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Overall Rating
3.87

Awesome43.93%
Worth A Look: 32.71%
Average: 1.87%
Pretty Bad: 9.35%
Total Crap: 12.15%

7 reviews, 65 user ratings


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Gods and Monsters
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Ian McKellen deserved an Oscar for this."
5 stars

"Died under mysterious circumstances": those are words to conjure with, and also words perfectly befitting James Whale, found dead in his California swimming pool in 1957.

Retired from directing films for almost a decade, Whale was in physical and mental decline -- though only in his sixties -- and his most famous work, his two Karloff Frankenstein pictures, was nearly half a lifetime behind him. Was his death a suicide or an accident? Christopher Bram's 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein had some theories, as does the film version, Gods and Monsters. Both book and movie also take advantage of one key fact about Whale: he was openly gay in an era of closeted directors and stars.

Why is that important? Well, the reason Whale is mainly remembered for his horror movies -- including The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House as well as Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein -- isn't just that they're monster classics. It's also that an unmistakable streak of proud queerness runs through all of them: sympathy for the outcast and misunderstood, the "perverse" and "wicked." Like Tim Burton 50 years later, Whale identified with the Other. (This is particularly true of the wonderful horror-satire The Old Dark House, in which Whale seems to be kidding the ideal of a "normal" family while at the same time celebrating the entertaining wackos.) A case could be made that if F.W. Murnau (also gay) invented goth as we know it in modern culture, Whale brought it to the masses. Whale introduced a stylized filmic code that generations of gay horror fans have gravitated to -- including Clive Barker, one of the executive producers of Gods and Monsters, whose work, underneath all its flesh and gore, shares Whale's sensibility.

As played by Ian McKellen, the sickly old Whale keeps flipping back and forth in time, not out of nostalgia -- indeed, he'd rather not think of his painful past -- but because his life now offers no distractions from his memories. Bill Condon, who wrote and directed Gods and Monsters, sets up the flashback structure in a way that fractures Whale's consciousness, rather than whisking him away to more innocent times. Whale does enjoy thinking back on the days when he was on the set with Karloff and Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive, but that only underscores the impotency and frailty of his existence now. His chief enemy is his failing mind, and the only possible escape from it is death. We may recall Karloff's line in Bride of Frankenstein: "We ... belong ... dead."

Then, as if by Hollywood magic, a distraction appears. He's Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), a hunky greenskeeper working on Whale's lawn. Whale is fascinated by Clayton at first sight -- more aesthetically, we suspect, than sexually (though that, too). Whale can't stop staring at Clayton's skull, as if it were a beautiful piece of sculpture. Clayton's head is also square enough to resemble that of Frankenstein's monster, and strong enough to make Whale forget about his own faulty brainpan. He invites Clayton indoors for tea, chat, and the occasional sketching session.

What develops between Clayton (who is Christopher Bram's invention) and Whale is one of the more intriguing relationships in recent movies. The resolutely hetero Clayton doesn't even realize at first that Whale is gay; after Whale's acidic housekeeper (the sourly funny Lynn Redgrave) gives Clayton the scoop, Clayton doesn't recoil -- he likes listening to the old guy. And who can blame him, with Ian McKellen in the role? McKellen had sensational control of his vocal effects in Apt Pupil, and he has it again here, caressing each vowel and tucking it snugly into bed. When talking to a sycophantic nerd (Jack Plotnick) who comes to interview him and just wants to discuss his horror films, Whale is rather curt and even cruel; with Clayton, Whale speaks with the ardent suavity of a man who knows that the only seductive tool he has left is his voice. Whale seems to view Clayton (Clay for short) as his own clay, to be molded into ... what? A god? A monster? Both, perhaps.

Bill Condon keeps the film's many metaphors from becoming too obvious, and he brings them all together with a gratifying click. Gods and Monsters deepens, becoming less a story about a horny old man lusting for a beefy garden boy than a parable worthy of Mary Shelley herself. In the end, Whale and Clayton both assume the position of god and monster, and the film turns melodramatic; the coda is even more so.

But it's perfectly consistent with the work of James Whale, who was certainly unafraid of melodrama -- in his movies, and in his life. After all, his death has inspired decades of speculation, a novel, and now a film; the sly old entertainer knew how to make an exit, and 'Gods and Monsters' does full justice to him.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=554&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/24/07 12:30:57
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User Comments

5/23/14 kingface The movie touched me and it was completely unexpected. My adoration for Ian McKellan soared 5 stars
5/22/09 Meggie This movie was absolutely powerful. Amazing performances from everyone. 5 stars
11/06/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still good 4 stars
3/27/05 Victor Toledo Great Film. I've seen it quite a few times. 5 stars
12/03/04 froggy a real insight- brilliant by mckellen and made me respect fraser 5 stars
10/25/04 Tom Ciorciari Sadly beautiful. McKellen and Fraser soar. 5 stars
7/01/04 DM Falls apart towards the end, but the performances are spectacular 4 stars
2/18/04 tatum Unexpected humor lifts maudlin story 5 stars
12/03/03 Michael Good Movie, but a bit lacking 4 stars
4/08/03 Mystique McKellen is a GOD ! 5 stars
9/10/02 Jake Lost interest 3/4 through as it was overrated and dull. Who cares? 2 stars
1/21/02 Andrew Carden It Treats Homosexuality Badly, but It's Still An Excellent Movie. 5 stars
9/02/01 Butterbean Brendan's body is fucking awesome in this one. This movie was okay 4 stars
3/29/01 Keely Ian McKellan and Brendan Fraser give 2 of the most compelling performances I have seen 5 stars
2/21/01 Steve in Prague teen critic really should NOT be allowed to review such complicated stuff 5 stars
2/20/01 Greg This was a powerful and moving film 5 stars
1/06/01 Emily this movie is artisically shot, and has substance to back it up. 5 stars
10/03/00 Jed Overrated & is certainly NOT one of the best films ever though it is not a bad one. 3 stars
9/19/00 homer simpson interesting 4 stars
9/06/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble Bought the DVD. Good extras, but slow moving movie can be a bit dull. 4 stars
5/13/00 Elvisfan What the fuck is wrong with you people? hey, teen critic, BUY A CLUE!! 5 stars
1/02/00 Anthony Burroughs Good indi film, a rare piece that may change lives, but was almost lacking in parts. 4 stars
11/30/99 hum see it for the acting 4 stars
9/17/99 strike McKellen was robbed at the oscars. Benigni was good,but nowhere as masterful as this master 4 stars
7/28/99 sydney brilliant! McKellen and Redgrave were fantastic! 5 stars
7/03/99 Ed Wood expected to hate it, but it was fantastic. McKellan & Redgrave show how it's done. superb! 5 stars
6/21/99 James E. Laczkowski Ian McKellan is amazing! A bit slow, but compelling nonetheless. 4 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Ian Mckellan is obviously typecast for the role of James Whale. Total fucking yawnathon. 2 stars
6/11/99 The Bomb 69 great acting, got slow in some parts, but overall well made 4 stars
3/30/99 Powrhug Interesting movie-best Fraser acting to date-liked the parallels within the movie 4 stars
3/02/99 MissDelicateFlower c'mon, it ain't all THAT. 4 stars
2/19/99 The Graduate Brilliant performance by McKellan--I hope the Academy agrees! 5 stars
2/16/99 Suzz Superb acting 5 stars
1/23/99 Heather Great movie, Ian McKellen & Lynn Redgrave are fabulous! 5 stars
1/16/99 madlowry best of 199hate. 5 stars
1/14/99 Rodger Pille Fantastic characters played by fantastic actors. 5 stars
1/12/99 Miss Scarlett A really great movie, probably not for you closed-minded folks 5 stars
1/04/99 Landru The sort of story you would expect to see on Masterpiece Theater. BORING!!!! 1 stars
1/03/99 Leon Russell Boy, I can see that this film is popular! 1 stars
1/03/99 Critic Deluxe This film is somniferous in nature. Shallow dialog and boring characters. 1 stars
1/03/99 One Hung Low A fad movie for campus types and wimpy know-it-alls. 1 stars
1/02/99 Oscar Goldman Dialog is overrated. Hollywood mogul past his peak and hitting on young guys. 1 stars
1/01/99 Jack Ripper Blows! 1 stars
1/01/99 Gregg Gerard This is one of the best films that I have ever seen. Many layers of meaning. A must see. 5 stars
12/31/98 Jack Mehoff This film is aimed at geeks who listen to NPR and select their acquaintances by quotas. 1 stars
12/30/98 Peter Fitswell Truman Capote's soulmate. 1 stars
12/30/98 Zena Yawn. Much verbal ado about practically nothing. 2 stars
12/29/98 Hugh Jass My wife had to wake me when it was over. McKellen is quite believable as a fag. 1 stars
12/28/98 Mercury Hayes A film that only a c*cksucking pseudo-intellectual would love. 1 stars
12/27/98 Thing This film is technically good. The acting by Frazier was weak. A little too artsy fartsy. 2 stars
12/27/98 Clint Beastwood It is a great movie to take date to if you want to kill a romantic evening. 1 stars
12/26/98 Bridgette sir ian is great 4 stars
12/25/98 Jack Wilson A "must see" for PC jerkoffs. Blows by standards of people living on planet Earth. 1 stars
12/22/98 Movie Geezer very diappointed in film---ian is better in apt pupil and George of the Jungle can't act. 3 stars
12/19/98 Louis Munro The sort of film that people who carry PBS fund-raising book bags would love. 1 stars
12/11/98 Mike McFarland wanted to see more about his rise and fall as a director...felt like I was watching a play 4 stars
11/23/98 elizabeth i agree with what mitchell and christine said, this is a filmmaking at its best 5 stars
11/23/98 Mitchell+Christine A must see....only if you're intelligent though... 5 stars
11/19/98 katie it was awesome 5 stars
11/13/98 Lord Of The Dunce Really good movie. Nothing to bitch about. 5 stars
11/12/98 Chris excellent 5 stars
11/03/98 darlene it was excellent.....brendan fraser rocks 5 stars
10/21/98 grunter Faithful adaption of the Christopher Bram novel; some awkward superfluous imagery. 4 stars
10/19/98 Aint-It-Cool Wouldn't recommend this film to anyone who is not an avid movie buff. 4 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Astounding. An awesome film based on the life of horror film director, James Whale. Sweet. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Nov-1998 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  24-Jun-1999 (M)




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