Bob Mondello | WABE 90.1 FM

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."

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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

American theater lost its mother on July 29. Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler, widely regarded as the matriarch of America's regional theaters, died at 91 of congestive heart failure in Washington, D.C.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

A short story about a long marriage — "In Another Country" by David Constantine — provided source-material for Andrew Haigh's breathtaking marital drama, 45 Years, but it's been enhanced and sharpened in its transition to the screen. What was once a story that harked back to WWII, and was loosely based on a real incident, has become a devastatingly intimate tale about a couple unsettled late-in-life, by an unexpected revelation.

Last week, James Bond, this week James White — proof, should any be required, that fall movies come in all shapes and sizes.

Filmmaker Josh Mond, making his feature directing debut after producing a slew of intriguing indies, brings intensity to an intimate domestic drama about a feckless New York City slacker who appears to have a fight-or-flight approach to a familial crisis.

Spectre opens in Mexico City — a Day of the Dead festival in full swing — streets crowded with partying skeletons, and director Sam Mendes celebrating the dead in his own way with a nifty Orson Welles tribute: A Touch of Evil-style tracking shot that has no obvious edits for at least five minutes as it follows Bond (Daniel Craig) and a gorgeous brunette (Stephanie Sigman) from the costumed parade route into a hotel, up in a crowded elevator to a well-appointed room where she settles seductively on a bed — only to watch him zip out onto a roof ledge with a quick shirt cuff

China's Cultural Revolution was a period of political turmoil, launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, a dark decade that many in Chinese society would prefer to forget. So it says something that Zhang Yimou's new drama Coming Home, which is set during those years, has been a big success in China.

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Some movie titles tell you exactly what the movie's going to be about. Others, not so much.

The new documentary Do I Sound Gay? falls firmly into the first category. (The comedy Tangerine, which has nothing to do with citrus, falls just as firmly into the latter; more about it in a moment.)

But first, the obvious question: Do I sound gay? I mean, you hear me on the radio all the time. (Or, if you don't, you can also hear me in the audio link above.) So really, do I?

With Spy topping Hollywood's box-office charts this weekend, Melissa McCarthy becomes the latest woman to head a major box-office hit in 2015. And while that merely puts her in good company this year, it's hardly been common in the past.

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Longtime NPR contributor Pat Dowell died Sunday after a long illness. She was 66. Pat covered film for nearly 30 years. Our critic Bob Mondello remembers his late colleague.

Seen from street level, the young Eastern European men cruising a Paris train station at the outset of Eastern Boys would doubtless look like individuals. But filmmaker Robin Campillo has positioned the camera overhead, and from his bird's eye perch it's clear they're working in tandem — looking out for each other, stealing, soliciting.

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

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

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

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