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 a quarter-century, 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 partner 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
12:40 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

For A Free Spirit, A Grim '12 Years' In Chains

Chiwetel Ejiofor (left) plays Solomon Northup, a New York freeman kidnapped into slavery in 1841 and eventually resold to plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
Francois Duhamel Fox Searchlight Pictures

Originally published on Thu January 16, 2014 12:39 pm

Just a few years before the start of the Civil War, two anti-slavery books became best-sellers in the United States. One was Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Harriet Beecher Stowe opus that went on to become the best-selling novel of the 19th century.

The other was a memoir with a mouthful of a title: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and rescued in 1853 from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.

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Movie Reviews
5:59 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Beat Manifesto: 'Kill Your Darlings,' Figuratively And ...

In Kill Your Darlings, Dane DeHaan (left) plays Lucien Carr, a man whose charm and wit quickly command the attention of the young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) in their time at Columbia University. John Krokidas' film chronicles the "Libertine Circle" they inhabited — Ginsberg's nickname — and the events that would shatter it.
Clay Enos Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 6:39 pm

Hollywood's been trying to get a handle on the Beat Poets for years. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac led wild — and influential — lives. But films about them, like Naked Lunch and On the Road, have never really clicked with audiences. Kill Your Darlings may fare better, partly because it stars Daniel Radcliffe, and partly because the story centers as much on murder as on poetry.

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Arts & Life
2:29 pm
Mon October 14, 2013

Bob Mondello Remembers Columbus Day 1963, And A Visit To Camelot

President John F. Kennedy enjoys a moment of levity at this Rose Garden ceremony marking Columbus Day, 1963.
AP

Originally published on Tue October 15, 2013 9:24 am

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy hosted a Columbus Day ceremony in the Rose Garden, and I was there. Fourteen-year-old me, with my family. This was a fluke. The President had cracked a politically uncool Mafia joke a few days before. Not wanting to offend Italian-American voters, the White House quickly mounted a charm offensive — inviting government workers like my dad, with Italian surnames like Mondello, to celebrate a great Italian explorer, with the president himself.

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NPR Story
4:17 pm
Thu September 19, 2013

'Prisoners' Filled With Twists And Turns And Moral Ambiguity

Originally published on Thu September 19, 2013 7:07 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the new big-screen thriller "Prisoners," a police detective and a distraught father are at odds over how to solve a kidnapping case. That makes the film sound like a police procedural. But critic Bob Mondello says the filmmakers aim to make it something more.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Two couples, neighbors in a Pennsylvania suburb, have just shared Thanksgiving dinner, and their kids are restless.

(SOUNDBITE FROM MOVIE, "PRISONERS")

ERIN GERASIMOVICH: (as Anna Dover) Mommy, can I take Joy to our house?

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The Record
4:50 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

We Saw Andre 3000 Play Jimi Hendrix

Andre 3000 on set as Jimi Hendrix.
Wenn.com

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 1:23 pm

This weekend was the first chance critics have had to see musician and actor Andre Benjamin play Jimi Hendrix, in a role that fans have complained has kept him from recording new music with his longtime partner in OutKast, Big Boi. NPR's film critic, Bob Mondello, screened All Is By My Side at the Toronto International Film Festival and sent this missive.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Teenage Graceland: A Temporary Home For Troubled Kids

In Short Term 12, Grace (Brie Larson) counsels Marcus (Keith Stanfield), an angry young man about to age out of the foster care system.
Cinedigm

Originally published on Sun August 25, 2013 11:22 am

A group foster home + abused and at-risk kids + tough love + junior staff nearly as troubled as their charges: The potential for cliche is everywhere in Destin Cretton's enormously engaging Short Term 12, and — happily — is everywhere avoided. What might seem on paper a cloyingly sentimental heartwarmer becomes, in Cretton's hands, a briskly believable, often funny, always invigorating and ultimately wrenching story of emotional fortitude.

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Arts & Life
4:31 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Libraries' Leading Roles: On Stage, On Screen And In Song

Poor Donna Reed: Her Mary would have ended up working in a library — shudder — if not for the matrimonial intervention of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey. Happily, 1946's It's a Wonderful Life isn't the only lens through which pop culture assesses the worth of the institution and those who make it tick.
RKO Pictures Getty Images

Originally published on Thu August 8, 2013 4:04 pm

When I was 9, I spent a lot of time at a public library just down the street; I was already a theater nerd, and it had a well-stocked theater section. Not just books, but original cast albums for Broadway shows old and new. One day, an addition: The Music Man, about a salesman who was crazy about a girl named, as one song put it, "Marrrrrrrion, madam librarian."

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Monkey See
6:16 pm
Tue July 23, 2013

90 Years Later, 'Safety' Still The Last Word With Harold Lloyd

Harold Lloyd (left) is the All-American Boy, a striver who'll brave nearly anything to get to the top and win The Girl. Noah Young is The Law (center) and Bill Strother is The Pal.
Criterion Collection

Originally published on Tue July 23, 2013 7:16 pm

There may be no film image more iconic: Harold Lloyd, high above the street, dangling from the minute hand of a giant department-store clock.

The face of the clock swings down; the minute hand bends. It's been 90 years since the silent era's greatest daredevil shot that sequence, and it still has the power to prompt shrieks and laughter.

Lloyd's character was the All-American Boy, innocent in his horn-rimmed glasses, eager to climb the ladder of success — and like many a social striver before him, he was plagued by anxiety that he'd fall before he got to the top.

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Arts & Life
6:19 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

For Actress Ruby Keeler, Another Opening, Another Show

Broadway performer Ruby Keeler was a source of optimism for many during the Depression era, and nostalgia hit audiences hard when she returned to the stage decades later.
General Photographic Agency Getty Images

Originally published on Wed July 17, 2013 7:11 pm

Ruby Keeler was an unknown actress when she starred in the 1933 production of Busby Berkeley's 42nd Street.

But the movie was so popular she was able to land two more splashy musicals that same year — and seven more by the end of the decade. There was nothing extraordinary about her talents as a vocalist or as an actress, but audiences of the Depression era really bought into Keeler's "innocent" onstage persona. In fact, they craved it.

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The Salt
5:32 pm
Mon July 15, 2013

In Argentina, Coca-Cola Tests Market For 'Green' Coke

Coca-Cola Life, a new product being rolled out in Argentina with a green label, is being marketed as a "natural" and therefore lower-calorie cola.
Coca-Cola

Originally published on Mon July 15, 2013 6:40 pm

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

A New Day, A Last Day, For One Man At 'Fruitvale Station'

Michael B. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, an Oakland man with a checkered past and a new determination to get his life right — until one terrible night at Fruitvale Station.
The Weinstein Co.

Originally published on Fri July 12, 2013 6:19 pm

Fruitvale Station, on the Oakland side of the San Francisco Bay: Grainy cellphone video from a day, four years ago, that commanded the nation's attention. Several young black men sit on a transit station platform, white transit police officers standing over them. There's shouting, scuffling, but nothing that looks worrisome.

Then what sounds like a shot.

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Movie Reviews
5:03 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

A Kindergarten, A Story And A Life In Shambles

Mads Mikkelsen's Lukas is a recently divorced kindergarten teacher whose life is turned upside down when officials leap to conclusions after a 5-year-old says something that suggests improper conduct.
Magnolia

Originally published on Sat July 13, 2013 6:39 pm

Lukas works in a Danish kindergarten, and it's clear he's in the right place: When the kids look at him, they see a great big toy.

That's especially true for 5-year-old Klara, the lonely daughter of Lukas' best friend, Theo. Klara's folks fight a lot, and her teenage brother is too busy looking at dirty pictures with his buddies to pay her much attention.

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Movie Reviews
11:09 am
Tue July 2, 2013

A Familiar Wild West, But The Guy In The Mask? Who's He?

There's a backstory for just about everything in Gore Verbinski's The Lone Ranger, including what drives the title character (Armie Hammer) to don the mask — and what's up with that dead crow Tonto (Johnny Depp) wears on his head.
Peter Mountain Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Wed July 3, 2013 7:25 pm

There's never been anything very lone about the Lone Ranger. He's always been accompanied by Tonto, his Native American sidekick; Silver his snow-white steed; and the William Tell Overture.

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Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue July 2, 2013

You'll Want To Hang Up On These 'Secret Conversations'

Originally published on Sat July 20, 2013 5:34 pm

A country girl from Grabtown, N.C., Ava Gardner arrived in Hollywood in 1941 knowing she couldn't act but, gorgeous as she was, she never had to let that slow her down. Her beauty — which reportedly intimidated Elizabeth Taylor — won her not just film roles and studio-paid acting lessons, but the attentions of all-American boy Mickey Rooney, whom she married and divorced before she turned 21. She had a similarly brief union with bandleader Artie Shaw — she called those two her "starter husbands" — before a tempestuous, headline-making marriage to Frank Sinatra.

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Arts & Life
2:54 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

Bullock And McCarthy, Packing 'Heat' (And Laughs) In Boston

'Heat' Stroke: The genius of this buddy-cop comedy is in its pairing of Sandra Bullock (left, as a by-the-book process nerd of an FBI suit) with Melissa McCarthy, who plays a sloppy Boston detective with no patience for procedure.
Gemma La Mana Fox

Originally published on Fri June 28, 2013 9:22 pm

Summer movies, as you may have noticed, are overwhelmingly male-dominated. But this summer, there's an exception: The Heat, a buddy cop flick with a distaff difference.

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Movie Reviews
1:00 am
Fri June 21, 2013

For Pixar's 'Monsters,' A Sophomore Slump

For Billy Crystal's Mike, the big green eyeball of Monsters University, scaring hardly comes naturally.
Pixar

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 12:27 pm

It's a big month for origin stories: first the Man of Steel, now the Eye of Green and the Abominable Furball of Blue — aka Mike and Sully, top scarers at Monsters, Inc. How did they become the best of the best, you ask? You didn't ask? Well, Pixar's got the answer anyway: They trained at Monsters U.

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Movie Reviews
12:11 am
Fri June 21, 2013

'World War Z': When Going Viral Isn't Such A Good Thing

Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) puts his past as a U.N. investigator to work again when he and his family — not to mention the rest of the planet — are threatened by a zombie apocalypse.
Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 11:09 am

World War Z is clearly out to make a buck — and needs to, since with its well-publicized overruns, rewrites and production delays, it looks to have cost gazillions in screenwriter salaries alone — but for its first hour or so, you'd never guess this sprawling contagion epic had anything on its mind but action storytelling.

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Movie Reviews
2:39 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

'This Is The End': The Apocalypse Is One Hot Party

James Franco (left), Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel are all playing themselves in Rogen's apocalypse comedy This Is the End.
Sony Pictures

Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 6:20 pm

So far, the summer's end-of-the-world movies (After Earth, Oblivion) have mostly been provoking unintended yuks, so it's kind of a relief that this week's offerings include one that actually means to be funny.

That This Is the End actually is funny — well, that's even better, especially as it's playing cleverly enough with form to keep your brain occupied, too.

It opens with actor Seth Rogen waiting at the L.A. airport for his comedian buddy Jay Baruchel. And the first thing you hear is a passerby saying "Hey Seth Rogen, what up?"

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Monkey See
3:51 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

When 'G' Movies Are For Kids, Do Kids Avoid 'G' Movies?

The 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz was rated G. The 2013 film Oz the Great and Powerful was rated PG. The difference? Maybe a little violence and a womanizing leading man.
AP/Walt Disney Pictures

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 5:38 pm

If you're a parent with small children, summer is traditionally a time when there's lots for them to see at the multiplex. That's not untrue this summer. But if you're specifically looking for a film with a G rating, you may just be out of luck.

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NPR Story
4:13 pm
Fri May 31, 2013

Movie Reviews: What 'After Earth' And 'Kings' Have In Common

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 9:23 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Two movies open today that at first glance have little in common, the science fiction blockbuster "After Earth" and the suburban indie comedy "Kings of Summer." Leave it to our critic Bob Mondello to find similarities.

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