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Movie Reviews: Three Bio-Pics


Missionary Sam Childers, baseball manager Billy Beane and food writer, Nigel Slater - they're all guys you could have a cup of coffee with if you were in the right place at the right time. They're also guys who are being impersonated by actors this week in new movies, which gives our film critic, Bob Mondello, a bio-pic triple feature to review.

BOB MONDELLO: One film is affecting, one is effective and one's a little affected. Start with the affecting one, "Machine Gun Preacher," the story of how Sam Childers, a drug dealing biker gang thug got religion and ended up doing charity work in war-torn Sudan. Charity work involving children, once a soldier shows him a stream of what he calls night commuters flowing into towns to sleep on the streets.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Soldier) Their parents send them out because it's safer to sleep here than in their own homes.

GERARD BUTLER: (as Sam Childers) Why?

MAN: (as Soldier) Because death comes at night in the villages. These are the lucky ones so far, the ones the rebels haven't found yet.

MONDELLO: Does this sound like a standard heartstring-tugger? Well, it would probably get pretty thick if someone besides Marc Forster were directing. Forster is the guy who made "Monsters Ball," "Stranger Than Fiction" and the most recent James Bond flick. Sentimental isn't really his thing.


BUTLER: (as Sam Childers) Get your little book there and do whatever it is you got to do to get me that (inaudible).

MAN: (as Unknown Character) Sam, you need to calm down.

BUTLER: (as Sam Childers) Don't tell me to calm down.

MONDELLO: The folks behind "Moneyball" have no objection to tears if they're of the, oh, my God, we're winning, variety.


MAN: (as Announcer) What is happening in Oakland?

MAN: (as Announcer) It defies everything we know about baseball.

MONDELLO: Take this exchange between manager Brad Pitt and statistics-loving player evaluator Jonah Hill, who comes to his first day on the job with a thick stack of computer printouts.


BRAD PITT: (as Billy Beane) I asked you to do three. How many did you do?

JONAH HILL: (as Peter Brand) Forty-seven.

PITT: (as Billy Beane) Okay.

HILL: (as Peter Brand) Actually, 51. I don't know why I lied just now.

MONDELLO: Do you hear how much character information just got squeezed into 24 words? Tobacco-chewing Pitt, laid back and kind of jokey. Nervous Hill, so eager to please. It's the relationship between these two guys, not what they make happen in the infield, that drives "Moneyball."


HILL: (as Peter Brand) Hi, Mr. Shot(ph). It's Peter Brand. I apologize for putting you on hold earlier. Billy asked me to call you back. He's on another line.

PITT: (as Billy Beane) Tell him we want $225,000 for Rincon.

HILL: (as Peter Brand) Billy says he needs $225,000 for Ricardo Rincon. Please. Yes, I added the please at the end.

MONDELLO: Which brings us to "Toast," a film a' clef about a budding chef, Nigel Slater, who grew up in a home where cooking wasn't mom's strong suit. Still, a foodie finds comfort where he can.


OSCAR KENNEDY: (as Young Nigel Slater) No matter how bad things get, it's impossible not to love someone who made you toast. Once you've bitten through that crusty surface to the softer underneath and tasted the warm, salty butter, you're lost forever.


MONDELLO: Hear that crunch? The food in "Toast" is downright tactile, from the gloppy canned stuff that mom cooks to the mouthwatering pies prepared by a cleaning lady who more or less moves in after mom dies, much to Nigel's annoyance.


KENNEDY: (as Young Nigel Slater) You're wasting your time. I mean, you're far too common and, anyway, you're married.

HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (as Mrs. Potter) All I'm doing is darning his socks.

MONDELLO: The cleaning lady, Mrs. Potter, is played with delicious crassness by Helena Bonham Carter and, as Nigel grows older, life in the house they share becomes a bake-off for dad's affections.


BONHAM CARTER: (as Mrs. Potter) That's the best lemon meringue you've ever tasted. That's the best lemon meringue anybody's ever tasted. If I was you, son, I'd give up. You'll never even be in the vicinity."

FREDDIE HIGHMORE: (as Nigel Slater) What did you put in there to make it so fluffy?

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.