Mr. McKellen conveys this so vividly that he is likely to send older people out into the night with new resolve to embrace change and design new worlds for themselves.

GODS AND MONSTERS

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


Gods and Monsters is an ambitious movie that realizes its goals in high style. It is a speculation about the last months in the life of James Whale, the gifted gay director of some highly respected movies in the 1930s. After Waterloo Bridge, The Invisible Man, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Showboat, he created his landmarks: Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

When Universal Pictures stumbled in its bid to become a studio of the first rank, Whale lost the autonomy he had enjoyed in his remarkable career. He simply walked away from the movie business to live in comfortable seclusion in Pacific Palisades.

The movie opens in 1957, the year of Mr. Whale's death. Whale (Ian McKellen) is tended by his fiercely protective housekeeper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), and he is fascinated by the newly hired gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), a handsome drifter who loves Whale's stories of the old days. During long visits with Whale, the younger man triggers painful memories in flashback for the old man. Remembering his losses, both professional and personal, Whale plunges into melancholy.

The movie is a compelling look at the short career of an early movie giant and at his friendship with an alienated young man who finds living in Whale's past far more interesting than living in his own present. These are two men alienated from their surroundings and drawn to each other.

Bill Condon has adapted Christopher Bram's biographical novel, "Father of Frankenstein," with meticulous attention to period detail. His recreations of the old films are the stuff of technical wizardry. In a fine piece of literary analysis, Condon weaves scenes of the making of Frankenstein with scenes of a Beverly Hills party that reunites the director with his actors. In old age, Mr. Whale and his monsters meet again.

No one could bring this to life better than Ian McKellen, the British master who plays beautifully with the American cast. Brendan Fraser, notably remembered for George of the Jungle, is inspired as Clayton Boone. He creates a winning portrait of a man full of admiration for the older man who has done things with his life-a satisfaction that eludes him and his peers. Lynn Redgrave, as the old housekeeper with mittel-European accent and values, deftly mixes the needed comic relief with her loyalty.

Ian McKellen has one surprise left for the audience: a devastating picture of what happens when a person chooses to remove himself from work and life prematurely. Disengaged too soon, the lonely man can do nothing but deteriorate. He is stranded in memory. Even with his still sharp intelligence, he has no foot in the changing world around him. Mr. McKellen conveys this so vividly that he is likely to send older people out into the night with new resolve to embrace change and design new worlds for themselves. That's quite a gift from a small movie with a slight budget and a 24-day shooting schedule.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Lions Gate
Rating : NR
Running time: 1h45m


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