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(1998) (Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser) (Not Rated)

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Drama: A once famous, and outwardly gay movie director hires a robust gardener and the two enter into an often awkward, but platonic relationship in this speculative account of the last days in the life of legendary director James Whale.
Decades after being at the top of his profession, former movie director James Whale (IAN McKELLEN) now lives in relative seclusion with his overly protective and longtime housekeeper, Hanna (LYNN REDGRAVE) in Hollywood, 1957. Having recently suffered a mildly debilitating stroke, Whale often experiences bad headaches, phantom odors, and must take medication to prevent hundreds of thoughts from simultaneously racing through his mind.

A known homosexual with a penchant for younger men, Whale's attention has recently been fixed on Clayton Boone (BRENDAN FRASER), a young and robust gardener recently hired to tend to Whale's home. Learning of his employer's famous past, the lower middle class Boone is happy to tell his friends, including sometime girlfriend, Betty (LOLITA DAVIDOVICH), about Whale, but they all laugh at the director's now seemingly antiquated films.

Even so, Boone and Whale soon strike up an odd, platonic relationship, with Boone agreeing to pose for Whale's portrait sessions. That arrangement, however, nearly falls apart once the gardener learns of the old man's sexual orientation. It's also not helped by Whale's sudden and recurring mental lapses where he imagines and relives moments from his past, including a tragic affair with a fellow soldier during WWI, and his directing of the movie, "Bride of Frankenstein."

As Whale begins to realize his stroke-induced condition will only continue to worse, he slowly begins to manipulate Boone in hopes that the young man may be able to help him in rather unexpected ways.

Despite the interesting title, unless they're fans of Fraser ("George of the Jungle"), or of old-time horror films, it's not very likely.
Although the film is not rated, it's the equivalent of a R-rated movie, and would get that rating for sexually related material, nudity, and profanity.
  • IAN McKELLEN plays the formerly famous director, a self-admitted homosexual with a penchant for younger men, who's recent stroke has left him with odd mental lapses and sentimental memories.
  • BRENDAN FRASER plays the young and robust gardener hired to work on Whale's home. A drinker and smoker, Boone is initially put off by the stories and thought of Whale being gay, but soon befriends the man.
  • LYNN REDGRAVE plays Whale's fastidious and overprotective housekeeper who will do anything for Whale, but abhors his sexual orientation.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    Best known for his "Frankenstein" movies, legendary British director James Whale was the Steven Spielberg of his day. Despite his brief meteoric career in the 1930's where he rose to become one of the more prominent directors in Hollywood, however, in little more than a decade from his first release, and mainly due to creative differences with Universal Studios, Whale forever removed himself from moviemaking. He subsequently took up art, reportedly had a fondness for wild, gay parties and later became something of a recluse.

    Found dead in his swimming pool some sixteen years after his last picture was released, the cause of his death -- accident or suicide -- remained a mystery for some thirty years. If that story sounds intriguing enough to be made into a movie of its own, you're in luck, because it now has.

    A speculative account of Whale's degenerative last year following a debilitating stroke, "Gods and Monsters" is a slow moving, but nearly always captivating guess about what landed the once powerful cinematic force into the swimming pool he himself never used.

    Featuring a stellar performance from Ian McKellen, and very good supporting takes by both Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave, the film obviously won't be for all tastes, but it's clearly a well-executed, character-driven drama.

    Although there's not much to the plot -- Whale recounts his memories of his WWI lover as well as the making of his movies to his new gardener -- what's there is constructed well enough to easily hold one's interest. It's the film's central performance by a legendary thespian playing an equally legendary director, however, that will earn the film its kudos.

    Played with appropriate amounts of zest and zeal by Ian McKellen ("Apt Pupil," TV's "Rasputin"), the well-regarded British thespian simply becomes the legendary Whale, and is a delight to watch in this role that will surely earn him an Oscar nomination.

    Whether humorously turning the tables on a young reporter anxious only to hear about the Frankenstein movies, or interacting with his overprotective housekeeper, McKellen hits a perfect stride with his character. Filled with funny quips and just the right contrasting touches of disgust regarding his medical condition balanced against self-induced amusement from his still sharp wit, McKellen's performance alone is worth the price of admission.

    Of course a character drama needs more than one participant to work, and that's where Brendan Fraser comes in. Having put aside his sophomoric caveman ("Encino Man") and Tarzan-like ("George of the Jungle") characters, Fraser is quite good and surprisingly holds his own as the young, blue collar counterpart to McKellen's upper-crust persona.

    The smaller supporting role of Whale's housekeeper is perfectly played by Lynn Redgrave ("Shine," "Georgy Girl"). Her "I know what's best for you, but I better keep my mouth shut -- at least most of the time" character is priceless, and by providing the film with her exasperation- based humor, Redgrave is continuously fun to watch.

    Working from Christopher Bram's novel, "Father of Frankenstein," writer/director Bill Condon (the cult films, "Strange Behavior" and "Strange Invaders") knows that his audience, like an overeager reporter who appears early in the plot, wants to know about those Frankenstein movies (for which Whale had a love/hate relationship for their stereotyping him despite his other pictures such as "Showboat").

    Delivering some fun, elaborate and convincingly constructed "flashback" moments on the shooting set of "Bride of Frankenstein," Condon more than adequately pays homage to those great films.

    While Whale's movie career and some memories/flashbacks to his involvement in WWI nicely break up the film's methodical dramatic pieces, one wishes for more knowledge of both. For instance, the film never mentions that Whale was a German P.O.W. during the "Great War," or that a later German leader -- namely Hitler -- indirectly caused Whale's downfall at Universal (the studio's new owners feared Whale's "comeback" and antiwar picture, "The Road Back" wouldn't play well overseas, particularly in Germany, and that sparked creative "final cut" disagreements).

    Although Condon is obviously more interested in Whale's final year and his fictitious attraction to his young male gardener, such matters would have made the film a bit more interesting and given Whale's character a bit more depth (by exploring in greater detail what helped forge his later years' demeanor).

    Even so, the film is an interesting look at the man behind the monsters of his films -- their god if you will, hence one meaning of the title -- and the inner monsters he may have battled throughout his life. Featuring a great performance from Ian McKellen, the film might not please everyone, but anyone with a love of old films and an interest in who made them, should certainly find it intriguing. We give "Gods and Monsters" a 7 out of 10.

    Although it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, here's a quick look at its content. Some viewers may have problems with the lead character being a homosexual and that he has a penchant for younger men. Although no such sexual activity occurs, there is a flashback to a party where we briefly see completely nude men (full frontal) in and around a swimming pool. We also briefly see a heterosexual encounter with partial nudity and movement.

    Profanity is extreme with at least 10 "f" words, moderate amounts of drinking and smoking occur, some brief war activity is seen, and thematic elements regarding suicide, growing old and becoming ill, and the afore mentioned homosexuality are also present throughout the film. As always, should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for you or someone in your family, we suggest that you take a closer look at the content that we've listed.

    Of special note for those concerned with bright, repetitive flashes, several instances of that occur during the film.

  • Whale pours beer for Boone.
  • Boone and others drink beer in a bar in several scenes.
  • Whale and Boone have wine with lunch.
  • People have drinks at a reception, while Boone has a beer and Whale has two martinis.
  • Whale drinks some sort of liquor while Boone has a beer.
  • Although really neither bloody nor gory, we see an imagined scene where Boone, acting like Dr. Frankenstein, takes a scalpel to Whale's head (we only hear the incision) and then pulls out his brain and transplants another one in its place (with no blood).
  • We also see scenes of dead soldiers in a trench (imagined and not bloody) and a dead body in a swimming pool (neither bloody nor gory, just dead).
  • Some may see Whale's homosexuality and penchant for younger men as having some of both.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Rifles/Machine guns/Explosives: Seen in brief flashbacks to WWI.
  • Phrases: "Banging," "Bugger," "Put out," and "Horny" (sexual), "Fruit," "Fairy," "Queer," "Queens" (for homosexuals), "Shut up, "Breaking my balls," "Screwing," "Loser," "Nutty" and "Kiss ass."
  • None.
  • A few scenes have just a minor bit of dramatically suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • At least 10 "f" words (1 used sexually as is the term "bugger"), 1 "s" word, 3 slang terms for male genitals ("pr*ck"), 4 hells, 4 damns, 1 ass, 1 S.O.B., and 2 uses of "God," and 1 use each of "Good Lord," "Jesus" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • Although we don't see much attempted activity until the end, Whale is a self-admitted homosexual with a penchant for younger men. In one scene, he mischievously makes a flamboyant, young male reporter remove an article of clothing for every question that he answers (until the man's down to his underwear). In another he kisses a male visitor good-bye.
  • Whale has a large painting that shows male full frontal nudity.
  • Boone, responding to Betty's sarcastic comment about Whale wanting to draw his face, says, "This kisser wasn't so bad that you couldn't lay under it a couple of times." She then comments that Whale is probably acting famous "so that he can get into the big guy's pants..." Boone then replies, "F*ck you," to which she says, "Not anymore, you don't."
  • Later, when Boone says that Whale is too old to think about sex, Betty replies that's all the old men she knows think about. She then comments on Boone "banging horny divorcees in your trailer," and Boone says, "So I guess this means you don't want to f*ck?" Finally, a comment is made about Betty "putting out."
  • While we don't see anything (and it's not done in a sexual manner), Hanna has to hold Whale's genitals to help him urinate.
  • Boone makes a comment about having to "kiss ass to get a piece of it."
  • Whale remembers/daydreams seeing several nude men in his swimming pool, and we several instances of male full frontal nudity.
  • Boone and a woman (presumably Betty) have sex (standing up or with her on his lap) that shows partial nudity and graphic movement, but only lasts a few seconds.
  • Although talking about the difference in their clothing size, Whale does tell Boone, "You're so large, you wouldn't want to attempt to get into my pants.
  • After Boone decides to pose nude for Whale (we don't see anything), Whale has him put on an old gas mask and then comes on to him, rubbing his shoulders, kissing his body, and reaches down to his crotch. Boone quickly stops this.
  • Boone smokes several times during the film, while Whale does the same, but fewer times (both also smoke cigars). Betty smokes twice, while others in the bar smoke, as do some soldiers, a princess, and both the hermit and Frankenstein monster in one of Whale's films.
  • Whale comments on not having liked his father, and Boone makes a similar comment (and calls home in one scene and visibly isn't happy with the conversation).
  • The historical accuracy of the film (especially after the press notes claim that this is "an inquiry into what may have happened...").
  • The effects of having a stroke.
  • Whether Whale's homosexuality had anything to do with the end of his career.
  • Suicide.
  • We see some brief flashback images to WWI and see guns fired and explosions, but don't see anyone actually being hit (although we do see a trench full of dead, but not bloody soldiers that turns out to be a fantasy).
  • Boone knocks something over in anger when he leaves Whale's home.
  • After Whale sexually comes on to him, Boone elbows him in the gut, Whale jumps on his back, and Boone then slaps Whale several times on the floor. Whale then wants Boone to strangle him, and the young man starts to, but quickly lets him go.
  • A person commits suicide by drowning themselves, but we only later see the body floating in the pool and not the actual act.

  • Reviewed October 19, 1998 / Posted on November 20, 1998

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