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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The first images on screen in Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-nominated Iranian drama, The Salesman, look like a spread in House Beautiful — a sofa, a table and chairs, a bedroom suite, all arranged just so, lit to a fare-thee-well. They are, in fact, part of a stage set. Real life is messier.

Most Broadway musicals that close after 16 performances barely prompt memories, let alone documentaries. But in 1981, the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth opus, Merrily We Roll Along, rolled along so bizarrely, it became the stuff of Broadway legend, worthy of a 2017 post-mortem. Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is a theatrically captivating documentary in which a director looks sideways at a musical that goes backwards.

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We've all been there — hopelessly tangled in red tape, struggling to get a faceless bureaucracy to hear us. So the conversation that takes place under the opening credits of Ken Loach's absurdist dramedy, I, Daniel Blake, will be as familiar as it is sublimely ghastly.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — a slightly longer time ago, actually, than usual — there's a little girl named Jyn. She has a dad who was an important cog in the Empire's war machine until he went on the lam. As Rogue One starts, his Imperial overlord (Ben Mendelsohn, sneering up a dust storm) has caught up with him, and it's Jyn who must go on the lam.

The World War II drama, Land of Mine, has what sounds like the season's proudest, most patriotic title, but it's actually a dark pun — a reference to the more than one million land mines the Nazis buried on the Danish coastline, hoping to deter an Allied invasion.

Perhaps the strategy worked, since American and British forces landed miles away in Normandy on D-Day, but it left Denmark with a booby trapped west coast, and a logistical problem of staggering proportions. The coastline wasn't declared officially safe until 2012.

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We keep hearing that this election is like no other, but when I watch old movies, I often hear echoes of what's going on in the campaign.

The guy who opines in A Face in the Crowd (1957), say, that in the then-new age of television, "instead of long-winded public debates, people want capsule slogans."

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If you're looking for evidence of Andrzej Wajda's filmmaking smarts, it's right there in his first, black-and-white movie, made in 1955. A trench-coated young man races through Warsaw at the height of World War II, past corpses dangling from streetlights, pursued by Nazi soldiers who chase him into a building and up a central staircase.

One of the nation's biggest environmental disasters is now the season's big disaster flick. Sound insensitive? Well, rest assured the filmmakers were aware of — and have managed to sidestep — any qualms audience members are likely to have.

Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the oil drilling rig that turned into an inferno in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana — a story of tragic, entirely avoidable missteps and astonishing personal heroics.

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A forgetful fish named Dory turned out to be this summer's big movie star.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING NEMO")

ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

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The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, both in real life and in the various fictions built around her.

New York indie filmmaker Ira Sachs makes quietly observant relationship movies that are designed to get under an audience's skin in the gentlest of fashions, but to the most emotional of effects.

His last film, which dealt with the pressures the outside world exerted on a marriage, was called Love Is Strange. His latest is called Little Men, but might easily be subtitled "Friendship Is Strange."

Here's how Alfred explains villainy to Batman in The Dark Knight: "Some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

The first time Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in a film (Sleepwalk With Me) he played a stand-up comic. This was not a huge stretch for him, as he is, himself, a stand-up comic.

His second film, Don't Think Twice, doesn't stray too far from that model. It's about an improvisational comedy troupe a lot like the one in which Birbiglia got his start. And if this seems like quite a bit of navel-gazing for one filmmaker, rest assured that Birbiglia's been keeping it funny.

This piece was inspired by NPR's summer recommendation series, Read, Watch, Binge!

Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats will gather in Cleveland and Philadelphia for a ritual that has become almost entirely ceremonial: Each party will "select" pre-selected presidential candidates.

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The Roaring '20s are in full roar when we meet fabled editor Maxwell Perkins in Genius, but to look at him, his nose perpetually buried in a manuscript, you'd never guess he is walking through a New York that's populated by flappers and swells swilling bathtub gin.

On the street, on a train, in his office awaiting a new writer, this chaperone to Scribners scribes (who included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald) is not at all a demonstrative man. As played by Colin Firth, in fact, you'd be likely to call him "unreadable."

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Robert Cenedella, the titular painter in the briskly entertaining new documentary Art Bastard, is a New York artist who has spent years battling the New York art establishment. To be clear, he is a bastard, in that he was born to parents who weren't married. But also in that he's an inveterate troublemaker — a mocker of other artists — who can be a thorn in the side of even people who are trying to help him.

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