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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Movie Reviews
4:03 pm
Fri March 27, 2015

Photography, Misery And Beauty In 'The Salt Of The Earth'

"I could hear the gold whispering in the souls of these men," says Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado of a gold mine in Serra Pelada.
Sebastiao Salgado Amazonas Images/Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri March 27, 2015 7:07 pm

Having recently celebrated the accomplishments of musicians and dancers in his transcendent documentaries The Buena Vista Social Club and Pina, it perhaps makes sense that Wim Wenders would now turn his camera on a man who wields a camera.

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Arts & Life
4:36 pm
Fri March 13, 2015

What's Familiar Becomes Unnerving In 'It Follows'

It Follows "inverts the abstinence metaphor behind most teen horror flicks," says NPR film critic Bob Mondello.
Courtesy of Radius-TWC

Originally published on Fri March 13, 2015 7:00 pm

David Robert Mitchell's debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, was a gentle, evocative story of teens and summer crushes set in Detroit. Unthreatening, sweet in the way of Freaks and Geeks, and the coming-of-age stories of John Hughes, it embraced the confusion of adolescence with warmth and affection.

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Movies
3:39 pm
Fri March 6, 2015

'Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' Stays True To Its Name

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 6:04 pm

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench reunite in Jaipur, India, for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which came to theaters Friday. Despite a stellar cast, the sequel to the surprise 2012 hit comedy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is second best.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Movie Reviews
3:44 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

Tense 'Eastern Boys': Cruising, and Bruising

Eastern Boys begins as a home invasion story but evolves to something more complex, says NPR film critic Bob Mondello.
Courtesy of First Run Features

Originally published on Fri February 27, 2015 7:13 pm

Seen from street level, the young Eastern European men cruising a Paris train station at the outset of Eastern Boys would doubtless look like individuals. But filmmaker Robin Campillo has positioned the camera overhead, and from his bird's eye perch it's clear they're working in tandem — looking out for each other, stealing, soliciting.

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Movies
3:58 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

The Good, The Bad And The Hot: Movies To Warm Winter's Bite

Sidney Poitier smolders — and swelters — in In the Heat of the Night.
Mirisch/United Artists/Kobal Collection

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 2:18 pm

Plenty of movies sound as if they'll warm you up — Heat, The Towering Inferno, Hot Fuzz, Blazing Saddles, The Long Hot Summer, Paris When It Sizzles, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In the Heat of the Night — the list goes on and on.

But just as you can't judge a book by its cover, it's tough to take a film's temperature from its title. Yes, In the Heat of the Night does swelter, both from being set in Mississippi and from having Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger spend most of its length hot under the collar. But most of the rest of those films won't warm you up much.

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Movie Reviews
3:16 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

Argentine Oscar Nominee 'Wild Tales' Lives Up To Its Title

Wild Tales is crammed with gallows humor, says NPR film critic Bob Mondello.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 7:13 pm

Argentina has been in the news lately for the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a special prosecutor. So perhaps it makes sense that the country's Oscar nominee for best foreign language film is called Relatos salvajes, Spanish for Wild Tales. The film is an anthology — a collection of six separate and unrelated stories — every one of which lives up to that title.

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Movie Reviews
12:57 pm
Fri February 13, 2015

Love From A To Z — And Back Again — In 'The Last Five Years'

The finite romance in The Last Five Years is "haunting, bittersweet" says NPR film critic Bob Mondello.
Courtesy of RADiUS

Originally published on Fri February 13, 2015 5:29 pm

Movie musicals used to be box-office poison, but lately they've found ways to sing to a wider crowd. The onscreen Les Miz did away with lip-synching, Annie went multi-cultural, Into the Woods belted out revisionist fairy-tales — and combined, those three movies have taken in almost three-quarters of a billion dollars.

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Movies
3:40 pm
Mon January 26, 2015

It'd Be No 'Folly' To Remake This Musical Classic

Bob Mondello brought in his own personal copy of the original Follies cast album — intern Patrick Fort added the starburst.
Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 7:47 am

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Movies
4:14 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

'Birdman,' 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Lead Oscar Nominations

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 5:33 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Movie Reviews
2:36 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

'Leviathan' And 'Two Days' Look For Oscar Gold

Marion Cotillard is Sandra, who must convince her factory co-workers to vote against giving themselves a bonus in order to preserve her job, in Two Days, One Night.
Les Films du Fleuve

Originally published on Fri January 2, 2015 5:23 pm

The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a boom time for Hollywood — generally the biggest box office week of the year. It is also a time of Oscar hopefuls, a group that included two foreign-language films in 2014: Two Days, One Night from Belgium, and Russia's Leviathan, both of which tackle social issues through the lens of family.

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Movie Reviews
2:24 pm
Wed December 31, 2014

Favorite Films Of 2014: Why Stop At 10?

Richard Linklater's daringly experimental Boyhood is Bob Mondello's favorite film of 2014.
IFC Productions

Originally published on Wed December 31, 2014 5:48 pm

Hollywood would just as soon forget 2014 when it comes to box-office numbers. Despite the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the arrival of the final Hobbit sequel, movie grosses are off about half a billion dollars from last year.

What about quality? This year's films were quirkier than usual — but still, my cup runneth over.

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Movie Reviews
3:26 pm
Fri December 26, 2014

Bob Mondello Watched 'The Interview,' So You Don't Have To (Really, You Don't)

Originally published on Fri December 26, 2014 4:19 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Movie Reviews
3:25 pm
Wed December 24, 2014

'Selma' Manages To Be Both Passion-Inspiring And Measured

Originally published on Wed December 24, 2014 4:23 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Movie Reviews
4:04 pm
Fri December 19, 2014

'Mr. Turner' Is A Snuffling, Growling Work Of Art

Timothy Spall finds beauty in the unlikeliest places as painter J.M.W. Turner.
Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri December 19, 2014 5:58 pm

If you picture landscape painting as a delicate, ethereal, pristine process involving an easel on a hillside and a sunset, Mr. Turner will be an eye-opener.

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Code Switch
3:28 pm
Wed December 17, 2014

An Updated 'Annie' And The Tradition Of Nontraditional Casting

Quvenzhane Wallis (second from right) stars in an updated version of Annie, produced by Jay Z.
Barry Wetcher Sony Pictures Entertainment

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 8:07 pm

That lovable moppet with the red dress, the curly hair, the big dog, and the even bigger voice is back.

This time, though, Little Orphan Annie is back with a difference: Quvenzhane Wallis is playing an African-American orphan in an ethnically diverse, up-to-date world. And that got us thinking about other instances where producers have breathed fresh life into familiar shows by making them dance to a new beat.

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Movie Reviews
3:26 pm
Fri December 12, 2014

No Surprise, 'Inherent Vice' Adaptation Is Dense And Complicated

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 5:16 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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50 Great Teachers
12:03 pm
Fri December 5, 2014

What The Movies Taught Us About Teaching

Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters.
The Kobal Collection

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 1:09 pm

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Movies
3:07 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Philae Comet Landing Reminiscent Of 'Armageddon,' 'Deep Impact'

Originally published on Fri December 5, 2014 7:46 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Movies
3:23 pm
Thu November 27, 2014

The Holiday Films Are Coming, From 'Moses' To 'Annie'

Rameses (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Nefertari (Golshifteh Farahani) try to save their stricken child, a victim of one of the plagues, in Exodus: Gods And Kings.
Kerry Brown Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Thu November 27, 2014 6:57 pm

Every year, Hollywood tries to go out with a bang — the question this year is, which bang will be biggest? For sheer moviemaking grandeur, you'd think it would be hard to top the subduing of the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. But Peter Jackson's only got Gandalf and armies. In Exodus: Gods And Kings, Ridley Scott's got Moses, 400,000 slaves, and an effects budget Pharaoh would envy, not to mention the parting of the Red Sea.

Shall we call that a draw?

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Remembrances
8:14 am
Thu November 20, 2014

Renowned Theater And Film Director Mike Nichols Dies

Originally published on Thu November 20, 2014 11:43 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Movie Reviews
2:04 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

Satirists Go Serious in 'Foxcatcher' And 'Rosewater' — And It Works

Steve Carell ditches any pretense of comedy in Foxcatcher.
Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Fri November 14, 2014 5:34 pm

What do you get when you mix big-deal comedians with real-life calamities? Sounds like a joke, but Steve Carell and Jon Stewart are answering that question this week in their movies Foxcatcher and Rosewater. And it turns out, seriousness suits them.

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Movies
4:21 pm
Fri November 7, 2014

Tripping Into A Black Hole In This Week's Movies

A black hole might be the key to humankind's future in Interstellar.
Courtesy of Paramount

Originally published on Sat November 8, 2014 5:33 pm

I've learned a lot about physics this week at movie screenings, and let me start by saying that I've no idea how much of it is accurate. All I can swear to is that it comes vetted by (or at least associated with) some very high-powered theoretical physicists.

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Movie Reviews
2:37 pm
Fri November 7, 2014

'Viva La Libertà' Offers Harmless Electoral Fun

A jaded politician plays hooky in Viva La Libertà, so his campaign replaces him with his identical twin brother. You know where this is going, right?
Courtesy of Distrib Films US

Originally published on Fri November 7, 2014 7:11 pm

Whether you viewed this week's midterm elections as exhilarating or bruising, you're probably ready to move on at this point, which makes the timing problematic for Roberto Andò's lightweight election comedy, Viva La Libertà (Long Live Freedom).

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Movies
3:42 pm
Thu October 30, 2014

Remembering All-Night Fright Fests And Halloween Horrorthons

Terrifying terrorramas so scary you'll need a nurse on standby! Bob Mondello says the 1993 film Matinee brought back memories of his days writing Halloween horror ad copy for a movie theater chain.
Courtesy of Universal/The Kobal CollectionTION

Originally published on Fri October 31, 2014 8:42 am

Halloween's rolled around again and yeah, yeah, it's a dark and stormy night. The road's washed out, phone's gone dead, the mystic's reading her Ouija board, and zombies are popping through doorways left open by a demented kewpie doll.

Been there. Seen that. Got the T-shirt.

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Movie Reviews
3:33 pm
Fri October 24, 2014

Alienating Leading Men: The Force Behind 'Listen Up Philip' And 'Majeure'

A 'controlled avalanche' gets out of control in Force Majeure.
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Originally published on Fri October 24, 2014 7:59 pm

Back in 1940, in a review of the then-new Rodgers & Hart musical Pal Joey, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson famously asked whether a show with a "cad" for a hero could ever really work for audiences.

"How can you draw sweet water," he wondered, "from a foul well?"

Goes without saying that times have changed, what with antiheroes now common on the big screen, and cable TV celebrating everything from mobster Sopranos to sexist Mad Men, to drug dealers for whom everything always breaks Bad.

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Movies
10:24 am
Fri October 17, 2014

'Birdman' Tracks A Comeback In (Seemingly) One Long Take

In Birdman, Michael Keaton (a real-life former Batman) plays a former movie superhero who's trying to get a grasp on his career.
Atsushi Nishijima/ Fox Searchlight

Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 5:26 pm

Birdman's opening shot has a meteor flaring across a twilit sky — a dying star falling to earth being an apt first image for a movie about a film superhero who has flamed out.

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Movie Reviews
3:29 pm
Fri October 3, 2014

Who's Worth Your Trust In Fincher's Moody, Atmospheric 'Gone Girl'?

Ben Affleck plays Nick, a self-styled "corn-fed, salt-of-the-earth Missouri boy." But is he a reliable narrator?
Merrick Morton/ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Originally published on Fri October 3, 2014 5:17 pm

David Fincher's marital thriller, Gone Girl, is based on a 2-year-old novel that spent more than 71 weeks on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list, and sold more than 6 million copies before it even came out in paperback. So a lot of suspense fans already know its twists and turns.

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Movie Reviews
12:11 pm
Fri September 26, 2014

Coal Miners And Gay Activists Partner In 'Pride'

Faye Marsay, George MacKay, Joseph Gilgun and Paddy Considine play a group of London activists who march in support of Welsh miners.
Nicola Dove Courtesy of CBS Films

Originally published on Fri September 26, 2014 4:51 pm

Coal miners and gay activists — two groups that, in 1980s England at least, you might have figured would steer clear of each other — partner surprisingly effectively in the real-life story that's affectionately fictionalized in Pride.

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Movies
8:26 am
Mon September 1, 2014

After A Ho-Hum Summer, Hollywood Ramps Up For Fall

Michael Keaton stars as a washed-up film star trying to make a stage comeback in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's Birdman.
Alison Rosa

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 8:01 am

Note: There are 26 films in the on-air version of this story — but here are three favorites.

Hollywood hauled out Apes, Transformers, and X-Men and still had a humdrum summer at the box office. For the first time in years, no summer blockbuster has managed to crack the $300 million barrier at the North American box office. In fact, until Guardians of the Galaxy came along, the film industry was looking at its lowest attendance figures in more than a decade.

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Movies
3:06 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Director Richard Attenborough Brought Intimacy To Big Ideas

Richard Attenborough's career in movies spanned decades.
Lois Bernstein AP

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 6:53 pm

When Steven Spielberg was looking for someone who could make dinosaurs seem plausible in Jurassic Park, he asked fellow filmmaker Richard Attenborough to do something he hadn't done in almost 14 years: act. Plenty of performers could look at green screens and convey a sense of wonder. What Attenborough could do while playing the owner of Jurassic Park, figured Spielberg, was flesh out the bigger picture — the why. And when he did, it sounded almost as if he was stating the filmmaking credo he'd lived by all his life.

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