Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.

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Mr. Holmes: Treatment of Elderly Holmes Astounds

DATELINE: New Movies, Old Heroes

With all the new Featured imageand revised Sherlock Holmes films and television series overwhelming those devoted to the Doyle canon, what a breath of fresh air to find ourselves facing a brilliant new movie last night: Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellan playing Sherlock at 70 in flashbacks, and 93 in 1947.

In no mean feat, McKellan manages to play the active Holmes, unable to solve his final case, driving him into retirement, having eschewed Watson. His new housekeeper’s young son seems to urge him to come out of retirement at 93—but Holmes is dubious.

Interesting and subtle difference between a spry Holmes failing in his last case at 70 and quitting–and doddering and with senility and memory loss at 93–emerge in McKellan’s sharp performance. Even Holmes with Alzheimer’s is better than most detectives with all their faculties.

With all his favorites dead and gone, he lives as a beekeeper in Sussex (true to stories) and now regrets he did not solve his last case–and decides to do so before he dies.

Holmes must come face to face with the horrors of 20th century progress—from Hiroshima to bad movie depictions of him. He attends a showing, unnoticed, and disdains the movie.

Fascinating and ultimately moving portrait of Holmes, the film directed by Bill Condon is absolutely true to original stories (unlike one highly touted American series).

Amusing trivia abounds, but this film is more than clever. It is deeply moving and transfixing as we watch the ravages of old age upon an icon.

The teenage star of YOUNG SHERLOCK, Nicholas Rowe, returns to the screen to play the movie version of adult Holmes! Clever movie with many Hitchcock references and Holmes touches.

Whether this turns into a franchise of old Sherlock stories depends entirely on the decision of Ian McKellan.