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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Fifty years ago, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia legalized interracial marriage. Just two weeks earlier, shooting had been completed on a movie about that very subject — Stanley Kramer's soon-to-be-classic, Oscar-winning, box-office smash Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Houghton and Sidney Poitier.

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It's a beach in Florida this time — I know you care because we're all here for the plot, right? — and head lifeguard Mitch Buchannon is now The Rock not The Hoff.

"Our team is the elite of the elite," Dwayne Johnson's Mitch tells his Baywatch recruits, "the heart and soul of this very beach."

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"Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" opens in theaters this weekend. The film is on track for a $150 million opening, so reviews are probably irrelevant. But NPR's Bob Mondello has one anyway.

Imagine city planning as a contact sport and you have the gist of Matt Tyrnauer's documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. The film chronicles the struggle between two mid-20th century worldviews: that of Robert Moses, who preached a cure for what ailed American cities that amounted to "bulldoze and replace," and the less destructive prescriptions of writer/activist Jane Jacobs, who challenged the whole notion of urban renewal in her game-changing book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

For the first two months of this year, the teen romance Your Name. (the period is part of the title) was the biggest box-office hit of 2017. Never heard of it? Well, it was bigger than Fifty Shades Darker; bigger than Lego Batman.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has adopted the F-rating, a classification system designed to champion women in film.

The new rating was created three years ago by Holly Tarquini, executive director of the Bath Film Festival, to "support women in film and change the stories we see on screen." The Bath festival created a website for the rating, which says:

"The F-Rating is a classification for any film which

  1. is directed by a woman
  2. is written by a woman

The new movie Life, which opens March 24, is about astronauts who discover an alien life form and live to regret it. You could say exactly the same thing about Alien: Covenant, which was originally scheduled to open the following Friday — until someone realized that was a recipe for box-office disaster. Alien: Covenant will now open in early May, and that close call, crazy as it is, isn't uncommon in Hollywood.

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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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