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."

Bob Mondello takes a look at two holiday crowd-pleasers: the latest iteration of a fantasy involving hobbits: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and the true-life story of the creation of a 1960s fantasy involving a flying nanny, Saving Mr. Banks.

Stephen Sondheim has written quite a few classic musicals — Company, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods — but he's had just one hit song, "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music. And, as he tells an audience in Six by Sondheim, it was a tricky one to write because the star who had to sing it, Glynis Johns, wasn't a singer with a capital "s."

It's movie-binge time — that month-long surge of Oscar hopefuls and would-be blockbusters Hollywood always winds up the year with. On All Things Considered, I talked about some of the big tent-pole pictures: Anchorman 2, The Wolf of Wall Street, the second Hobbit installment and so on.

But here, let's winnow the list down a bit to three films you might want to keep an eye out for if you're intrigued by the artistic process — how artists think and work.

A look at the 50 or so movies — Oscar bait and just plain entertainment — that Hollywood will be offering between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

The new animated musical Frozen is based — sort of, hypothetically, in theory, or at least according to the Disney studio — on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen.

Not in ways anyone would notice, however, and not in ways that will in any way distract moviegoers from thinking about the other works that seem to have influenced its creators; unlike in many animated movies, the borrowings aren't so much in-jokey as structural. Homages, of a sort, and fun to spot.

It's a fact of Hollywood life that the movie industry is dominated by men. Male stars make more money. Male executives make more decisions. And the vast majority of films are about what men do, or think, or blow up. But this weekend, two heroines are the backbone — the impressively sturdy backbone — of two very different pictures.

Woody Grant has white hair, a cranky disposition and a stubbornness that just won't quit. When we meet him, he's being stopped by a highway patrolman as he's walking down the shoulder of a Montana interstate. His son David picks him up at the police station, and it turns out Woody was on an 850-mile stroll to Nebraska, to collect the million dollars promised to him in a letter.

David points out gently that the letter is an ad for magazine subscriptions, but he's no sooner got the older man back to his house then he gets a call from his mom: Woody has hit the road again.

There's a phrase in French — "L'esprit de l'escalier," meaning "staircase wit" — for that moment when you've lost an argument and are walking away, and waaay too late, think of the perfect comeback. If you could just rewind your life a few minutes, you'd win the argument.

That's pretty much the setup in the new British comedy About Time.

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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