Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I usually stay away from biopics because let's face it, they aren't REAL.  Sure they're based on real events, but they're always dramatized because let's face it, life doesn't package itself neatly into a convenient 2-3 hour story.  And there are some like "A Beautiful Mind" and "Frost/Nixon" that take substantial liberties with their subjects.  All that said, I really enjoyed "Chaplin."

As you might have guesses from the title, "Chaplin" is the story of Charlie Chaplin (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), the most famous man of the silent film era.  His "Little Tramp" character appeared in dozens of films from the 1910s-1930s even after sound (or "talkies") made silent films obsolete.

Like most of the world's great clowns, though, Chaplin's life was anything but happy.  His mother Hannah (Geraldine Chaplin, granddaughter of the real Chaplin) tried to be a singer on the London stage but suffered from stage fright and was ultimately driven to madness.  His father was probably a drunk whom Charlie never saw.  Since standing in one night for his mother on stage, Charlie became drawn to show business.  In particular he performed on vaudeville, performing prat falls and somersaults to mimic a wealthy drunk.

One night at the club where Charlie is performing, he meets a dancer named Hetty (Moira Kelly) and becomes instantly smitten, although she's only sixteen.  She promises to wait for him as he goes off on a tour of America, from which he never comes back.  This is because while performing in Butte, Montana of all places he gets a telegram from George Sennett (Dan Ackroyd) in Hollywood.  It's while working for Sennett that Chaplin develops the "Little Tramp" character.

But before long, Chaplin has become popular enough to strike out on his own, where he writes, directs, and stars in his own films at his own studio.  While he's tasting financial success for the first time, he gets word that Hetty has married someone else.  In a pattern repeated through much of his early life, Charlie marries a young girl named Mildred (Milla Jovovich), who soon divorces him because he's working all the time and because he has no respect for her non-existent intelligence.

In one of the movie's funnier moments, it parodies a silent film as Chaplin, his half-brother, and cameraman/editor (played by a then-unknown David Duchovny) save the footage for "The Kid" and splice it together in Salt Lake among other places before police at the behest of Charlie's ex-wife can take custody of it.

The Roaring 20s were a great success for Chaplin, who was then one of the biggest stars in the world, but his personal life remained a mess.  He goes through a couple more young wives, one of whom gives him two sons.  A return trip to London reveals that Hetty is dead, emphasizing that you can't go home again.

As the '30s dawn, talkies become the thing but Chaplin refuses to adapt to the new technology, at least for a while.  At the same time, he gets more political in his movies and outside of them as well.  This brings him to the attention of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Kevin Dunn), who sees Chaplin (and much of Hollywood) as subversive.  Chaplin really draws the ire of Hoover and the general public by being an outspoken critic of Hitler and the Nazis before America's entry into the war.  He goes so far as to finally have the Little Tramp speak in "The Great Dictator."

From there Chaplin's professional life mostly gives way to his personal life and the various trials he faces thanks to Hoover and Joseph McCarthy.

As I said at the beginning, biopics aren't really REAL in portraying their subjects, but the good ones at least present the subjects in an interesting way.  "Chaplin" was to me not just a good biopic, but a great one.  Though it has to gloss over much of Chaplin's life to fit into 2 1/2 hours, I found it fascinating.  If nothing else I'd like to read a real biography or perhaps the actor's autobiography for a little more insight into this man who helped popularize movies, making reviews like this one possible.

BTW, as far as biopics go, maybe in 20-30 years we can get the Robert Downey, Jr. story.  I bet that one would be pretty fascinating too.

That is all.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)
Metacritic score:  N/A

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