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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Monkey See
2:12 pm
Mon December 31, 2012

Bob Mondello's Best Movies Of 2012

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

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 10:41 am

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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Movie Reviews
3:58 pm
Tue December 18, 2012

Shedding Grim Light On A 'Dark' Story

CIA operative Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler) discusses a sensitive operation with Dan (Jason Clarke).
Jonathan Olley Sony Pictures

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 3:43 pm

With the screen pitch-black at the start of Zero Dark Thirty, we hear the confusion and alarm of Sept. 11, 2001: News reports that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, then the voices of a 911 operator reassuring a frightened trade center worker that she'll be OK, though she won't.

When the screen finally brightens, it's for a grim "black site" interrogation half a world away — a nephew of Osama bin Laden (Reda Kateb) strung up from the ceiling, bruised and bloodied, finally cut down only so that he can be waterboarded and stuffed into a tiny crate.

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Movie Reviews
3:25 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

A 'Hobbit,' Off On His Unhurried Journey

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

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 6:01 pm

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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Movies
2:24 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

Hollywood Heights: The Ups, Downs And In-Betweens

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

Originally published on Fri December 7, 2012 9:50 pm

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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Monkey See
3:20 pm
Tue December 4, 2012

Home Video Review: 'Lawrence Of Arabia' On Blu-Ray

Peter O'Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the titular Lawrence of Arabia.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Originally published on Tue December 4, 2012 4:50 pm

Time now for some home-viewing advice from our movie critic, Bob Mondello. This week, a 50th-anniversary Blu-ray release of the ultimate sand-and-sandals picture: Lawrence of Arabia.

Sand dunes for days, armies astride camels, and 29-year-old newcomer Peter O'Toole as British Army Lt. T.E. Lawrence, leading Bedouin warriors on a charge that would shake the Ottoman empire and shake up moviemaking for decades.

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Movie Reviews
2:34 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue November 20, 2012 4:14 pm

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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Movie Reviews
9:49 am
Fri November 16, 2012

'Tis The Season For Oscar-Bait Adaptations

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

Originally published on Fri November 16, 2012 6:07 pm

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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Movie Reviews
3:42 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Bond Is Back And Living Up To His Reputation

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

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:02 pm

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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Movies
2:43 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

Lincoln's Screen Legacy, Decidedly Larger Than Life

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

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 3:49 pm

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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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

Navigating The Shift From Complex To Cineplex

Halle Berry's characters in Cloud Atlas crisscross time and space. The actress plays six roles, including German intellectual Jocasta Ayrs (above) and an Asian man.
Reiner Bajo Warner Bros.

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 3:57 pm

David Mitchell's epic philosophical novel Cloud Atlas was widely considered unfilmable — even by its author — when it came out in 2004. That's because the book's ornate structure, with stories nested inside stories across five centuries, seemed too complicated to be taken in quickly in a movie. But those complications were what attracted The Matrix's Andy and Lana (nee Larry) Wachowski, and Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer to the project. Turning complexity into cineplexity is kind of what they do.

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Monkey See
3:58 pm
Fri October 19, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 5:12 pm

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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Pop Culture
3:31 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Vice Presidential Debate Mirrors 'American Idol'

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

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 6:14 pm

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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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

'Argo': A Rescue Mission With Real Hollywood Style

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

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 3:13 pm

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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Movies
2:41 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Hollywood's History With Frightfully Funny Films

In animated family films like ParaNorman, ghosts are more likely to cause laughter than shivers. Critic Bob Mondello explores how we got here from the Hollywood fright fests of the '30s.
Focus Features

Originally published on Fri October 5, 2012 9:07 pm

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Movie Reviews
3:33 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Bullets And Buddies On The Streets Of South Central

Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) become the targets of a drug cartel in End of Watch.
Scott Garfield Open Road Films

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 4:53 pm

Street gangs, drugs and the Los Angeles Police Department have been ingredients in so many police thrillers that it's hard to imagine a filmmaker coming up with a fresh take — though that hasn't stopped writer-director David Ayer from trying. He's made four cops-'n'-cartels dramas since his Oscar-winning Training Day a decade ago; the latest, End of Watch, easily qualifies as the most resonant.

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Movie Reviews
3:03 pm
Thu September 6, 2012

'Keep The Lights On': Nuanced Take On Doomed Love

Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth) meet through a phone hookup service, but end up moving in together and pursuing a passionate, long-term relationship.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Fri September 7, 2012 4:18 pm

Hot-weather Hollywood blockbusters have now cooled off, so the cineplex will be a quieter place for the next few months. But there can be intensity even in intimate films, as evidenced by the relationship drama Keep the Lights On.

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Monkey See
2:53 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

Fall Movie Preview: Bob Mondello Looks Ahead

Ben Affleck directed and stars in Argo.
Claire Folger Warner Brothers Pictures

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 10:46 am

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Movie Reviews
3:49 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

'Rush' Job: A Wily Courier Navigates New York's Maze

Bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finds himself carrying a package that leads to a perilous chase.
Sarah Shatz Sony Pictures

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 5:47 pm

A character we've yet to meet flies through the air in slow motion, above a busy New York street, arms and legs splayed. He's wearing a bike helmet, which is a good thing — because as The Who's "Baba O'Riley" pulses in the background and numbers come up on the screen telling us it's 6:33 p.m., he lands with a thud on the pavement.

For a second or two, he lies there staring — at a car careering toward him, a woman mouthing his name, a bike that lies crumpled at his side. You might want to take those moments to catch your breath. You won't be offered many other chances.

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Theater
2:07 pm
Thu August 23, 2012

In The Theater Of Politics, Staging Is Everything

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

Originally published on Thu August 23, 2012 4:16 pm

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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Pop Culture
1:59 pm
Sat August 11, 2012

Misadventures In Reporting: My Brush With Bieber

Justin Bieber was raised in Stratford, Ontario. When he returned to the town and played at his old busking spot outside the Avon Theatre, NPR's Bob Mondello was sitting six blocks away, oblivious.
Brendon Thorne Getty Images

So there I was, brandishing a microphone on the streets of Stratford, Ontario, and feeling, I have to confess, like a total fraud.

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Movies
3:17 pm
Thu August 9, 2012

In Times Of Drought, Movies Show Tenacity Of Life

Henry Hall prays to the heavens in 1934's Our Daily Bread. King Vidor's film about a farmers collective living through a drought was made during one of the country's most catastrophic dry spells.
United Artists/Photofest

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 9:02 am

The nationwide drought that has withered crops in more than 30 states shows no sign of letting up. But as Katharine Hepburn established in her film, The Rainmaker, that doesn't mean hope has to dry up.

"I dreamed we had a rain, a great big rain," she tells her brothers, only to be told that "a drought's a drought, and a dream's a dream."

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Destination Art
2:09 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue August 7, 2012 4:00 pm

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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Movies
2:54 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Franchises Age, But Their Stars Stay Forever Young

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

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 4:06 pm

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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Movie Reviews
3:07 pm
Thu July 19, 2012

In Troubled Times, A 'Dark Knight' Returns

Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. The final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which began with Batman Begins in 2005, deals explicitly with our contemporary political times.
Ron Phillips Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 4:38 pm

Before a hero can rise, he must suffer a fall, and fall the Dark Knight quite spectacularly did the last time around, taking the rap for crimes he didn't commit, marking himself as a vigilante pariah and even letting Heath Ledger steal the reviews. No way that's happening in this last installment. A comic-book tale that has gotten darker than anyone thought possible is now careening toward a burst of light — possibly a nuclear blast — at the end of the tunnel.

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Movies
10:48 am
Fri July 13, 2012

Looking For The Megabucks? Think Megapixels

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

Originally published on Fri July 13, 2012 8:30 pm

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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Movie Reviews
10:07 am
Tue July 3, 2012

A Lanky Teenager On The Path To (Super) Power

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

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 5:06 pm

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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Movie Reviews
7:37 am
Fri June 29, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Fri June 29, 2012 8:26 pm

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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Movie Reviews
3:19 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Thu June 21, 2012 4:19 pm

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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American Dreams: Then And Now
1:54 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Hollywood Dreams Of Wealth, Youth And Beauty

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

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 4:59 pm

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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Movie Reviews
2:58 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Of Best Friends, Siblings And Too Much Tequila

When Jack (Mark Duplass) continues to act out a year after his brother's death, his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), who's also his late brother's ex-girlfriend, invites him to rest and recharge at her family's cabin.
IFC Films

Originally published on Fri June 15, 2012 4:25 pm

As played by Mark Duplass, Jack is a sweet guy, though that's not really something you'd guess from his lashing out at the friends who are trying to celebrate his brother's life at the memorial service that starts Your Sister's Sister.

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