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."

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Movies
12:09 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

In 'Iron Man 3,' A Metalhead Gets The Blues

Window Dressing: Tony Stark's ongoing Iron Man research involves more than one suit of self-assembling armor.
Marvel

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 1:07 pm

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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Movie Reviews
10:26 am
Wed April 17, 2013

Digging Into Ricky Jay's 'Deceptive' Card Tricks

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

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 3:37 pm

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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Movies
11:24 am
Mon April 15, 2013

On The Big Screen, The Tax Guy Can Be Your Buddy

The paying and collecting of taxes might not be the sexiest plot point in an industry that depends on sizzle. But that doesn't mean revenuers haven't made their mark on screen.
Airyelf iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 5:02 pm

It's fair to say that the bakery employees who hooted and jeered "tax maaaaaan" when mild-mannered auditor Will Ferrell showed up in Stranger than Fiction were no fans of the Internal Revenue Service. In that, they're like a lot of us, no?

So it's intriguing that Hollywood generally treats tax inspectors as nice guys. On the big screen, it's typically their IRS bosses who are the bad ones.

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Movie Reviews
12:22 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

A Film So Sumptuous, 'Renoir' Himself Might Have Helped Out

Jean (Vincent Rottiers) assists his ailing father, the artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), in his studio on the French Riviera.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Originally published on Fri March 29, 2013 2:55 pm

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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Movies
12:23 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 4:55 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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Movies
10:32 am
Fri March 1, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 3:01 pm

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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Oscars 2013: The 85th Annual Academy Awards
7:54 am
Fri February 22, 2013

Despite Dark Themes, A Big Oscar Bounce

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

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 1:47 pm

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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Monkey See
12:44 pm
Thu January 24, 2013

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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Monkey See
10:03 am
Tue January 15, 2013

Home Video Review: 'Slings And Arrows'

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

Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 2:16 am

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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Monkey See
11:08 am
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 7:41 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
12:25 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 3:01 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
11:24 am
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 6:50 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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Movie Reviews
11:34 am
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 1:14 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
6:49 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 3:07 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
1:02 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

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
11:43 am
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 12:49 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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Monkey See
12:58 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 2:12 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
12:59 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 3:14 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
12:48 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 12:13 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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Theater
11:07 am
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 1:16 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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Destination Art
11:09 am
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 1:00 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
11:54 am
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 1:06 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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Movies
7:48 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 5:30 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
7:07 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 2:06 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
4:37 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 5:26 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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American Dreams: Then And Now
10:54 am
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 1:59 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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Monkey See
11:13 am
Tue June 5, 2012

Home Video Picks: 'The Sting'

The cover of The Sting.

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 2:53 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.

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Movies
9:00 am
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 10:01 am

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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Movie Reviews
10:23 am
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 1:34 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.

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Monkey See
11:36 am
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 12:46 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.

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