Bob Mondello

If you're looking for evidence of Andrzej Wajda's filmmaking smarts, it's right there in his first, black-and-white movie, made in 1955. A trench-coated young man races through Warsaw at the height of World War II, past corpses dangling from streetlights, pursued by Nazi soldiers who chase him into a building and up a central staircase.

In theory, the two new movies dealing with America's racial history ought to describe a cinematic straight line: Nate Parker's provocatively titled drama The Birth of a Nation imagines the events leading up to an 1831 slave revolt, while Ava DuVernay's documentary, 13th, examines the legacy of the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. A matched set...yes?

In practice, the underlying social narrative is twisty, and the films intersect in complicated ways.

One of the nation's biggest environmental disasters is now the season's big disaster flick. Sound insensitive? Well, rest assured the filmmakers were aware of — and have managed to sidestep — any qualms audience members are likely to have.

Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the oil drilling rig that turned into an inferno in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana — a story of tragic, entirely avoidable missteps and astonishing personal heroics.

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A forgetful fish named Dory turned out to be this summer's big movie star.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING NEMO")

ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

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It's 1989 in the new movie Southside With You, and two attractive young lawyers are going out for the first time. Were their names not Michelle and Barack, we might not be along for the ride. But they are, and the ride is sweet in the idyll constructed by first-time feature-writer/director Richard Tanne.

The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, both in real life and in the various fictions built around her.

New York indie filmmaker Ira Sachs makes quietly observant relationship movies that are designed to get under an audience's skin in the gentlest of fashions, but to the most emotional of effects.

His last film, which dealt with the pressures the outside world exerted on a marriage, was called Love Is Strange. His latest is called Little Men, but might easily be subtitled "Friendship Is Strange."

American theater lost its mother on July 29. Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler, widely regarded as the matriarch of America's regional theaters, died at 91 of congestive heart failure in Washington, D.C.

Here's how Alfred explains villainy to Batman in The Dark Knight: "Some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

The first time Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in a film (Sleepwalk With Me) he played a stand-up comic. This was not a huge stretch for him, as he is, himself, a stand-up comic.

His second film, Don't Think Twice, doesn't stray too far from that model. It's about an improvisational comedy troupe a lot like the one in which Birbiglia got his start. And if this seems like quite a bit of navel-gazing for one filmmaker, rest assured that Birbiglia's been keeping it funny.

This piece was inspired by NPR's summer recommendation series, Read, Watch, Binge!

Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats will gather in Cleveland and Philadelphia for a ritual that has become almost entirely ceremonial: Each party will "select" pre-selected presidential candidates.

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Actress Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the most popular film of all time, retired from showbiz decades ago, apparently feeling that 49 films, two best actress Oscars, and a best-selling memoir were accomplishment enough for one career.

Friday in Paris, she celebrates her 100th birthday, which seems a good moment to reflect on the mix of sparkle and resilience that marked her public life.

1982: a big year for initials. Steven Spielberg releases E.T., and Roald Dahl publishes The BFG. The former stands for Extra-Terrestrial, the latter for Big Friendly Giant — characters who are similarly positioned as outsiders in a child's world where adults are mostly absent.

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The Roaring '20s are in full roar when we meet fabled editor Maxwell Perkins in Genius, but to look at him, his nose perpetually buried in a manuscript, you'd never guess he is walking through a New York that's populated by flappers and swells swilling bathtub gin.

On the street, on a train, in his office awaiting a new writer, this chaperone to Scribners scribes (who included Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald) is not at all a demonstrative man. As played by Colin Firth, in fact, you'd be likely to call him "unreadable."

A relationship drama with societal implications, Desde Allá (From Afar) hails from afar — specifically, from Venezuela — and marks a striking debut for first-time writer director Lorenzo Vigas.

His method is to draw you in by holding you at a slight remove — a habit he seems to have picked up from its leading man.

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Robert Cenedella, the titular painter in the briskly entertaining new documentary Art Bastard, is a New York artist who has spent years battling the New York art establishment. To be clear, he is a bastard, in that he was born to parents who weren't married. But also in that he's an inveterate troublemaker — a mocker of other artists — who can be a thorn in the side of even people who are trying to help him.

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Between superheroes and talking animals, Hollywood is having a stellar year. Movie grosses are at an all-time high, and now comes blockbuster season. NPR critic Bob Mondello has this selective preview.

Give the man credit: Congressman Anthony Weiner, having inspired countless headline puns a few years back when he was caught texting crotch shots, put himself out there when most people would've run for cover.

Dating is plenty complicated as things stand. But suppose romance came with deadlines, and a penalty for not meeting them. That's the dilemma Colin Farrell faces in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' latest weirdness. The maker of Dogtooth, which takes home schooling to comically absurd extremes, and Alps, which does much the same for the process of grieving, is tackling notions of romance in The Lobster, and let's just say that rom-coms don't come much stranger.

For decades, few films made in Cuba have found their way to U.S. theaters. But with diplomatic relations restored between the two countries, this past weekend brought not one, but two. Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, the first Hollywood film to shoot on the island nation in decades, turns out to be a dispiriting, ineptly directed affair, about which the less said, the better.

But a father-son drama called Viva is lively enough to be an art-house hit, illuminating a Havana subculture that may be almost as unfamiliar to Cubans as to Americans.

We all love our mothers, right? Though sometimes they drive us crazy. From the title of Susan Sarandon's new comedy, The Meddler, you might guess that mix of fealty and frustration informs the worldview of filmmaker Lorene Scafaria, and you'd be right.

The film centers on Marnie (Sarandon), a widow who's moved to L.A. after her husband's death to be closer to Lori (Rose Byrne), her screenwriter daughter. And that's a good thing, as they're both still grieving — though Lori sometimes feels as smothered as she does mothered.

The camera pulls back from an old-looking, animated incarnation of Disney's Cinderella castle logo directly into a very real-looking 3-D jungle at the outset of The Jungle Book. Critters, plants waterfalls, a teeming environment through which is plunging one little flesh-and-blood boy, Mowgli, running for his life, scampering up tree-trunks, swinging from vines to get away — the camera careening after him, also trying to get away — from a huge black panther.

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Texting in movie theaters - generally not allowed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED VOICEOVER: Tiny sounds add up to epic disturbances. Resist the urge to talk and text during the movie.

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