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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."

For the first time in more than a month, a handful of U.S. movie theaters is screening films for the public. It's a toe-dip, not a dive. Santikos Entertainment in San Antonio opened three of its nine Texas cineplexes with masks and social distancing protocols in place this past Saturday. Two days later, EVO Entertainment did the same with two of its Texas theaters.

It's a long way to liftoff — there's not even a studio attached yet — but the latest news about Tom Cruise is not just a Hollywood rumor. The film industry website Deadline reports that the Top Gun and Mission Impossible star is in preliminary talks with both NASA and with Elon Musk's Space X to film a feature-length action-adventure in orbit.

On Wednesday, the day all three of the largest U.S. movie exhibitors — AMC, Regal and Cinemark — shut down operations, Hollywood reported the lowest box office figures since the industry began tabulating numbers independently decades ago.

With just 440 of the nation's more than 5,500 theaters (which account for some 40,000 screens) open for business, North American cinemas took in less than $300,000 for all the movies currently in theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Kirk Douglas, the self-described "ragman's son" who became a global Hollywood superstar in the 1950s and '60s, died on Wednesday. He was 103. Douglas was often cast as a troubled tough guy in films, most famously as a rebellious Roman slave named Spartacus. Off-screen, he was devoted to family and to humanitarian causes.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're talking a lot about Iowa today. Many NPR reporters are on the ground telling us about what's happening with the caucuses. Our movie critic Bob Mondello is not one of them. In fact, he's never even been to Iowa. But as we first heard him tell us in 2016, Bob feels like he knows a lot about its residents thanks to a classic American musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

As a college sophomore, I knew exactly what the Apollo astronauts would find when they arrived on the moon: a desolate rockscape, craters shining white in reflected earthglow — and a big, black monolith.

Stanley Kubrick showed us all of that in the top-grossing movie of 1968 — 2001: A Space Odyssey — a full 15 months before Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind. And even Kubrick was late to the party: Moviegoers had been heading moonward from pretty much the moment there were filmmakers to lead the way.

Two films open this week with titles that make them sound a lot sexier than they are: On the Basis of Sex and Vice.

They're both biopics — Sex about a liberal Supreme Court justice, Vice a conservative vice president. But they differ in ways that go far deeper than politics.

On The Basis Of Sex

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Fall is often the most intense movie season of all. Awards contenders begin to come into focus after the Toronto International Film Festival, while comedies and thrillers continue to hit screens. We got to see a lot of upcoming films at TIFF — below you'll find write-ups of 15 movies we really enjoyed and a heads-up about nearly 40 notable releases.

Actor Burt Reynolds, who played good ol' boys and rugged action heroes in an acting career that spanned seven decades, has died. Reynolds died Thursday morning at a Florida hospital following a heart attack. He was 82.

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