Bob Mondello

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On the Beach, the 1959 film version of Nevil Shute's cataclysmic bestseller, kicks into gear with a newscast designed to transport 1950s movie audiences from the nuclear age into a post-nuclear age:

"Scientists disagree as to when radiation will reach Australia," intones the newscaster. "The atomic war has ended. But the prime minister reports no proof of survival of human life anywhere except here."

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Missing the magic of seeing a movie in the theater with a crowd - hardly the most pressing problem right now. Big-screen viewing is not an essential activity, not even for critic Bob Mondello, though he does miss it.

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It's been a decade since celebrity pals Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon had their dueling impressions of Michael Caine go viral in the movie "The Trip."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE TRIP")

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.

Sequestering is getting old, right? And so are reruns of every sitcom you've ever watched. Maybe it's time to face the music ... and dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

They danced America through the Great Depression. No reason they can't dance us through this — he, suave and ever on the make; she, lovely and feisty when she feels she's been crossed. He's forever crossing her.

Crip Camp opened the Sundance Film Festival two months ago, and it was supposed to arrive in theaters today. But with nearly all movie theaters closed, it's arriving instead on Netflix — and it's a window on a revolution.

The first person we meet is Berkeley Rep sound designer Jimmy LeBrecht, who's climbing above the theater's stage without the use of his legs. He was born with spina bifida. "They didn't think I was going to live more than a couple of hours," we hear him say. "Apparently I had different plans."

There's some hopeful news for the film industry coming from China.

As the number of new cases of the coronavirus declines in China, the Chinese government is allowing a few movie theaters to reopen for the first time since the country's theaters were shuttered by decree in January.

According to the entertainment news website Deadline, about 500 have reopened (less than 5% of Chinese exhibitors), mostly in Xinjiang and in far-flung provinces across the country.

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.

Critics are often asked "What's your favorite movie?" — and most of us have learned to deflect the question.

If you see a few hundred films a year, "favorite" is a moving target. Stiil, when pressed, I do have a ready answer: Buster Keaton's silent, Civil-War comedy The General.

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Actor Max von Sydow, whose career stretched across seven decades, died Sunday at the age of 90. The imposing Swedish star played the title character in The Exorcist and more than 100 other roles.

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The indie comedy "Saint Frances" was a film fest hit even before it won awards and a distribution deal at South by Southwest. Today it opens in theaters, and critic Bob Mondello says it's a low-key charmer.

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In Hollywood, the bean counters always talk at this time of year about the "Oscar Bounce" — the boost films get at the box office from Academy Award nominations.

The bounce, which can amount to tens of millions of dollars, is much sought-after by film studios, but their calculus may be altered by recent changes in the industry — especially by the advent of streaming services.

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.

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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.

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Encore: '1917' Review

Jan 6, 2020

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Now film critic Bob Mondello's 10 best movies of the year. It is a list so jam-packed with movie greatness that - well, I'll let Bob tell you.

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