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."

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

The Clan is a mostly true, occasionally comic thriller about an Argentine family that made kidnapping its family business. For a surprisingly long time in the 1980s, the upper-middle-class Puccios seemed sincerely convinced that the family that slays together stays together, although you'd never guess that backstory when you meet 20-something Alejandro Puccio on screen, scoring a goal in a championship rugby match.

This week the world's been treated to a commentary on immigration reform from a surprising source: William Shakespeare.

Imagine the worst opera singer ever. Now imagine that she's determined to perform in public. That's the premise of an award-winning French satire that's based on a true story. It's called Marguerite, and it follows a middle-aged socialite by the same name.

Marguerite has very little to do. While the roaring 1920s roar elsewhere and her husband spends all his time with a mistress, Marguerite sits in her Downton Abbey-style mansion outside Paris surrendering her soul to music.

Zootopia is both an animated charmer and a theme-park ready world that's precisely what it sounds like: an anthropomorphic utopia where animals have overcome the predator/prey divide to live in near-perfect harmony, in ecologically distinct districts. Disney animators have conjured up in gratifyingly intricate detail a Tundra Town, Sahara Square, even a hamster-sized village for mice and moles.

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The Danish entry in the foreign language Oscar sweepstakes, A War, begins in Afghanistan, deep in Taliban territory. A Danish patrol is walking single file across a field. Each man steps where the previous man stepped ... alas, to no avail. A land mine explodes, killing the baby-faced last soldier in the line.

Marvel's new superhero movie Deadpool stars Ryan Reynolds, a fact that, up to now, would likely not have been considered much of a selling point. This is not, after all, Reynolds' first stint as a superhero. There was that catastrophic Green Lantern movie, his animated supersnail in Turbo, and he played this character very briefly in what's arguably the least of the X-Men movies.

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The new movie, Rams, has absolutely nothing to do with Peyton Manning. It's a story from Iceland that involves sheep, snow, a herd-afflicting virus called scrapie and sufficient sibling rivalry to power a Greek tragedy.

Like many — perhaps most — Americans, I've never been to Iowa. But I and much of my generation learned a lot about Iowans years ago from a classic American musical. I knew from the age of 8 that Iowans are stubborn. I learned that from the song "Iowa Stubborn" in Broadway's The Music Man. My folks had seen the show and told me how, when traveling salesman Harold Hill got to River City, Iowa, everybody followed him around because he was an outsider — but they were kind of weird and standoffish.

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David Bowie, who died Sunday at the age of 69, is best-known for his music — but he was also an actor of considerable gifts.

When he fell to Earth in 1976, an extraterrestrial seeking water for a dying planet, Bowie was persuasively otherworldly. One eye blue, the other green, hair a flaming auburn, his never-aging, British-accented alien was the first glimpse movie audiences got of a rock star who had already been a "Space Oddity," sung about a Starman, and become internationally recognized as the glammed-up Ziggy Stardust.

A guy who thinks everyone's the same meets a gal who's different. That could be the TV listing for Charlie Kaufman's extraordinary new film and latest weirdness, Anomalisa.

But that thumbnail description doesn't get at the weird, and the weird in this film is prodigious.

Start with the fact that in a world that looks otherwise real and natural, the leading man — motivational speaker Michael Stone — and all the folks around him are puppets, which are animated in stop-motion.

I'm not sure why this happened, but as I assembled this year's best-of list, I kept seeing matched sets: Two terrific desert movies, two swoon-inducing romances, two single-minded crusades by men who think they're already dead, and even a pair of riveting mortgage crisis flicks (and what are the chances of that?). The doubleness is a good organizing principle, since my 10-best list nearly always turns into a 20-best — so here goes:

1965. It had been seven years since Orson Welles directed Touch of Evil, more than 20 years since Citizen Kane, so a lot of people thought he was washed up when he shopped around a project he had created by blending bits and pieces of five plays by Shakespeare.

An Oscar-winning director, a major star, a survival saga that makes Heart of Darkness look like a pleasure cruise... and all anyone wants to talk about is the bear attack.

And in fact, it's hard not to start there. It comes about comes 24 minutes in. Fur-trapper Hugh Glass, played by a hirsute, bundled-up Leonardo DiCaprio, has helped his fellow trappers escape a harrowing Arikara massacre. In most movies that would be the scene everyone's talking about — arrows piercing vocal cords in mid-cry, death raining down from trees.

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