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."

An Oscar-winning director, a major star, a survival saga that makes Heart of Darkness look like a pleasure cruise... and all anyone wants to talk about is the bear attack.

And in fact, it's hard not to start there. It comes about comes 24 minutes in. Fur-trapper Hugh Glass, played by a hirsute, bundled-up Leonardo DiCaprio, has helped his fellow trappers escape a harrowing Arikara massacre. In most movies that would be the scene everyone's talking about — arrows piercing vocal cords in mid-cry, death raining down from trees.

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.

With bigger advance sales than any movie in history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens needs reviews like a Death Star needs a decorative fountain. But all you really want to know is whether it's good, right? Well, in fact, it is better than it had to be. The fanfare starts and we're all kids again, anyway. Thirty-eight years and sticking it out through three lackluster prequels hasn't dimmed the force of memory. I still believed — I'm guessing we all believed — that the magic could come back, and now director J.J. Abrams has proved it.

The words "This Is An Emergency" flash on-screen in red block letters at the outset of Spike Lee's satirical call to disarm, Chi-Raq, setting up the newscaster who'll set up the title.

"Homicides in Chicago, Ill., have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq," he says.

Hence Chi-Raq. During the title sequence, rapper Nick Cannon, who plays an up-and-coming rap star in the film, underscores the urgency in song: "Please pray for my city / Too much hate in my city / City of Chi-Raq."

Looking for evidence that truth is stranger than fiction? Alan Bennett has a story for you: The Lady in the Van, about a writer named Alan Bennett who let a homeless woman move her van into his London driveway for "a couple of weeks," only to have her stay for 15 years.

This was, by his own account, awkward while it was happening, but from that awkwardness has come a best-selling book, and a splendid part for Maggie Smith on the radio, in a hit London play and now in a movie.

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