Bob Mondello

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Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit



Halloween is tomorrow, and NPR's movie critic Bob Mondello knows all about creating and critiquing scary make-believe worlds. But reviewing high-budget Hollywood films got him thinking about the simpler frights he helped scare up in his first job.


BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, it's a dark and stormy night. Road's washed out...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hello?

MONDELLO: ...Phone's gone dead...


Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


Alma (Maren Eggert) is an archaeologist in I'm Your Man, scientific in her approach, skeptical by nature, but even by her own standards she's asking Tom, the charming lug sitting opposite her in a dance club, some pretty odd questions for a first date.

"What are the sixth and seventh lines of your favorite poem?"

"What's the second-to-last letter of that poem?"

"What's 3,587 times 982 divided by 731?"

It's time to find something good to watch.

Maybe you didn't have exactly the hot vaccinated summer we were all hoping for. While we can't fix the big stuff, our critics do have good news about staying entertained — and challenged, and invigorated, and curious.

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After stockpiling films for more than 16 months, Hollywood is practically bursting with prestige attractions ready to premiere.

Summer popcorn pictures primed the pump, getting roughly 90% of North American cinemas open. Now, with much of the public vaccinated — especially older audiences who tend to patronize the sort of films that open in the fall — the flow is finally getting back to something approaching normal.

Looking at the newscast images this week of Afghans desperate to flee the Taliban, I've been struck again and again by the feeling that the horrors I'm watching in real time are somehow familiar.

In the cinematic head-trip Nine Days, Winston Duke plays an otherworldly bureaucrat whose job is to audition new souls for "the amazing opportunity of life."

He's pretty good at it until an auditioning soul (Zazie Beetz) starts asking questions that make him wonder whether he really remembers what's so amazing about that opportunity.

Updated July 29, 2021 at 6:00 PM ET

Scarlett Johansson is suing the Walt Disney Co. for releasing her movie Black Widow on streaming and in theaters at the same time.

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When we meet Iván on a New York subway platform at the outset of I Carry You with Me, he's lost in thought. He looks to be in his early 50s, and is musing about a time some 30 years earlier in Mexico that the film is about to recreate. It's a past he remembers as filled with waiting.

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The band Sparks – really a duo, of L.A.-born brothers Russell and Ron Mael – is marking its fifth decade as a living enigma this year. As director Edgar Wright wonders in his new documentary, The Sparks Brothers: "How can Ron and Russell Mael be successful, underrated, hugely influential and overlooked, all at the same time?" (You can hear my review of the film in the audio player above.)

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With Hollywood blockbusters still missing-in-action — it'll be weeks before A Quiet Place Part II makes your local cinema a less quiet place — it's nice to report that other countries are happy to fill American screens.

Scotland's refugee dramedy Limbo, opens in select art-house theaters this weekend, as does Cliff Walkers, a spy-flick from celebrated Chinese director Zhang Yimou, and both boast visual palettes eminently worthy of the big screen.

Nomadland, the epic odyssey of a woman who loses her job and her home and joins the growing number of Americans living out of vans as they search for work, is the big winner at the 2021 Academy Awards.

It was named Best Picture, beating out the likes of Aaron Sorkin's historical drama Trial of the Chicago 7, and David Fincher's story of old Hollywood, Mank, about the creation of Citizen Kane.

Forget #OscarsSoWhite for 2021. With wins for Youn Yuh-jung as Best Supporting Actress, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor, there is a real possibility that performers of color will sweep all four of this year's Oscars for acting.

Pixar's Soul has won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, becoming the only film ever to win that award without playing in U.S. movie theaters.

Last October, with the COVID-19 pandemic having closed most of the nation's cinemas, Disney announced that it was opting to release Soul — which centers on a jazz musician who's trying to reunite his accidentally separated soul and body – as a Christmas release exclusively on its streaming service Disney+.

After years marked by the hashtags #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale, industry observers are crowing over this year's topline numbers. For the first time in Academy Awards history, almost half the nominees in the acting categories (9 of 20) are performers of color, and more women (70) are nominated throughout the 23 categories than in any previous year.

Oscar's box-office bounce this year is a resounding thud.

Most awards seasons find film fans seeking out Best Picture nominees in the run-up to the Academy Awards telecast, with the eventual winner reaping millions of additional dollars post-telecast.

This past year of masks, lockdowns and capacity restrictions has been the most catastrophic 12 months in the history of movie theaters. It has also been a banner year for diversity at the Oscars.

ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters said late Monday they are ceasing operations, closing all of their roughly 300 screens mostly found in California.

None has inspired more distress among Hollywood notables than the Cinerama Dome on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard.

"After shutting our doors more than a year ago," the company said in a statement, "today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations."

It's Capetown, 1981. A family gathers for what looks like a back-slapping birthday party — but is actually a farewell.

In the South African drama Moffie, Nicholas, a teenager who's as subdued as his relatives are raucous, will head off in the morning for military service that's compulsory for boys between 16 and 20. White boys that is. This being the era of apartheid, brutal segregation, and white minority rule, his basic training will prove anything-but-basic.

The pandemic has had most of Hollywood cowering for the last year or so, but nothing intimidates a Titan.

Crashing in where even Marvel's Black Widow fears to tread, Godzilla vs. Kong is opening on any screen that'll make room for it — home or cinematic. And with theaters coming back to life in Los Angeles and New York City, there's a lot of fresh real estate for them to trample.

It's been just over a year since anyone has seen a "live" Broadway musical – but ever since I got hold of a lovingly crafted new-slash-old cast-album recording, I've been thinking about a show once left for dead.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in April of 1964, Anyone Can Whistle was a flop. It came into Manhattan with a great pedigree, headed by two movie stars making their musical debuts — Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick, each an Oscar nominee just a year earlier for Manchurian Candidate and Days of Wine and Roses, respectively.

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Every aspiring writer should be as lucky as Joanna Rakoff. She was able to turn the story of her first job into a memoir. Now that memoir has been turned into a movie. Bob Mondello has our review of "My Salinger Year."

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That report was produced by NPR senior arts editor Tom Cole, which we would not normally mention, except Tom is retiring this week after 33 years at NPR. Congratulations, Tom. Our critic Bob Mondello has thoughts.