October 3, 2002

Under the Radar

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This column is about those movies, independent or studio, which because they were released the same weekend as a huge franchise film or were ahead of their times or the critics just didn’t ‘get’ them, were never seen by as many people as they deserved to be.

Some films are liked and some are loved. When you like a movie, you note with appreciation an acting choice or a plot device. You might see it again. When you love a movie you are loyal to it. It got you right there, between the head and the heart because it was well made but it also had that extra something that connected with you. You will make everyone you know see it, echoes of it will shadow your thoughts at the oddest times and you don’t understand people who don’t love it as much as you. All of this by way of saying that Gods and Monsters inspires the second kind of feeling. So why do I think this particular movie’s so great? One reason is that this is an odd occurrence where everything in the film perfectly complements everything else, which ensures that if the film is not great measured next to the classics it is at least perfect within itself. It has a voice and speaks eloquently. The other reason is Sir Ian McKellen (for the purposes of this review, God).

Bill Condon’s debut effort (and screenplay) is about the final days of famed Frankenstein director James “Jimmy” Whale (McKellen, words cannot express). Whale has suffered a stroke which has left him in perfect physical health while, as he puts it, “an electric storm” rages in his brain. He is left to relive the horrors of his youth and wartime experiences under the watchful eye of his maid, Hannah (Lynn Redgrave, comic relief over an ocean of tenderness) and ex (David Dukes). He occupies himself with sketching old masters and submitting to interviews with the local film geeks. One day he catches sight of his new yard man, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser, the camera is not so much in love with him as it badly wants to get into his pants). Clay is an ex-marine from the mid-west with a flat top hair cut, a taste for beer and women and a touching naivet