Gods and Monsters (1998) Poster

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Profound story of companionship and growth
trask774 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
**(SPOILERS within)**

I read through all the comments and feel that a significant element of the movie was mostly overlooked -- the relationship that formed between Whale and Boone was not as one-sided as many have chosen to view it. While the movie appears to focus on James Whale's transformation into a human being at peace with his mortality, the more powerful dramatic transformation takes place with Clay Boone's character.

Clayton Boone inadvertently provided James Whale a means for revisiting and perhaps coming to terms with his past. More importantly, Boone's unexpected pity in the face of Whale's intentionally uncomfortable verbal and physical sexual assaults in effect provided Whale with the strength to end his life on his terms.

But what did Clayton Boone receive from this relationship? Boone is the son of an alcoholic father, emotionally confused and unable to connect with others (re: Frankenstein). His burgeoning friendship with Whale was a means for him to try yet again to understand and come to terms with his roiled emotions stemming from childhood. Boone failed to please his alcoholic tyrant Father (indeed, a Sisyphean task since children of alcoholics are doomed to fail in meeting the perceived emotional needs of the abusive parent), and thus Whale represents another Father figure for Boone, seemingly as impenetrable and emotionally unavailable as Boone's own father.

This film is actually more about a young man growing up and coming to terms with himself. However the notion that all Boone needed was to confront his homosexual fears and overcome his rigid concept of manhood is off target. Boone is still trapped in adolescence because he is desperately trying to please his father; this makes the willing commitment to befriend Whale despite his sporadically abusive behavior all the more realistic. And the removing of the towel near the end is a watershed moment in which victim opens up once more to the abuser in a moment of complete vulnerability and trust. That his trust is betrayed (as it must have been so many times before by the alcoholic parent in his life) is heartbreaking, and yet both men recover and acknowledge friendship, platonic love and mutual respect in the aftermath. In the process of reliving his childhood torment through a Father-Son relationship with James Whale it is Clayton Boone who transforms himself and is fulfilled through Whale's friendship and shared wounds from an over demanding father. Whale's suicide at the end was not a reaction to failed lust for Boone -- far from it. His suicide was borne from the strength and clarity he derived from Boone's compassion, allowing Whale to face his mortality and willingly make peace with his past.

I understand that many feel the ending scene with Boone stomping about in the rain like Frankenstein was unnecessary and over the top. But showing a contented Boone who had obviously progressed from one-dimensional relationships to become a caring father and husband himself was the most important story element in the movie. The James Whale character in the movie may have thought himself a monster, a sexual predator with few redeeming qualities, but before dying he made a connection with another wounded soul, enabling both to heal. Whale's own redemption may have been the A plot of the movie, but Clayton Boone learning to sort out his confusion and pain was the B plot and the exclamation point in the film's final scene. Watching him playfully 'Frankenstein-about' in the rain in recognition and celebration of the relationship that helped him achieve fulfillment was a celebratory moment, and not an unfortunate throw-in to appeal to typical Hollywood standards.
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A reflection of Frankenstein
Brandt Sponseller18 February 2005
A historical drama about famed director James Whale (Ian McKellen), Gods and Monsters finds Whale primarily in his last years, living relatively modestly in 1950s Hollywood. A heavy emphasis is placed on his homosexuality and his complex relationship with his young male gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser).

Gods and Monsters is an unusual film in that although it's not very plot heavy, there is little feeling of a lack of substance. It's really a personality study, but a very deep, multifaceted look at Whale, Boone and to a lesser extent, Whale's domestic helper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave). As such, the film largely hinges on its performances, which couldn't be better.

Fraser is perhaps the most impressive, as the tenor of his role is very different than most of the material he's tackled over the years. He never fails to sell his nuanced character, who is something of a lower-class enigma with a clearly troubled past and a desire for a simpler future, but who hardly knows how to express or achieve what he desires. The description is almost a perfect reflection of Whale, as well, as we come to realize. Of course McKellen and Redgrave are good, too, but their roles are more along the lines of some of their past fine work.

Echoing the parallel between Boone and Whale's histories and dispositions, Whale's life is shown as being deeply mired in the themes of his two Frankenstein films, even though he is shown as publicly wanting to play them down. Whale is something of a cross between Colin Clive's Dr. Frankenstein, Ernest Thesiger's campy Dr. Pretorius and Boris Karloff's sympathetic monster, enjoying the role of creator as much as the simple pleasures of food and a smoke, and ultimately desiring friendship rather than forlorn loneliness in his twilight years. Whale's loss of his creation on The Road Back (1937), from which he temporarily recovered his composure, and the perceived "monstrosity" of his sexual orientation and eccentricities began a slow process of alienation from the milieu he loved at one time. Like the Monster seeking emotional recompense, especially in the face of imminent destruction in the wake of a stroke, Whale attempts to latch on to whatever intimacy he can find from others, and ultimately expresses an embrace of death over living.

Although the historicity of the film may be questionable on some accounts, it's important to remember that the film, although a historical drama, is still fiction, and many changes are by way of normal "literary license", designed to underscore more abstract points about Whale's life and character.

Director Bill Condon nicely inserts select scenes from Whale's past, including his experience in World War I, which informed his films such as Journey's End (1930), and a wonderful recreation of Whale filming a scene from Bride of Frankenstein (1935). We also see an almost amusingly truncated version of the latter and some typical peanut gallery remarks showing how Whale's work was apt to be misunderstood. Carter Burwell's beautiful, understated music is also worth noting. My only small complaint about the film is that I would have like the music to appear more frequently than it did.
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Remembrance Of Things Past
Alberto Rienzi16 December 2007
Ian McKellen is superb as James Whale, the man behind the celluloid Frankenstein. Departing from that point, everything works. We're taken by the hand of this elderly celebrity in a world - and a town -that worships celebrity. The town also worships youth and box office grosses. For Whale, youth and box office grosses are way back in his distant pass. That's why, I imagine, the arrival of the gardener with Brendan Fraser's body, awakens in the old man some kind of spark. Their relationship is filled with a sort of emotional suspense that makes the entire movie, riveting. The story is told with a sort of personal melancholy that Bill Condon, the young writer/director, seems to understand fully. Compassion is in his eye and in his soul. The scene in which Ian McKellen remembers his swimming pool crowded with naked young men is one of the most beautifully reminders of how the aging heart remains alive within his memories. Very moving, very sad and very, very good.
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And the Best Actor Oscar in 1998 went to....who???
dglink6 June 2004
Admittedly, I am a sucker for films about Hollywood. From "Sunset Boulevard" to "The Bad and the Beautiful" and even "The Carpetbaggers," watching a film about movies is always a pleasure, guilty or otherwise. "Gods and Monsters" can be added to that short list. The semi-fictionalized story of director James Whale's last days is a melancholy tale of an intelligent, creative mind that is beginning to fail and Whale's desperate fear of that mental failure. He sees in the handsome hulking form of his gardener an individual that reminds him of his most famous film creation, Frankenstein's monster, and he tries to reach out to him and offer the friendship that his film creation was denied. However, his mind is swimming in and out of fantasy, memory, and reality, and his gesture initially confuses the gardener, who sees it only as a sexual advance. In one of the Motion Picture Academy's most bewildering choices, the Best Actor Oscar for 1998 went to an Italian comic who has not been heard from since instead of to the brilliant Ian McKellan in what is arguably his finest film role as James Whale. Lynn Redgrave is funny and touching as his housekeeper, and Brendan Fraser, an adventurous actor who does not shy away from stretching his abilities, has yet to find a better role than that of Clayton Boone, the gardener. Beautifully written and directed by Bill Condon, the film is more than just an homage to old Hollywood. "Gods and Monsters" echoes some of the themes of "Sunset Boulevard" in its portrayal of a Hollywood veteran, who has been banished and forgotten by the industry and has retreated into a private world of his own making where he still directs the scenes.
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Humans and Humans
DaLlama30 December 1999
Truth be told, it's not easy to write a film review as disconnected as I am from the underlying inspirations and principals of the movie in tow: Gods and Monsters. I knew little about James Whale and the Frankenstein franchise, possessed virtually zilch experience with Bill Condon (aside from the trivial baggage that his previous _and first_ feature film was the Direct-To-Oblivion sequel to the Scariest-Movie-Of-All-Time-When-I-Was-Fourteen, Candyman.), and unceremoniously avoided anything to do with Brendan Fraser. So, there's not much I can say about historical accuracy, era juxtapositions, or tour-de-force performances. All I know comes from the ninety-eight or so minutes I had with the film.

Which were pretty splendid, to say the least. What more, I was pleased by how little the film seemed to hit me over the head. Not with a lengthy diatribe over the political progressions of societal acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, not with any sort of disgusted expose of Hollywood's miscreants. Instead, I found a minimal but simplistically acceptable plot moved along by wonderful acting, vivid portrayals of what it's really like, beneath the typical distractions, gimmicks, and veils, to be a human being. Ian McKellan astounded me. Fact or fiction, he wasn't necessarily James Whale, but a complicated, reserved, and often misunderstood director who found a glimmer of intrigue and desire for his new gardener, Clayton Boone, played impeccably by Brendan Fraser. From their initial meeting with Whale indulging in staring at Boone hard-driving an edger, I was struck by a remarkable sense of kinship between the two, which only got better as the film unfolded. And, with Hanna--the third vertice of the bizarre love triangle--the edgy buffer between the men, I felt incredibly comfortable just watching three very different people open up to each other and to me. The irony of the title, Gods and Monsters, is that whether someone or something is considered a 'God' or 'Monster' is largely due to perception...human perception. We invent our gods and our monsters daily, and they are usually people we know, love, hate, or admire. I spent a very good ninety-eight minutes, mostly from being in the company of those three fellow humans.
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Sir Ian McKellen & Lynn Redgrave Were Robbed of Oscars!
goldie_8024 June 2007
Among the most intriguing characters I've seen is Hanna (Redgrave). I knew she was in the film, there she was in the opening seen & I still kept looking for her! That's how terrific her characterization is of the Hungarian Catholic widowed maid to the flaming gay famed director, James Whale (Sir Ian McKellen).

Is there 'any' character that Sir McKellen can't play to perfection today? In "God's & Monster's", McKellen mastered Whale & gave Fraser an acting lesson ::winking::.

To watch the two real life friends, Lynn Redgrave & Ian McKellen, play purrfect foils--Hanna praying for her beloved "Mr. Jimmy's" 'unspeakable' sinful soul because he's gay was hysterical. McKellen pretending to flirt with Fraser, the epitome of a t-totally straight guy that any gay guy could clock in a heartbeat, was also side-splitting. Hanna believing they were having a romantic relationship was just too much fun as she threw serving trays at them & gave Whale scorned looks as if to kill whenever he'd have Fraser in for lunch or tea. These subtleties made the movie an absolute delight.

Thus, while heavy drama was going on, there was a comedy line-in-cheek throughout the motion picture. Of course, the plot proves why "Mr. Jimmy" was provoking his hunk of a gardener (Fraser) . . . but I'm not telling. That's the best part of the picture.

Whoever claims this movie is 'gay-bashing' doesn't know the meaning of it. The movie was about the director of "Frankenstein & Bride of Frankenstein." He just so happened to be gay, & thus, part of his life story as a gay man had to be featured in the film. Hanna playing a religious foil was right on time for the moment of the release of the film when the major church denominations are factionalizing over gays being equal in the churches! That's a great film--one that conveys a social struggle in the character of one great actor, Lynn Redgrave. She got the attitude of the church exactly right.

Doing a queer critique of "God's & Monsters," I rate it a 20 out of 10! This was not the silly, slapstick, "To Wong Foo," bizarre, "Stonewall," that was all out of context from the reality of the characters, or there ever so unreal (but cute), "Priscilla Queen of the Desert." This story is very true to life then & now. It came out right on time, as well.

Lynn Regrave delivered the performance of her lifetime! In my mind she won the Oscar. McKellen gave another of his stellar characterizations & also won my Oscar. I also feel the picture should have been best picture of the year. Fortunately, many other notable awards were given that the blindered Film Academy was too dense to do itself. Redgrave was most robbed of her Oscar because she was anyone but herself! She wasn't even recognizable as Lynn Redgrave, for heaven's sake.

So if anything or anyone was gay bashing, it was the Film Academy itself, for overlooking the Oscar winning performances of Redgrave & McKellen & the Best Picture of the Year.

. . . & I'm still watching it in late August 2007.
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Gentle coda to life of celluloid monster maker
Philby-325 March 2002
There's a certain amount of déjà vu about this movie as it covers some of the same ground as `Love and Death on Long Island', with John Hurt and Jason Priestley. Here we have Sir Ian McKellen as aging queer and Brendan Fraser as young male bimbo, but physical sexuality is hardly a possibility since the old boy is too infirm. Still, that doesn't stop him thinking about it, and of course there are all those old memories crowding in, helped by his recent stroke.

The old fruit is someone quite famous in the history of film. He is James Whale, an English recruit to Hollywood in the 30s who directed at least one seminal masterpiece, `Frankenstein' and its sequel `Bride of Frankenstein' and several other memorable films including `Showboat' and `The Invisible Man'. Unusually, Whale was a production designer before turning to direction and his visual sensibility contributed greatly to the quality of his films. His directorial career in decline, he turned to painting in the 1940s. We see him in the last year of his life, 1957, when a ficticious Clay Boone (Fraser), working as a gardener, happens upon Whale, who is afflicted by ill-health but living in comfortable retirement in Beverley Hills and being looked after by his severe but caring Hungarian housekeeper (beautifully played by Lyn Redgrave).

Old James invites Clay in to see his etchings, or rather to be sketched. Brendan, though ignorant of Whale's movies, somehow finds Whale fascinating and even develops some affection for the talkative old man. His own life is emotionally poverty-stricken and Whale seems to like him for more than just his body (which Clay as a confirmed heterosexual is not about to rent out). But for Whale it's really all too late – Death is close by. Their friendship flowers briefly and then suddenly it's all over.

James, a product of the English working class who became an officer, is dogged by horrific memories of the trenches of World War 1 – the horror of his movies is positively pastoral by comparison. The flashbacks to Whale's film-making days of glory are interesting but serve to remind us that his time is well and truly past – in the 20 years since he retired film-making has made huge strides and `Frankenstein' by 1957 is a museum piece.

McKellen, a very great actor in the classic English tradition and himself gay, has little trouble playing Whale, but the real surprise is Brendan Fraser as Clay – a quiet and well-judged performance. It's a low key movie perhaps mainly of interest to film buffs but it also addresses the issue of communication between the young and the old. Clay is enriched by his encounter with Whale, and Whale, for a brief time, is consoled.
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Who Is the Monster
sryder-127 April 2006
It is difficult to sort out the same-sex personalities within this film. The only flamboyantly feminine male portrayal appears almost immediately, in the personality of the young man who interviews Whale, gushing over the early horror films, but wanting to know almost nothing about Whale the man; only slightly taken aback by Whale's demand that he remove one item of clothing in exchange for an answer to each question he asks. It seemed clear to me that Whale is just playing with him, and has no real interest in him as a partner. The same young man appears once more as "assistant to the social secretary" of George Cukor, whom Whale has identified as homosexual, who has arranged to have Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester at Cukor's party so that he can arrange a photo of Whale with "his two monsters"; a continuation of his earlier appearance. Whale is the prototype effete not flamboyant British arts based homosexual,in the manner of a Noel Coward or John Gielgud. He does not attempt to hide his same-sex preference from either the reporter or the young gardener whom he "courts". It interested me that when he joined the Marines, to please his father, he never saw combat, whereas Whale did during World War I, where, the film and the dialogue tell us, he first fell in love with a man, a fellow soldier, whose face, remarkable similar to the gardener's, appears periodically throughout the film. The third image of homosexuality appears in the characterization of Brendon Frasier as the gardener. Every man who has had a poor father relationship will often have deep rooted questions about his own masculinity. We see this in his being intermittently drawn toward, then repulsed by Whale's homosexuality. I have seen this ambivalence enacted on a number of occasions in male figuratively "fatherless" students, seeking a close relationship with an older man. In the midst of their developing relationship a brief scene informs us that he may have had relations with a waitress, who does not share his admiration for the original "Frankenstein"; and in an epilogue we see him as husband and father; however, walking in silhouette into the distance as did Karloff in the film. Does this imply that he is the monster? Some reviewers for IMDb have concluded that Whale is himself the monster? Who is the monster? Or is it no one individual in the film? At one point it is suggested that we are all monsters, both desiring friendship and destroying those to whom we reach out but who can never satisfy our inmost needs. A fascinating film that will be in my mind for many weeks or months, as I attempt to sort it all out.
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A strange and fascinating film
Harry Matthews26 December 1998
Gee, where should I begin? It's a character study -- but on what subject? About a man who came to gay awareness far too late to benefit from the gay lib movement? About an artist whose greatest achievements depended on extinguishing all connections between the personal and the political? All of the above and so much more!

Personally, I'd give the Oscar to Brendan Fraser, who has a much more challenging role as the understated, naturalistic yard man, though Ian McKellan gives such a commanding performance that he's bound to play a prominent role at every award ceremony. If he's dissed because the love interest is gay, it's only the proof gay activists have long sought -- namely, that peronal respect is sexually conditioned.

All in all a wonderful film for anyone who loves great acting and a director willing to push the envelope. It's a terrific look at the ways life has shaped all of our beliefs.

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Terrific! (To A Degree)
kthejoker27 January 2000
From the opening credits to the (mostly) predictable climax, Bill Condon's film is a technical masterpiece and an excellent bit of arthouse fodder to boot.

The title, which comes from James Whale's classic film Bride Of Frankenstein, refers to the gods and monsters living in our lives and vicariously in our close associates' lives.

Condon has done a remarkable job editing in flashbacks, and the sketchy oblique, often contrasted shots pay great homage to Whale's early Universal pictures.

The story is a simple one: James Whale (Ian MacKellan), famed director, has had a stroke and is slowly dying. He is a lonely man in need of companionship and inner peace. He tries to find this solace in Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser, in a rare serious role), his yardman. The blossoming relationship between the two is the plot focus of the film.

Carter Burwell's score is wonderful as always, and Lynn Redgrave's role as Whale's housemaid is superbly put on. A great movie for any fans of the late Whale, or anyone looking for a true human drama.
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More than just gay vs. straight.
Tiny-1118 January 1999
Originally, I thought this would be a film of gay man versus straight man. It is. But much more than that, it is a film that speaks of human strengths and weaknesses, one that studies with quirky charm and quiet strength the scenario of man versus man.

Without getting maudlin or preachy, "Gods and Monsters" goes about telling its story about ignorance, frailty, and unconditional love, the very themes that ran throughout most of James Whale's life and films.

Bill Condon has created a poetic masterpiece, a wonderful answer to the question "Can't we all just get along?". Ian McKellen as James Whale is fascinating and absorbing, his facial expressions and body movements mesmerizing. He does not give a stereotypical "queen" performance. Rather, his James Whale is a dignified, yet tortured man. Lynn Redgrave is comical for the most part as Whale's maid, though she does lend a certain down to earth quality. It is Brendan Fraser, though, who steals this film. As Clay Boone, Fraser holds his own in McKellen's formidibal shadow. He does not provide a stereotypical performance either. Boone prooves to be as dignified and monstrous as Whale.

The few problems I had with the film where two gimmicky scenes, one showing Boone's surrender to a request of Whale's that he pose "like a statue", the other a dream sequence that has Whale walking among his fallen comrades in the trenches of World War one, and one flashback on the set of "Bride of Frankenstein", a scene tainted by Arthur Dignam's awful portrayal of Ernest Thesiger.

Eventually, "Gods and Monsters' proves two things: that we are all at once superhuman and sub-human, and that Hollywood can still show this in a beautiful way.
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Wonderful Film
wsstudios10 May 2006
The performances in this film are absolutely brilliant. Ian McClellan works magic as James Whale. Vanessa Redgrave is perfect as the devoted housekeeper. Brendon Fraser truly shows depth of character as the gardener.

Not only is the cast top notch but the film is filled with fantastic imagery and subliminal qualities that take the viewer into the minds of the characters.

From the beginning to the end the viewer is taken on a journey through the life of James Whale. The emotional roller coaster is one that I highly recommend.

Great film, worth watching several times over.
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icez12 May 2000
Gods and Monsters

This human drama by talented director Bill Condon is an emotional masterpiece! Based from Christopher Bram's novel, Gods and Monsters depicts the last days of famed director James Whales and his flourishing relationship with his gardener Clayton Boone. Ian McKellen plays the ill-fated director haunted by painful memories of the past while Brendan Fraser, in a very serious role, is the man from which Whales finds peace.

Director Bill Condon is especially remarkable with his use of flashbacks to delineate James Whales' haunting past and imageries from the late director's own creations. He makes his audiences feel the growing bond between Whales and Boone, and effectively touches his audiences during the director's tragic end. Though this episode is a predictable story, it makes us explore within ourselves the Gods and Monsters of our lives.

I'm surprised that the Academy ignored Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser for their extremely fine performances. Ian McKellen gives an outstanding performance as the late director while Brendan Fraser fully shines in the film's climax. Lynn Redgrave is also commendable for her light performance as Hanna, the maid.

This is superbly recommended for anyone looking for a film loaded with emotions
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Gods Does Some Brilliant Soul Searching
ed-16016 April 1999
Gods and Monsters is an invigorating look into the spirit and the meaning to be found at the end of one's life. The film is based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram and explores the final days of James Whale, the director of the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein movies. It was written and directed by Bill Condon (Candyman II: Farewell to the Flesh) and features a highly talented cast, led by Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, and Lynn Redgrave. Though not every scene is right on target, Gods is perhaps one of the most moving and emotionally complex films to hit the theatres in a long while. The story takes place in 1957 and is based on the relationship between the retired director and his gardener. Whale (McKellen), long forgotten by the Hollywood studios, has withdrawn to a secluded life of painting. However, following the latest in a series of disabling strokes, Whale becomes more and more reliant upon the care of his live-in maid Hannah, and more and more distraught at what seems to have been a lonely and meaningless life. Then he meets Clayton Boone (Fraser), the burly young gardener that Hannah has recently hired. Whale becomes fascinated with Boone, and right away asks to paint him. Boone, though somewhat flattered, is reluctant to accept the offer of the intimidatingly flamboyant Whale because he is unsure of the old man's motives. Boone does finally accept, however (if only to please the lonely old man), and what results between the two is of the most beautiful of friendships. McKellen and Fraser thrive during these scenes, in which their true acting talent shines through delightfully. The film is at its best here too, for it is here where we learn about the fears and inhibitions of the two characters. We learn that Boone and Whale, at opposite ends of life but equally as afraid of what lies ahead, really need each other. Whale needs someone to validate his existence and to bury the monsters of his past, and Boone needs someone to fill the void that was created by the lack of a father figure in his life. There are times, however, when Gods and Monsters can run a little slow. I particularly felt this way during Whale's dream sequences in which Fraser played Dr. Frankenstein and McKellen appears as the monster himself. These scenes serve to reinforce Whale's view of himself as a perverted monster, but they don't seem fit with the tone of the film and feel confused. For the most part, however, the imagery that Condon loads his film with is wholly positive. One such instance takes place in a scene between Boone and his former girlfriend, Betty (Lolita Davidovich). Betty, the older of the two, gets through telling Clayton that he is too immature and drives away, leaving him standing all alone on a hopscotch course in the middle of a playground. Boone, upset by what Betty has just told her, kicks a nearby can in disgust. The unmistakable impression that Condon conveys to the audience is that Boone, playing kick the can on top of a hopscotch course, is indeed a child. There is no doubt, however, that the acting is what makes Gods and Monster shine. Both McKellen (Actor) and Redgrave (Supporting Actress) were nominated for Oscars, and deservedly so. McKellen (Apt Pupil, Richard III), in pulling off beautifully such a complex role, once again proves that he is one of the top four or five actors around. And Redgrave, who won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award for this role, brings energy and wit to Hannah, whose wry humor and old-fashioned religious morality helps to pump life into Gods while at the same time further antagonizing the beleaguered Whale. It is refreshing to see her character written in this way, as all-too often this type of supporting character acts merely as a go-between and mediator for the two major characters. Brendan Fraser is another plus, too. Audiences who are used to seeing Fraser in one-dimensional roles for such movies as Blast from the Past and Encino Man may be pleasantly surprised as to the amount of depth he is able to bring to Clayton Boone. There are very few films that come out nowadays that have a combination of good acting, scriptwriting, and directing. Gods and Monsters is one of those few. It is certainly a film that is driven by the acting, but Condon's direction, as well as his script (which earned Condon a Best Screenplay Adaptation Oscar) provides a workable stage for the acting to take place. The result is one extraordinary film that any true movie-lover must see.
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Whale's films had PLOTS
Spleen9 October 1999
My guess is that Bill Condon badly wanted to make a film about James Whale - and that's as far as he got. This isn't actually BAD, but I don't think I've ever seen a film so slight.

It's not much of a biopic, since we see, roughly, two WEEKS of Whale's life. Apparently (although Condon tells us that some of the events are fictitious, and gives us no means of working out which ones), towards the end of his life Whale suffered from a kind of brain damage that meant he was plagued by vivid images, stray thoughts, and the like, which accounts for all the flashbacks. The film is a bit slow to tell us about the brain condition, though, which means that the flashbacks come across as a forced, ham-fisted device. The impression persists. Condon tries very hard indeed to draw links between Frankenstein's monster and Whale, the invisible man and Whale, between Whale's films and his experiences in the Great War. These links come across as forced, too.

The thing is, nothing much happens in the two weeks of Whale's life we see - nothing to constitute a story. Yet Condon's attempts to drag in earlier events and make THEM part of the story don't work either. We see the filming of `Bride of Frankenstein'. What does THIS have to do with anything? Yes, Whale is having visions, but that's no reason why we should. Anyway, Whale himself is sick to death of being associated with Frankenstein, and would rather people thought of him as the director of `Show Boat'.

The surprisingly good press this film has generated is almost entirely due to Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser. Normally I wouldn't watch a film for the performances alone, but this one is probably worth it.
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Not always easy to watch, but worth it...
dexter-319 January 1999
I resisted seeing this film at first, but agreed to see it at a second run house with a group of people. At the film's conclusion, I found that I liked it much more than any other person I went with. I found "Gods and Monsters" to be a thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive-yet-harsh study of later life and the reflections one experiences as death approaches. I was also very pleased to see the film draw Whale's Great War experiences into focus (although in less detail than I would have liked), and make them the central point to his life and career, and, as he is dying, his misery. The rather exquisitely torturous method of his wasting lends veracity to his ultimate actions. The film is also an excellent rumination on the vagaries of fame, artistic or professional control of one's work, and the value of work. Whale also bitterly recalls his youth and the feeling of being trapped in the English caste system in several scenes during a prior "family values" generation.

The film is well-filmed but slow in spots, contains some cliches or scenes that are too "easy", but is highly rewarding, and is driven by excellent performances from Redgrave and McKellan and, to a lesser extent, Fraser. The film's final scene is great, too. I eagerly awaited the premiere of "The Thin Red Line", and having seen it, I would say that this film addresses the issues of individual humanity, social decay, and the horror of war much better. This film should be an Oscar sleeper. 8* out of 10*.
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Enduring friendship
jotix1004 July 2005
Bill Condon's "Gods and Monsters" is an excellent film. It is a tribute to those forgotten geniuses that were instrumental in shaping the movie industry in America. The film also shows how two people influenced one another in ways that no one could have guessed they could because of the two different backgrounds they came from. On second viewing, after having discovered "Gods and Monsters" at a film festival when it hadn't been released commercially, we can report the film is worth another viewing.

Mr. Condon, the director, who adapted the Christopher Bram's book, made a great film about James Whale, an English man that came to America and became a film director during Hollywood's golden era. When we first meet Mr. Whale, he is old and living in retirement in his well kept house. He is assisted by Hanna, the maid who serves as his friend and companion, as well. Hanna knows all the secrets of "Mister Jimmy", as she calls him.

James Whale, the director of the famous film "Frankenstein", and others, was a gay man living in a closeted society. Hollywood used him then, it conveniently forgot him. They all knew about his homosexuality, but everyone kept the status quo so typical of the era. Mr. Whale is constantly remembering his youth, his days during WWI, and his golden days when he entertained the cream of the gay society in Los Angeles.

Into this picture enters Clayton, the young and handsome gardener. It's clear James likes him and wants to keep seeing him with the pretext he wants to sketch him. Clayton, is a straight man that becomes intrigued by the attentions Whale is paying him. Clayton has a lot of issues within him to resolve and he finds a reassuring friend in the older man.

The three principals in the film are flawless. Ian McKellen is absolutely at his best in his portrayal of James Whale. One of the most felicitous scenes involves him taking Clayton to meet Princess Margaret, who is the attraction at a party given by George Cukor and which James Whale takes Clayton to meet the Princess, who clearly thinks she is talking to Cecil Beaton. The witty James Whale tells her that Clayton never met a real princess, but is in familiar terms with an old queen! Brendan Fraser does an excellent job with Clayton. Having seen him in the theater, we know he can act, and he rises to the occasion here playing opposite to one of the best actors of the English language. Lynn Redgrave's Hanna, is right on target. She can be a holy terror, but deep down she is a kind soul who is totally dedicated to Mr. Whale.

"Gods and Monsters" shows us that friendship can grow between an obviously gay man and a straight one because of their mutual respect for one another.
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Beautiful and subtle
itamarscomix18 August 2012
The plot summary for Gods and Monsters states that it follows the last days of horror director James Whale, but it shouldn't be thought of as a biopic; it manages to avoid almost every pitfall suffered by most movies of that genre, except for one - predictability. The film is very predictable every step of the way, even if you know absolutely nothing about Whale's life or death, you can tell very early on exactly how it's going to end. It doesn't matter, though, because Gods and Monsters isn't about the story; it's an art-house piece and a character study, an exploration of a complex personality and, above all, a remarkably beautiful film.

Like any biographical film, Gods and Monsters relies heavily on one powerful lead actor; Ian McKellen gives one of the best performances of his career as James Whale, with whom he clearly felt a certain bond. McKellen puts his whole into the film and creates real sympathy for Whale. Fantastic as he is, though, it's not a one man show; gorgeous editing that manages to organically combine flashbacks with loving references to Whale's own early films, creates a strong sense of atmosphere that Whale himself would have been proud of. Gods and Monsters is a natural companion piece to Ed Wood and Shadow of the Vampire, but it's by far the most brooding, subtle, thought-provoking one of the trio. As for supporting cast - Lynn Redgrave is fantastic in a small but memorable part as Whale's maid; Brendan Fraser, on the other hand, plays a very generic character, mostly there as an avatar for the viewer, and though his performance is decent, it's not by any means impressive, and he gets a little too much screen time, taking the film down just a notch from masterpiece status.
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Some are gods, some are monsters, and most are both
blanche-228 December 2010
"Gods and Monsters" is the beautifully acted and somewhat fictionalized story of director James Whale (Ian McKellan) as he faces the end of his life. The openly gay Whale was the director of some of the great horror films: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House, as well as the definitive Showboat, and one of my favorites, the bizarre Remember Last Night? (which no one in the movie does, by the way). After a debacle over the film The Road Back, his studio thrust him into directing B movies, and by 1941, his career was over. After that, Whale developed a love of painting and directed in theater, where he had started in the '20s.

The film begins in 1957, the last year of Whale's life, after he has suffered a series of strokes. In the movie, his only companion is his housekeeper (Lynn Redgrave). (In real life, he was living with the much younger Pierre Foegel, whom he had met in France.) Faced with diminishing mental faculties and unwanted flashbacks from his past, Whale develops a sometimes uneasy friendship with his gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). He asks Clayton to pose for him, and while Clayton does, Whale pours his heart out to him. Some of it is too much for the straight Clay, but over time, the two men bond. Each gets something from the other. But Whale will ultimately want something astounding from his new friend.

This a complex film, well directed and written by Bill Condon, who adapted the novel The Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. Whale attempts to create his own Frankenstein monster, in a sense, in Clay, and the stunning images near the end of the film which take place during Clay's dream sequence point this up. The film also demonstrates the loneliness and deterioration of old age, as well as the fear that goes along with it.

The cast is nothing short of magnificent, with phenomenal performances by the three leads: McKellan, Fraser, and Redgrave. The late, always excellent David Dukes plays David Lewis, Whale's ex-lover and still friend; Jack Betts and Rosalind Ayres are well made up and vocally correct as Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester, respectively.

Gods and Monsters is a sometimes dark, always thought-provoking film about old age, taking stock at the end of life, and the gods and monsters within each one of us.
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A great movie, with a good approach and acting performances.
Boba_Fett11387 August 2007
For some reason James Whale is a sort of a forgotten director. He made some great and well known classics in his career but yet he isn't as appreciate and much remembered as his fellow colleagues from the same period, such as lets say Tod Browning . I mean, if you now say the name James Whale, while anybody really know he was the director of the 1931 "Frankenstein" movie and its perhaps even better sequel "The Bride of Frankenstein"? It therefor is great that a biopic was made about this sort of forgotten and flamboyant, greatly talented director, who was among the best of his time.

It's a great and wonderfully acted movie about James Whale, although I have the feeling that the movie is often more about James Whale's homosexuality than really about his life and career. Of course nothing wrong with a story like that but you can wonder if this at all time is the best approach for a biopic. The movie is also about Whale's final days, although it frequently uses flashbacks. The movie was also more about "Frankenstein" and "The Bride of Frankenstein" than any of Whale's other movies, though he obviously made many more and well known movies, in different genres. But I can understand why they did this. The Frankenstein movies get in this movie linked to Whale's real life and his ideas and views on things. It are of course also the two movies for which he will be always remembered. It's an approach that works great and effective for the movie but again you can wonder, if this is the best approach for a biopic. So perhaps as a biopic this movie isn't entirely effective even though the movie is definitely insightful about the James Whale characters but as a drama and character study this is simply just a great movie to watch.

The entire approach to how the story is told is also great and original. It chooses to tell the story off Whale through the things he tells his gardener, who Whale befriends, though his intentions at first are obviously aimed toward something else. While befriending the gardener Whale looks back on his life and career and gives his own personal views and ideas of things, of course also mainly regarding homosexuality. Whale was one of the few openly gay high society and public persons of his time, which might very well have meant also the downfall of his career. The approach doesn't sound like a logical one or engaging one but it works out extremely well and is really effective in the movie. The script, by Bill Condon himself, also won an Oscar.

The movie gets mostly carried by its actors. Ian McKellen was a great choice for the main lead and he gives one fine performance. It was a real big gamble to cast Bredan Fraser in a this sort of role, after appearing mostly in weak simple comedies before his role in this movie. Brendan Fraser never have been at his best in serious type of roles but he handles this role well. It also isn't a completely heavy and serious type of role, which also makes the movie easier and more pleasant to watch.

The movie does have its slower moments, especially in the beginning of the movie but nevertheless Bill Condon shows he's a capable director by making every sequence work and keep things flowing well, despite the use of flashbacks, that normally also slow down movies. He also makes sure that the movie never becomes too heavy.

The flashbacks and more dreamy like of sequences are all good looking and fit in with the rest of the movie. But perhaps with the exception of it's WW I moments. I don't know, for some reason WW I fighting sequences always look kind of cheap and fake, like they are shot in studios. Guess WW I is just a very hard war to capture and translate to the silver screen. Might also explain why there are actually so little movies regarding WW I.

A greatly made and acted movie, that really deserves to be seen.


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Oscar worthy performances in a complex story line
westerner26 April 2000
Ian McKellen, and Lynn Redgrave gave performances worthy of an Oscar, and Brendan Fraser gave one of the best performances of his career.

The story takes place in the 1950s. McKellen plays a director called "James Whale", who was in vogue in the 1930s, but has since retired, and lives with his old German housekeeper. Hanna (Lynn Redgrave) hires Clayton, (Brendan Fraser), a

drifter, to do lawn work, but McKellen has other things in mind for the good looking Fraser.

What he has in mind though isn't the obvious thing though, although that's certainly on his mind. The relationship between them is far more complex than one of simple lust, and they each end up filling an important part in each other's lives, and find they are a lot more alike than different.

This movie shows that when two people really care about each other, or need each other, that the lines we clearly think delineate us from each other, such as sexual orientation, just don't mean as much.

This is a very well done movie that didn't fall into any of the traps and cliches most movies of this type fall into.

Some people may find this movie hits too close to home, and be disturbed by it.
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Gods and Monsters is in my opinion one of the cinematic treats of the year.
max-12725 July 1999
Gods and Monsters is in my opinion one of the cinema treats of the year if not one of the best of this decade. Disappointed by a visit to the Mod Squad, I visited ‘Gods' to cleanse my palate. It was enchanting from it's sensitive commencement to an emotional conclusion. It boasts a resonant story which holds it's audience entranced. The script adaptation left no scene lacking significance. Characters are proficiently crafted. Equally substantial, Bill Condon's perceptive Direction was facile and lucid. A mixture of colour and black and white imagery was deftly handled as was the juxtaposition of time person and place in the remembered and imagined sequences. Ian McKellen was the consummate performer as fading Hollywood screen Director James Whale enfeebled by a succession of strokes. The film is further enhanced by a splendid Award winning portrayal of the loyal house maid Hannah by Lyn Redgrave. I was stunned by 'The Mummy's' and 'Blast from the Past's' Brendan Fraser as the hapless and perplexed yardman Clayton Boone who is befriended by James Whale. Who would have thought that such a sensitive and in touch performance could come from the Encino Man. Both McKellen and Fraser team up in some empowering closing scenes. Here one character sees mirrored in the other character's disposition his own fears and emotions. Every facet of Gods and Monsters is admirable. Miss this and you have neglected a very special motion picture.
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An Interesting Blend
brundlefly8620 June 2000
At first, I was skeptical to see this film, since I do not agree with Mr. Barker's love for Bride of Frankenstein, and was afraid this movie was going to be an ass-kissing, wrapped in late 20th century homosexual undertones. The creators of this film did not travel that path. Instead, they treated the era Mr. Whale lived in as different as it was from today.

Due mostly to Sir McKellan's performance, James Whale is hard to get a hold of as a person. The "interview-by-the-pool" scene sets the tone for his character at numerous levels. Though Sir McKellan is totally convincing as James Whale, bringing incredible depth and complexity, it's Brendan Fraser's portrayal that shocked me the most. He's so good, I can almost forgive him for The Mummy.

I have read from others that they didn't think the homosexual tone is too apparent, and that's laughable. It is a major part of the story, especially in the first half. The relationship that builds between Fraser's character and McKellan's starts off as strange, but builds into a friendship with a father/son undertone (highlighted by the ending), shadowed by the creator/monster motif until the climax. You move from seeing Mr. Whale as this odd bird, to someone to hold with pity.

Ms. Redgrave's performance is quite good, she seems to hit the period of the character's better than any of the others. The only performance I couldn't take was of the college kid who interviews McKellan's Whale in the beginning. The portrayal is way too 90's film geek. Totally out of step.

Overall, this is a very deep film, with great character complexity.
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Having a Whale of a time.
Kieranmc1 May 2000
Obviously the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters were on holiday when Gods and Monsters was realised. How else to explain the omission of Ian McKellen not getting an award for his role as the stricken director James Whale.

Gods & Monsters is a touchingly predictable story. But with direction and dialogue that puts it well above the norm. Whale, stricken by illness, has, in his eyes, become the monster. Haunted by the past, his only refuge from a bleak miserable future. Boone (Fraser) is the god, young, beautiful, seemingly indestructable. The film beautifully captures their relationship.

Lynn Redgrave is excellent as Whale's maid Maria; it's a shame we don't see more of the talented Ms Redgrave. Fussy and attentive, she is obviously in love with Whale, by turns protecting and scolding her wayward employer.

This is a small film, the type British directors excell at. Interweaving footage from Whale's Bride of Frankenstien, using Whale's own stunning imagery from that film, and coaxing tender performances from the cast, Condon creates a film full of gods & monsters, which, as Whale rightly points out, are really inside us.
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Beautiful Masterpiece, with capital letters
el_monty_BCN17 April 2000
I would run out of adjectives if I tried to convey the magnificence of this film in written form. Every single aspect of it is simply superb; from more technical aspects like the photography, the editing, the music, to Bill Condon's wonderful screenplay and direction, and the extraordinary performances by all three leads, it's nothing short of astounding. If it was me giving out the Oscars this would have swept the board. This is one of the works of art that the 90s should be remembered for.

The marvellous tale of how an old, homosexual, educated genius, in the twilight of his life, with a glorious past but also terrible ghosts, first tries to court but ultimately becomes a friend of a simple, young, good hearted man and opens his eyes and his mind with his stories and memories, becoming the turning point of his life, is gripping and moving beyond belief.

Arthouse it may be, due to its reduced budget and complex content, but I can't understand how anyone could fail to be touched by this deeply human story, no matter his or her tastes. I recommend it to anyone who loves sublime cinema.
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