mate aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va., on Aug. 11.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

During the next two weeks, the major political parties will assemble their faithful in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., to officially nominate their presidential tickets. These conventions were once places of high political drama. But over the decades, as the primary system has determined the candidates well in advance, conventions have become political theater. With that in mind, there's much to be said on staging in politics — not substance, but style.

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4:09pm

Tue August 7, 2012
Destination Art

Stratford's Big Stars, From The Bard To The Bieb

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 6:00 pm

The Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, is the main venue for the town's annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The town lies on the Avon River — just like Shakespeare's British birthplace — and had schools named after Romeo and Juliet before the festival started in 1953.
Richard Bain Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Most theaters let audiences know the show is about to start by blinking the lights. Stratford's Festival Theater in Stratford, Ontario, is a bit more festive. Four burgundy-uniformed buglers and a drummer quicken the pace of hundreds of theatergoers who've been ambling up the hill from the banks of the Avon River. When curtain time arrives, a cannon will boom.

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4:54pm

Fri August 3, 2012
Movies

Franchises Age, But Their Stars Stay Forever Young

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 6:06 pm

Jeremy Renner stars in The Bourne Legacy, the latest in a franchise previously fronted by Matt Damon. But when an actor departs a Hollywood cash cow, it can be less a death knell than a chance for rejuvenation.
Mary Cybulski Universal Pictures

The Bourne Legacy, which opens in theaters this week, is the fourth thriller in the series, and the first without either Jason Bourne or the star playing him, Matt Damon. They're suddenly not necessary, even though the series is named for Bourne? Why am I not surprised?

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12:48pm

Fri July 13, 2012
Movies

Looking For The Megabucks? Think Megapixels

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 10:30 pm

Ice Age: Continental Drift, which comes out July 13, is the fourth film in the animated franchise. Since Toy Story marked the beginning of the era of entirely computer-animated films, they've been a studio's safest bet for big earnings at the box office and beyond.
Blue Sky Studios & 20th Century Fox

Imagine you're a movie producer, and you've got a couple of hundred million dollars to gamble on a single massive blockbuster. Which genre do you suppose will be your safest bet — superhero? Action-adventure? Sci-fi? All of those have had huge successes, but they've also all had hugely expensive failures.

There's one genre, though, that's hardly a gamble at all. It's been almost foolproof since it first came into being in 1995: computer animation.

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12:07pm

Tue July 3, 2012
Movie Reviews

A Lanky Teenager On The Path To (Super) Power

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 7:06 pm

Andrew Garfield stars in The Amazing Spider-Man, in which the nerdy, web-slinging superhero gets an overhauled origin story.
Jaimie Trueblood Sony Pictures

I know you're skeptical. Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man was last slinging webs just five years ago. Broadway's Spider-Man started singing about webs less than two years ago. Now here comes another Spider-dude: This Andrew Garfield guy. So he'd better be really something, right? Well, as it happens, he is.

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9:37am

Fri June 29, 2012
Movie Reviews

A Boy And His Bear, At Large In A Man's World

Originally published on Fri June 29, 2012 10:26 pm

Ted (voiced by writer-director Seth MacFarlane) and Johnny (Mark Wahlberg) share a laugh in Ted. The talking teddy bear got his powers when 8-year-old Johnny wished upon a falling star for Ted to speak.
Universal Pictures/Tippett Studio

Seth MacFarlane is known mostly for creating, writing and directing the animated TV show Family Guy. In the show, he also voices Peter and Stewie Griffin, and their dog, Brian.

With his new movie, Ted, he has moved to the big screen for the first time, again creating, writing and directing. And though it's a live-action picture, he has again voiced one of the characters — the titular teddy bear, whom I tried to resist but couldn't.

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5:05pm

Thu June 21, 2012
Movie Reviews

Time In 'To Rome With Love': It Doesn't Make Sense

Originally published on Thu June 21, 2012 6:19 pm

Antonio the newlywed (Alessandro Tiberi, left), Uncle Paolo (Roberto Della Casa) and Anna the prostitute (Penelope Cruz) in one of To Rome With Love's four independent stories. This one features Anna attempting to teach Antonio something about love.
Philippe Antonello Sony Pictures Classics

For four decades, Woody Allen's been churning out movies at a rate of almost exactly one film per year, a phenomenon that I'd describe as being "like clockwork" if my whole sense of time hadn't been scrambled by his latest comedy, To Rome With Love.

Pleasantly scrambled, but still.

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3:54pm

Tue June 19, 2012
American Dreams: Then And Now

Hollywood Dreams Of Wealth, Youth And Beauty

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 6:59 pm

Paulette Goddard in the Tramp's (Charlie Chaplin) dream of a middle-class life in Modern Times.
Chaplin/United Artists/The Kobal Collection

Tinseltown didn't invent the American dream, but it sure put it out there for the world to see — a dream lit by the perpetual sunshine of Southern California, steeped in the values of the immigrant filmmakers who moved there in the early 1900s and got enormously rich.

It was their own outsider experience these Italian, Irish, German and often Jewish moviemakers were putting on screen, each optimistic, escapist fantasy a virtual American dream checklist:

  • Hard work carries the day in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
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4:13pm

Tue June 5, 2012
Monkey See

Home Video Picks: 'The Sting'

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 7:53 pm

The cover of The Sting.

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. He's says he's excited about the Blu-ray release of The Sting...and that's no con.

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2:00pm

Mon May 28, 2012
Movies

A Selective Preview Of Summer Movies

Originally published on Mon June 4, 2012 3:01 pm

Pixar's Brave follows the independent and courageous Merida (voice by Kelly Macdonald).
Pixar

Forget the calendar. With The Avengers, Battleship, and Men In Black already battling aliens at the multiplex, Hollywood's summer has arguably been under way for weeks.

No doubt, the tent-pole blockbusters — Ridley Scott's Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Bourne Legacy, and the rest — will offer plenty of entertainment value, but there are a couple of hardy, resourceful little girls you might want to attend to, too.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (June 27)

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3:23pm

Fri May 18, 2012
Movie Reviews

Coming Soon — To A Theater Nowhere Near You

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 6:34 pm

A scene from Battleship, which opens this weekend in the U.S. Thanks to earlier releases abroad, the film has already grossed $215 million worldwide.
ILM/Universal Pictures

The movie Battleship, based on the popular board game, opens today in the U.S. In most respects, it's a typical popcorn picture — the kind of effects-laden action movie that audiences often turn into a summer blockbuster.

And while it may not be any good, it is undeniably ours — American from the water up: a Universal Studios picture about an alien invasion, crammed with special effects from Industrial Light and Magic and set largely on American warships.

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