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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Movie Reviews
1:25 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

Matthew McConaughey, Fiercely Committed To This 'Club'

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey takes on the role of Ron Woodroof, a Texas man who, diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s, begins to smuggle experimental drugs in from Mexico.
Anne Marie Fox Focus Features

Originally published on Fri November 1, 2013 3:49 pm

Texas good ol' boy Ron Woodroof was a player — drugs, alcohol, women, gambling. As Dallas Buyers Club starts, he's at a rodeo, snorting cocaine, with a fistful of bets, when he gets it on with two prostitutes. Not a "healthy" lifestyle — one that's left him gaunt, weak, coughing.

With the advantage of hindsight, what's ailing him seems obvious now. Back in 1986, it didn't, until doctors did a blood test and told him he had 30 days to live.

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Movie Reviews
9:40 am
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 9:39 am

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
2:59 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 3:39 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
11:29 am
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 6:24 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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Arts & Life
1:31 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 1:04 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
3:16 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 4:16 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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Book Reviews
1:38 pm
Sat July 20, 2013

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

Originally published on Sat July 20, 2013 2:34 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
3:14 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 4:11 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
2:32 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 3:40 pm

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Movie Reviews
12:12 pm
Sat July 13, 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 3:39 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
5:48 pm
Fri July 12, 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 3:19 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
6:29 pm
Wed July 3, 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 4:25 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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Monkey See
12:51 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 2:38 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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Monkey See
7:15 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Summer Movie Preview: Kids, Theft, The Apocalypse, And Joss Whedon

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing.
Elsa Guillet-Chapuis Roadside Attractions

Trending, trending. M Night Shyamalan sees dead people. I see trends.

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Movie Reviews
1:49 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

More Time Together, Though 'Midnight' Looms

Still Talking: After 18 years, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) apparently have plenty left to hash out.
Despina Spyrou Sony Pictures Classics

Originally published on Sat May 25, 2013 2:39 pm

Celine and Jesse are sporting a few physical wrinkles — and working through some unsettling relational ones — in Before Midnight, but that just makes this third installment of their once-dewy romance gratifyingly dissonant.

It's been 18 years since they talked through the night that first time, Julie Delpy's Celine enchanting and occasionally prickly, Ethan Hawke's Jesse determined to charm; their chatter then, as now, scripted but loose enough to feel improvised as captured in long, long takes by Richard Linklater's cameras.

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Movie Reviews
3:14 pm
Sat May 18, 2013

New 'Trek' Goes 'Into Darkness,' But Not Much Deeper

Zachary Quinto as Spock, with Chris Pine as Kirk, in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Zade Rosenthal Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Sat May 18, 2013 4:47 pm

The opening sequence of J.J. Abram's new entry in the Star Trek universe has all the ingredients of the classic franchise.

There's Kirk and his crew bellowing on the bridge, everyone worrying about the prime directive and our favorite Vulcan trapped in a volcano.

OK, I'm in. I may not be a fanboy anymore, but I sure was in my youth, and having these guys in their youths again is just as cool at the outset as it was last time.

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Movie Reviews
1:47 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Polley's 'Stories': A Family Saga Strikingly Spun

A young Sarah Polley and her actor father, Michael Polley, on a long-ago day; the photo is one of many family memories that surface in Stories We Tell, a superb meditation on dramatizing memory from the director of Away from Her.
Roadside Attractions

Originally published on Sat May 11, 2013 2:58 am

Sarah Polley grew up the fifth of five children in a Canadian theatrical family. Her father, Michael, is a transplanted British actor; her mother, Diane, was an actress and casting director. No wonder Sarah feels her family's narrative has the stuff of drama.

"I'm interested in the way we tell stories about our lives," she says in the film, "about the fact that the truth about the past is often ephemeral and difficult to pin down."

Prophetic words, those.

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Movies
1:34 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

At The Movies, A Swirl Of Style And Substance

Light It Up: Director Baz Luhrmann (right, with stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan on the set of The Great Gatsby) brought a lush visual sensibility to a tale whose tone not everyone thinks of as epic.
Matt Hart Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 2:41 pm

Here's a movie pitch: A celebrated millionaire, known for public extravagance, lives right on the water in a fabulous mansion. He's smooth but reckless, drives like a maniac, has a powerful enemy and — despite a rep as a playboy — has only one girlfriend, who barely registers on-screen.

You're the producer, so whaddya think? Does his story require lavish digital effects, swooping cameras, a rap soundtrack and the full-on 3-D treatment?

If I tell you his name is Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man, probably yes, right?

What if his name is Jay Gatsby?

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Movies
2:27 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

In 'Iron Man 3,' A Metalhead Gets The Blues

Window Dressing: Tony Stark's ongoing Iron Man research involves more than one suit of self-assembling armor.
Marvel

Originally published on Thu May 2, 2013 3:07 pm

Y'know, I think this bummed-out superhero thing is catching. Depressed Bat-guy, brooding Spider-dude, even the Man of Steel seems existentially troubled in previews of his most recent incarnation.

And smart-alecky Iron Man? He'd appeared inoculated by Tony Stark's reflexive snark from succumbing to a similar ailment — but even he's having anxiety attacks these days. Ever since that Avengers dust-up with those unpleasant aliens last summer, he's evidently been having trouble sleeping.

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Movie Reviews
12:26 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Digging Into Ricky Jay's 'Deceptive' Card Tricks

Veteran magician Ricky Jay reveals much about himself in a new documentary on his life of deception. His card-trick techniques? That may be another story.
Kino Lorber

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 5:37 pm

When people talk about movie magic, they rarely mean card tricks. They're talking about digital wizardry and special effects.

But a new documentary called Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is all about card tricks — and a man who has devoted his life to them.

Card artist Ricky Jay keeps up a constant stream of chatter in his act onstage — everything from gambling poems to stories about The Great Cardini — and it's all very entertaining, but the patter is designed to distract you from what he's doing.

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