Chaplin

Take Robert Downey Jr. out of the equation, and Chaplin remains a handsomely produced old school biopic. Focus on its star, and the 1998 film achieves a gravitas that lends greatness to it. A sweeping overview of Charlie Chaplin?s momentous and scandal-ridden life would present any filmmaker with daunting challenges. Director Richard Attenborough does his workmanlike best, hitting all the major spots in a rags-to-riches-to-exile-to vindication story as fantastic as any movie made in the land that Chaplin himself put on the map. Inclusion has its price -- exposition clogs the screen; dialogue often acts more like a biographical road map than human conversation. No matter. What Attenborough has in his favor saves the day: an obvious affection for his subject, albeit one that?s clear-eyed enough to recognize the near-Shakespearian flaws of this titan of the screen, as well as the extraordinary performance he extracts from his lead actor. While he nails Chaplin?s inimitable comic persona and physical routines down cold, Downey?s remarkable emphatic talents truly reveal themselves when portraying Chaplin out of cinematic character. Downey embodies the torment of the neurotic man behind the comedic mask, burdened by familial guilt, passion for underage females, and gnawing perfectionism. As lithe as he is demonstrating the famed pratfalls, Downey comes most alive as Chaplin ages, capturing the blend of pride and evasiveness that the elderly exile used as emotional armor in his later life. To grant both figures -- past and present -- their due, Downey?s is a performance that his revered subject deserves.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.