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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"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.

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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.

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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.

A little seminar in documentary technique is being offered by two docs about women this week. The filmmakers for All This Panic take a fly-on-the-wall approach with their teenage subjects — no narration, no explainers. The directors of God Knows Where I Am tease out their story as if it were a mystery novel.

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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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As the shorter half of the sketch-comedy duo Key & Peele, Jordan Peele was ever on the lookout for distinctive ways to tackle ethnic stereotyping, so it makes sense that he'd leaven his film directing debut with more than just a dash of social satire.

Get Out, billed in its opening credits as "from the mind of Jordan Peele," is a horror-flick with a decidedly Peelean take on genre and on race — one that subverts familiar horror tropes while encouraging audiences to simultaneously react to them, and step back to look at them more closely.

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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.

Hollywood is in the process of closing out a record-breaking, $11.2 billion year. The big draws were talking animals — including a fish called Dory and a bear named Baloo — a slew of superheroes and a new batch of Star Warriors. The numbers have movie studios — especially Disney, which led the pack — celebrating.

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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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