KRWG

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."

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.

The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, both in real life and in the various fictions built around her.

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."

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 be likely to call him "unreadable."

A relationship drama with societal implications, Desde Allá (From Afar) hails from afar — specifically, from Venezuela — and marks a striking debut for first-time writer director Lorenzo Vigas.

His method is to draw you in by holding you at a slight remove — a habit he seems to have picked up from its leading man.

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

Robert Cenedella, the titular painter in the briskly entertaining new documentary Art Bastard, is a New York artist who has spent years battling the New York art establishment. To be clear, he is a bastard, in that he was born to parents who weren't married. But also in that he's an inveterate troublemaker — a mocker of other artists — who can be a thorn in the side of even people who are trying to help him.

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

Give the man credit: Congressman Anthony Weiner, having inspired countless headline puns a few years back when he was caught texting crotch shots, put himself out there when most people would've run for cover.

Dating is plenty complicated as things stand. But suppose romance came with deadlines, and a penalty for not meeting them. That's the dilemma Colin Farrell faces in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' latest weirdness. The maker of Dogtooth, which takes home schooling to comically absurd extremes, and Alps, which does much the same for the process of grieving, is tackling notions of romance in The Lobster, and let's just say that rom-coms don't come much stranger.

For decades, few films made in Cuba have found their way to U.S. theaters. But with diplomatic relations restored between the two countries, this past weekend brought not one, but two. Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, the first Hollywood film to shoot on the island nation in decades, turns out to be a dispiriting, ineptly directed affair, about which the less said, the better.

But a father-son drama called Viva is lively enough to be an art-house hit, illuminating a Havana subculture that may be almost as unfamiliar to Cubans as to Americans.

We all love our mothers, right? Though sometimes they drive us crazy. From the title of Susan Sarandon's new comedy, The Meddler, you might guess that mix of fealty and frustration informs the worldview of filmmaker Lorene Scafaria, and you'd be right.

The film centers on Marnie (Sarandon), a widow who's moved to L.A. after her husband's death to be closer to Lori (Rose Byrne), her screenwriter daughter. And that's a good thing, as they're both still grieving — though Lori sometimes feels as smothered as she does mothered.

The camera pulls back from an old-looking, animated incarnation of Disney's Cinderella castle logo directly into a very real-looking 3-D jungle at the outset of The Jungle Book. Critters, plants waterfalls, a teeming environment through which is plunging one little flesh-and-blood boy, Mowgli, running for his life, scampering up tree-trunks, swinging from vines to get away — the camera careening after him, also trying to get away — from a huge black panther.

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

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday with a response from AMC.

Texting at the movies is usually annoying and usually banned. But the CEO of the giant movie theater chain AMC says maybe it's time to rethink that.

AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron floated a trial balloon in an interview with Variety at CinemaCon, a film industry trade convention, saying the chain has considered adding showings where using your cellphone will be allowed.

A man's wife dies in a car crash. The man grieves.

From that simple premise come two complex films: Louder Than Bombs and Demolition. Turns out, there's a reason for those explosive titles.

A man's wife dies in a car crash. The man grieves.

From that simple premise come two complex films: Louder Than Bombs and Demolition. Turns out, there's a reason for those explosive titles.

You know the formula — troubled teen meets inspirational mentor, and it hardly matters whether we're talking a delinquent battling a judge, or a chess champion pitted against a street gang.

But suppose the mentor is more troubled than the teen. That's the story in The Dark Horse, a based-on-truth tale about a middle-aged Maori speed-chess champion who is released from a New Zealand mental institution, alas, into the home of his biker-gang brother. From frying pan to fire, with medication issues.

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

It's been three years since the Superman movie Man of Steel arrived in theaters — three years in which DC Comics has released no other superhero movies. Meanwhile, its rival, Marvel, has earned more than $9 billion from a dozen men-in-spandex films.

So the Man of Steel sequel, a ponderously overlong epic called Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (that solitary "V" being pretty much the only thing abbreviated about it) has some serious catching up to do.

Pages