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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 that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

For more than three decades, Mondello has reviewed movies and covered the arts for NPR, seeing at least 300 films 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 USA Today, The Washington Post, Preservation Magazine, and other publications, and has appeared as an arts commentator on commercial and public television stations. He spent 25 years reviewing live theater for Washington City Paper, DC's leading alternative weekly, and to this day, he remains enamored of the stage.

Before becoming a professional critic, Mondello learned the ins and outs of the film industry by heading the public relations department for a chain of movie theaters, and he reveled in film history as advertising director for an independent repertory theater.

Asked what NPR pieces he's proudest of, he points to an April Fool's prank in which he invented a remake of Citizen Kane, 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."

When a Broadway musical feels as effortlessly right as Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's did to audiences in 1956, it's easy to imagine that it simply sprang to life that way. Not My Fair Lady. The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, is filled to bursting with some of the best-known songs in Broadway history — "The Rain In Spain," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live" — but it turns out the show originally had other tunes that almost nobody knows.

A film critic doesn't often have to review movies about film critics — probably a good thing — but sometimes, as with Hernán Guerschuny's postmodern rom-com The Film Critic (El crítico), there's nothing to be done. That's also a good thing, as it turns out.

It's 1992, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the Oscar-nominated Tangerines, and in a bleak, northwest corner of the Republic of Georgia called Abkhazia, the world has more or less come apart. Warring factions — Chechen separatists, Georgian troops — patrol rural roads in jeeps outfitted with bazookas and machine guns. The locals have mostly fled for more urban areas.

Most Americans don't have a clear picture of what everyday life is like in Iran for the obvious reason that Iran has been isolated from the West for more than three decades. Still, windows open occasionally. A few years ago, Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language film, A Separation, offered Western eyes a glimpse of a middle-class Iranian marriage under stress.

Having recently celebrated the accomplishments of musicians and dancers in his transcendent documentaries The Buena Vista Social Club and Pina, it perhaps makes sense that Wim Wenders would now turn his camera on a man who wields a camera.

David Robert Mitchell's debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, was a gentle, evocative story of teens and summer crushes set in Detroit. Unthreatening, sweet in the way of Freaks and Geeks, and the coming-of-age stories of John Hughes, it embraced the confusion of adolescence with warmth and affection.

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.

Plenty of movies sound as if they'll warm you up — Heat, The Towering Inferno, Hot Fuzz, Blazing Saddles, The Long Hot Summer, Paris When It Sizzles, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, In the Heat of the Night — the list goes on and on.

But just as you can't judge a book by its cover, it's tough to take a film's temperature from its title. Yes, In the Heat of the Night does swelter, both from being set in Mississippi and from having Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger spend most of its length hot under the collar. But most of the rest of those films won't warm you up much.

Argentina has been in the news lately for the bizarre circumstances surrounding the death of a special prosecutor. So perhaps it makes sense that the country's Oscar nominee for best foreign language film is called Relatos salvajes, Spanish for Wild Tales. The film is an anthology — a collection of six separate and unrelated stories — every one of which lives up to that title.

Movie musicals used to be box-office poison, but lately they've found ways to sing to a wider crowd. The onscreen Les Miz did away with lip-synching, Annie went multi-cultural, Into the Woods belted out revisionist fairy-tales — and combined, those three movies have taken in almost three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: For the first time in Academy history, we are announcing all 24 categories. So let's begin.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a boom time for Hollywood — generally the biggest box office week of the year. It is also a time of Oscar hopefuls, a group that included two foreign-language films in 2014: Two Days, One Night from Belgium, and Russia's Leviathan, both of which tackle social issues through the lens of family.

Hollywood would just as soon forget 2014 when it comes to box-office numbers. Despite the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the arrival of the final Hobbit sequel, movie grosses are off about half a billion dollars from last year.

What about quality? This year's films were quirkier than usual — but still, my cup runneth over.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The movie "Selma" opens tomorrow. It's the story of the marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Critic Bob Mondello is not alone in noting that protests over the killing of unarmed black men make "Selma" especially timely.

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