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."

Call it an accident of the calendar: two pairs of filmmaking brothers both opening movies on the same weekend, both films about the awkwardness of growing up. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a post-mumblecore slacker comedy from the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay. The Kid with a Bike is a Belgian slice-of-life drama from the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc.

Robert De Niro's last outing with director Paul Weitz was less than auspicious: The comedy Little Fockers received terrible reviews. Being Flynn, their second collaboration, is a more serious affair about the estranged relationship between a fractious father and his son.

When Hollywood imagines the future, from Logan's Run to Avatar, it tends to picture living spaces as sterile and characterless, without any cultural clues to the person who lives there. No record library, no DVDs, no Hemingway on bookshelves ... often no bookshelves.

In the 11 years since the Oscars introduced an award for Best Animated Feature, the category has been dominated by children's movies, often with computer-animated pandas, penguins and ogres at their center. This year's a little different. Two of the animated films are subtitled, and one is definitely aimed at adults: the Spanish film Chico and Rita, an animated love story steeped in jazz.

Shrek, Hitch, Gattaca: What's in a name? Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — but for Hollywood the question is more like, "Would that rose, by any other name, sell as many tickets?"

Whenever the late New York Times caricaturist Al Hirschfeld sketched Carol Channing — whether picturing her as an indomitable Dolly Levi, swathed in feathers and sequins, or as carbon-crazed Lorelei Lee, eyes sparkling like the diamonds that were that splendid creature's best friends — he always made her appear a creature composed entirely of lipstick, mascara and hairspray.

Wizards, transformers and vampires did their best, but they couldn't transform 2011 into a magical year for Hollywood: Despite all the 3-D and IMAX screenings and the premium prices that come with them, industry box office sagged by half a billion dollars compared with last year. But quality? That's another story.

The opening moments of A Separation lay out the story you'd expect to see in a film about a wife who is leaving her husband: Simin (Leila Hatami) and her bank-clerk spouse, Nader (Peyman Moadi), are explaining heatedly to a judge why they want a separation. Or actually, why they don't want it.

After being force-fed a steady diet of Oscar hopefuls for almost a month, I may just be ready for empty-calorie time at the cineplex. But I have to confess a sense of relief this week, as I watched entertainments that didn't seem to want to do anything other than show an audience a good time.

Time now for a home-viewing recommendation from our film critic, Bob Mondello. With a new movie version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opening this week, Bob's suggesting the TV original.

At some point in my youth, I must have known the nursery rhyme "Tinker, tailor/ soldier, sailor/ rich man, poor man/beggar man, thief," but since 1979, the instant someone says "Tinker Tailor," the next two words that occur to me are "Alec Guinness."

Time now for a home video recommendation from movie critic Bob Mondello. This week he's looking back a half-century, to a ground-breaking musical that won ten Oscars, West Side Story.

Time for our home video feature, where NPR movie critic Bob Mondello suggests something for those who like to pop their own popcorn and pop in a video. For this Halloween week, Bob suggests sending a shiver up your spine with some classics from: Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection.

In the space of a few weeks, Hollywood will give us four serious dramas about mentally unstable characters. It's a minitrend at best, and most likely coincidental. But it got me thinking about how filmmakers use narrative form to shake up audiences and put them in the same frame of mind as the characters they're watching.

It's been a big year for Hollywood remakes — more than a dozen, not counting sequels. There were new versions of Conan the Barbarian and Arthur this summer. Fresh incarnations of Footloose and The Thing open today. And soon we'll see Hollywood's take on the Swedish hit The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Cue the standard complaint: Hollywood has run out of ideas.

Hold on, though. Let's think this through.

A political thriller, The Ides of March, opens Friday. That's one week before the ides of October — and a few months before the first presidential primaries.

Time for our movie critic Bob Mondello to suggest something for home-viewing. Today, he's exploring a 15-disk collection of classic TV comedy that nobody's seen for a while: The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes.

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