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."

Pages

Movie Reviews
4:25 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 7:01 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).

Read more
Movies
3:24 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 10:50 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:34 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 5:14 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."

Read more
Movie Reviews
10:49 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 7:07 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:42 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 5:02 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.

Read more
Movies
3:43 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 4:49 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.

Read more
Monkey See
4:58 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 6:12 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!"

Read more
Pop Culture
4:59 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 7:14 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:48 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 4:13 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.

Read more
Theater
3:07 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 5:16 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.

Read more
Destination Art
3:09 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 5:00 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.

Read more
Movies
3:54 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 5:06 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?

Read more
Movies
11:48 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 9:30 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
11:07 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 6:06 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.

Read more
Movie Reviews
8:37 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 9:26 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.

Read more
American Dreams: Then And Now
2:54 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 5:59 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.
Read more
Monkey See
3:13 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Home Video Picks: 'The Sting'

The cover of The Sting.

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 6:53 pm

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.

Read more
Movies
1:00 pm
Mon May 28, 2012

A Selective Preview Of Summer Movies

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

Originally published on Mon June 4, 2012 2:01 pm

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)

Read more
Movie Reviews
2:23 pm
Fri May 18, 2012

Coming Soon — To A Theater Nowhere Near You

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

Originally published on Fri May 18, 2012 5:34 pm

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.

Read more
Monkey See
3:36 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Home Video Picks: 'Being John Malkovich'

John Cusack and Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich.
Criterion Collection

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 4:46 pm

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from our film critic Bob Mondello. This time Bob urges taking the plunge from the seven-and-a-half-th floor into the Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of Being John Malkovich.

Read more
Movie Reviews
1:57 pm
Thu May 3, 2012

'The Avengers': Superheroic Popcorn Fun At Its Best

promo
Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 9:43 am

That crashing sound you'll hear emanating from cineplexes this weekend will be the sound of comic-book superheroes smashing box-office records.

Actually, the smashing started last weekend, when Marvel's The Avengers opened in 39 territories around the world, scooping up a cool $178 million in three days. And with legions of fans having already bought advance tickets in the U.S., it's a pretty sure bet the box-office bonanza will continue as the film opens in more than 4,000 North American theaters.

Read more
Monkey See
1:22 pm
Tue May 1, 2012

DVD Picks: 'Pillow Talk'

Pillow Talk stars Doris Day (above) and Rock Hudson as a pair of strangers who butt heads and fall in love on a shared telephone line.
Universal Pictures

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 9:44 am

Time for another home-viewing recommendation from film critic Bob Mondello. This week, Bob's listening in on Rock Hudson and Doris Day as they make a bit of Pillow Talk.

What happens when the Girl Next Door meets Mr. Beefcake? It's instant chemistry, albeit of the explosive sort — think Mentos and Diet Coke.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

'Think Like A Man,' And We'll See What Happens

Mya (Meagan Good), while dating Zeke (Romany Malco), follows the do's and don't's of dating advice from comedian Steve Harvey's real-world self-help book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.
Alan Markfield Sony Pictures

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 5:06 pm

Oy, the things daters have to worry about these days. Not just how to dress, act and turn "no" into "go," but how not to become a chirp-chirp girl.

Read more
Movie Reviews
10:16 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

An Inspiring Teacher, Exactly When He's Needed

Mohamed Fellag, an Algerian comedian and humor writer, plays the title character in the Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar, who steps in to teach a class of middle school students at exactly the right time.
Music Box Films

Originally published on Tue January 29, 2013 4:55 pm

At the start of a bright, sunny day that seems otherwise like any other day, a popular teacher is found dead in her classroom. It was suicide.

The school is traumatized, especially that teacher's students. By the next day, the principal is at her wits' end trying to find someone willing to take the class. So when Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) offers to teach, it comes at just the right moment.

Read more
Theater
3:35 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Encore! Encore! Applauding The Literal Showstopper

Actress Pearl Bailey during curtain call for the 1967 Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!
John Dominis Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 11, 2012 1:26 pm

Earlier this month, tenor Juan Diego Florez made headlines when he sang the aria "Una furtiva lagrima" in the Donizetti opera L'elisir D'Amore at the Metropolitan Opera — not once, but twice.

The audience responded so enthusiastically that after well over a minute of applause and shouts of "Encore!" he sang the whole thing again — all five minutes of it.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:42 pm
Fri April 6, 2012

To Be Or Not To Be (The Pope) Is The Question

IFC Films

Originally published on Fri April 6, 2012 6:01 pm

When the College of Cardinals gathers in the Vatican to choose a new church leader — formally the Bishop of Rome — it announces its selection with the Latin phrase "Habemus papam" ("We have a pope").

But suppose that, when a cardinal steps out onto a balcony in St. Peter's Square to utter those fateful words, the gentle soul in white sitting behind him, out of sight of the crowd, develops stage fright.

Read more
Monkey See
4:42 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

DVD Picks: 70 Years of 'Casablanca'

Warner Home Video

Time now for a home viewing recommendation from NPR's movie critic, Bob Mondello. He's found himself swept up this week by the 70th Anniversary edition boxed set of Casablanca.

Read more
Movies
2:44 pm
Sat March 24, 2012

From Page To Screen: Hollywood Targets YA Fiction

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, adapted from Suzanne Collins' bestselling novel trilogy.
Lionsgate

Originally published on Sat March 24, 2012 10:32 pm

Sixteen-year-old Katniss is an accomplished archer in Suzanne Collins' young adult trilogy, The Hunger Games, so it should be no surprise that in her film incarnation, she's hit the box office bulls-eye. This dystopian wonder (for those who've been living in a cave of late, The Hunger Games is a thriller about a totalitarian society that forces teens to participate in a televised fight to the death) appears poised to join the Harry Potter and Twilight movies in the top echelon of teen-oriented page-to-screen blockbusters.

Read more
Movie Reviews
4:30 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

'Hunger Games': Mortal Combat As Appointment TV

Are You Not Entertained? TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) takes the celebrity interview to new lows when chatting up the young combatants in the to-the-death Hunger Games — including Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
Lionsgate

Hungry for a good dystopia? Well, as you may be gathering from reports of the millions of tickets sold before prints were even shipped to theaters, author Suzanne Collins has a feast for you in the first movie installment of her young-adult trilogy The Hunger Games.

Read more
Movie Reviews
3:48 pm
Sat March 17, 2012

Betting On Two Pairs Of Filmmaking Brothers

Two pairs of filmmaking brothers are both releasing movies this weekend. In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, by the Duplass brothers Jay and Mark, Pat (Ed Helms) and Jeff (Jason Segel) encounter each other in a day fraught with fateful events. Also opening is The Kid with a Bike, a Belgian slice-of-life drama from the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc..
Paramount Vantage

Originally published on Sat March 17, 2012 5:42 pm

Call it an accident of the calendar: two pairs of filmmaking brothers both opening movies on the same weekend, both films about the awkwardness of growing up. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a post-mumblecore slacker comedy from the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay. The Kid with a Bike is a Belgian slice-of-life drama from the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc.

Read more

Pages