Gods and Monsters

Bill Condon is an interesting director.  How does an artist(e) go from presiding over a slasher sequel to quarterbacking Oscar bait?  Stranger still, how do you go from 1998's Gods and Monsters to a dyad of milquetoast Twilight flicks?  And I didn't even mention Dreamgirls.  One thing is for sure; Condon can't be accused of sticking to a safe, punctilious formula.  I can, however, accuse him of being a talented dude.  Don't you dare try and stop me!  In my opinion, 1995's Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh is an underrated follow-up.  It doesn't touch the original, but it does retain a certain macabre class that suits its bee-clogged libertine of a villain.  By the way, I'm starting an indie rock band called Bee-Clogged Libertine.  Our debut album will be nine hours long and violently self-aware.

If you've been living under a rock-shaped impediment, Gods and Monsters is a semi-fictitious biopic of James Whale.  Of course, Whale helmed Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.  If you weren't privy to that information, get off my website this instant.  Now, I don't know which parts are fictitious, but it matters none.  Was I engrossed by the story?  For the most part, yes.  Ian McKellen didn't have to reach very deeply to play an aging homosexual with a love/hate relationship with Hollywood.  I don't mean to belittle his performance.  I couldn't believe it was the same thespian who disturbed me to the bone in Apt Pupil.  McKellen is effortless, and I wish I could say the same for Brendan Fraser.

I'm conflicted.  I don't care for Fraser's acting style, but I can't deny that he played his character well.  Clay Boone is a gruff, parochial man's man.  If Fraser comes across as flat, it's because he's portraying a fairly one-dimensional person.  His curt dialogue doesn't help his cause, though.  Poor George (of the jungle, that is) has "I'm acting" carved into his brow, whereas McKellen...well, it's like I said.  He's effortless.  There are moments of forced histrionics that disrupt the organic cadence of the script.  Fortunately, these undesirable bits don't make James Whale any less fascinating.  I was genuinely moved by his mental and physical breakdown.  Having knowledge of the plot's eventual denouement didn't rob the climax of impact, although I could have done without the epilogue of sorts.

Clearly, this isn't an out-and-out bloodbath, but it will appeal to genre addicts for obvious reasons.  We visit the set of Bride of Frankenstein through brilliant flashbacks.  Blatant fan service?  Perhaps, but I don't mind.  I have to wonder why Condon didn't give as much attention to Whale's other works.  They're mentioned in passing, yes, but only Frankenstein is used as a stylistic motif.  The Invisible Man, in particular, is seemingly rich in relevant subtext.  I sigh in abashment.  Overall, Gods and Monsters is a strong film that offers a provocative peek into the dying days of a dignitary.  Man, they should put that on the DVD cover.  Not that I'm swayed by corporate handouts.  Where was I?  Oh, I remember.  I laughed, I cried, I shit the bed.  Four stars!

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