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."

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

Transcript

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: He talked faster than the rest of us, he thought faster than the rest of us and now he has lived faster than the rest of. But, oh, the lives while he was with us.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A Brooklyn bank, a sweltering crowd, swelling cheers as Al Pacino's charismatic bank robber baits the police with chants of "Attica. Attica. Attica. Attica."

That scene, along with the rest of Sidney Lumet's 1975 classic Dog Day Afternoon, was based on a true story. Now, an odd — and oddly compelling — documentary called The Dog brings us the story behind that true story, and if you're anything like me, it'll leave you alternately amused and slack-jawed in astonishment.

Published in Britain as Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe and in the U.S. less cheekily as Joss Whedon: The Biography, Amy Pascale's portrait of pop culture's man of just about any recent hour may not make her title subject any new converts, but it is hero-worshipping enough to make devoted Whedonites feel they're being inducted into the Scooby Gang.

Ireland's barrel-chested force of nature Brendan Gleeson plays a priest who has a date with murder in Calvary, John Michael McDonagh's comic but darkly existential detective story.

Tony Curtis used to say that he'd learned how to kiss a girl by watching Cary Grant at the movies. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn't just sitting behind Grant at the theater — while also noting that he's hardly alone in taking instruction from films.

Remember when movie companies just put Roman numerals at the end of titles when they made sequels? Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV. Well, not anymore.

This summer, we've had X-Men: Days of Future Past, with no mention that it's either the sixth or seventh X-Men movie, depending on how you're counting. Also 22 Jump Street, the across-the-street follow-up to 21 Jump Street. And Begin Again (which ought to be a sequel, but isn't).

Filmmaker Richard Linklater breezed through plenty of genres in his career, establishing that he's comfortable making loose comedies like Slacker, animated sci-fi thrillers like A Scanner Darkly, and even messing with longer-form studies in time with his Before trilogy, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise and Before Midnight.

Still, it's safe to say that he's never done anything even remotely like Boyhood, his latest film, because neither has anyone else.

Movie theaters were swarming with Transformers this past weekend, and that'll also be true over the July 4 weekend. So this may not seem to be the best moment to bring out a sci-fi flick made on a budget that wouldn't cover catering for Optimus Prime. But "small" has its virtues sometimes, and the kid flick Earth to Echo is one of those times.

An intellectual play about sadomasochism, a musical about a '60s pop group, and a pair of famously cinematic directors. There's always going to be a bit of a leap when a play moves from stage to screen — but Roman Polanski's Venus in Fur and Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys leap a little further than usual.

In a summer of sequels — 16 in all — this weekend is the sequelliest, offering blockbuster deja-vu (How To Train Your Dragon 2 AND 22 Jump Street) as well as a few object lessons in how to train your audience. One film goes all meta with its concept, the other goes back to basics, and for a change, both approaches work.

When you've played Austin Powers, Shrek, The Cat in the Hat and the title dweeb in Wayne's World, what do you do for an encore? If you're comedian Mike Myers, the next logical step, evidently, is to direct a documentary about your agent. And damned if it doesn't turn out to be a decent career move — as smart, and sometimes even as funny, as anything Myers has done recently.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) swaggers down the street at the start of Filth swiping balloons from children, ogling their mothers, flipping off foreigners and smirking as he ticks down a list of what makes Scotland a place where he feels he can be cock-of-the-walk.

"This nation brought the world television, the steam engine, golf, whiskey, penicillin and, of course, the deep-fried Mars bar," he snorts. "We're such a uniquely successful race."

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The long Memorial Day weekend usually marks the start of Hollywood blockbuster season. But it's been well underway with "Godzilla" and "X-Men" already in theaters. That said, there are another 87 would-be hits scheduled before Labor Day. We asked critic Bob Mondello for a selective preview.

The final "X" in the 20th Century Fox logo glows for an extra second as X-Men: Days of Future Past gets started, but what follows is darker than dark — a bleak, dire future in which all of Manhattan is a mutant prison camp.

The world has already seen 28 Godzilla movies — 29, if you count Roland Emmerich's 1998 Hollywood remake (which most of us don't). So why is another one opening this week?

In The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg invented Facebook. In Now You See Me, he mastered magic tricks. In Rio, his animated macaw learned to fly, and his Lex Luthor will soon be nemesis-ing the caped crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. But it's safe to say that none of those pictures asked half as much of Eisenberg as Richard Ayoade's The Double, which requires him, pretty literally, to meet himself coming and going.

Here's a unique specialty for a movie studio: slavery films. Last year, Fox Searchlight brought us an Oscar winner about a free black man hauled into 12 years of slavery. Now, in Amma Asante's Belle, the company is releasing what's essentially the reverse of that story — a similarly torn-from-life (though significantly less wrenching) tale of a slave girl who had the great good fortune to be raised as a British aristocrat.

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