HARD CORE LOGO
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Written by Noel S. Baker, based on the novel by Michael Turner
With Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, Bernie Coulson and John Pyper-Ferguson
Distributed by Rolling Thunder Pictures/Cowboy Booking
I wasn't too impressed by sHIGHWAY 61, the only other McDonald film I've seen, so I'm pleasantly surprised that HARD CORE LOGO, a quasi-documentary about the reunion tour of a Vancouver punk band, amounts to something more than a THIS IS SPINAL TAP knockoff . Hard Core Logo consists of 4 very different personalities: attitude-heavy singer Joe Dick (Dillon), guitarist Billy Talent (Rennie), the only one of the bunch who seems to have much of a future, bassist John Oxenberger (Coulson) and mentally unstable drummer Pipefitter (Pyper-Ferguson). (I'm not rushing out to buy the soundtrack, but Hard Core Logo's music is credible.) For its first half, HARD CORE LOGO feels amiable enough but never quite gels. It works as a succession of jokes rather than as a sustained narrative. But once the inevitable disappointment sets in, beginning with a visit to band influence and mentor Bucky Haight (Julian Richings), it gains momentum, culminating an extremely grim ending. I wouldn't be surprised if the film, which was made and released in Canada in 1996, was inspired by the Sex Pistols reunion tour a few years back. Its take on the implications of middle-aged men revisiting the anger and nihilism of their adolescence is surprisingly astute.
GODS AND MONSTERS
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Condon, based on Christopher Bram's novel FATHER OF FRANKENSTEIN
With Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave
Distributed by Lions Gate
GODS AND MONSTERS contains a number of films. First and foremost, there's a DEATH IN VENICE-derived story of obsessive unrequited love between an elderly Englishman and a much younger American man, quite similar to the sunnier one in LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. There's also a piece of film criticism: a speculation on FRANKENSTEIN/BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale's identification with the Frankenstein monster and the homoerotic undercurrents of his films. There's a star vehicle for Ian McKellen, suddenly as omnipresent on American screens as Anthony Hopkins was, as well as a chance for Brendan Fraser to show his acting chops in something a bit more adult than GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. Last and least, there's a made-for-TV, albeit widescreen, biopic. GODS AND MONSTERS suffers from the tension between these three levels; only the first one is really dealt with in a satisfying manner.
Whale's story is a fascinating one, and I can understand why Condon, an openly gay director who's previously specialized in horror movies, would be attracted to it. (Another gay horror filmmaker, Clive Barker, is one of the executive producers.) Condon chose to take the tack of setting his film in the final weeks (or months - the time span is not particularly clear) of Whale's life. After a debilitating stroke, Whale suffers uncontrollable flashbacks, particularly to his experiences in World War I, and hallucinations. Dependent on his devoted German housekeeper Hanna (an unrecognizable Lynn Redgrave), he develops an attraction to his new gardener/lawnmower Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). Alas, Clayton is heterosexual, and Whale grows suicidal as the effects of his stroke worsen and he realizes that Clayton won't respond to his advances.
With its litter of flashbacks and dream sequences, GODS AND MONSTERS attempts to explore Whale's world from the inside out. This effort is not quite convincing; it feels too much like a screenwriter's calculated attempt to provide backstory, especially in the links it makes between Whale's first relationship with a soldier he met in the trenches and his affection for Clayton. Despite trying, it never quite seems to get inside Whale's head. Nor is it particularly consistent; an early scene in Whale attempts to seduce a young interviewer feels completely out of place with the rest of the film. The subplots that it explores are not necessarily the ones I cared most about; in particular, its exploration of what it was like to be gay in the Hollywood system. (The book does a much better job with this subject.) Furthermore, the sunny climate of L.A. doesn't quite seem right for the story's darker aspects. It's no accident that the film's most powerful moments occur on a dark and stormy night. Those moments are quite moving; they're the reason I gave it 2 and 1/2 stars instead of 2. GODS AND MONSTERS is not a bad film - in fact, it's one worth seeing for McKellen's performance alone - but it suffers in comparison to the film it might have been.
LIVING OUT LOUD
Directed and written by Richard LaGravenese
With Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah and Martin Donovan
Distributed by New Line
Did you think AS GOOD AS IT GETS was as good as it gets? Does the very mention of James L. Brooks' name set your heart racing? If so, LIVING OUT LOUD was made for you. Personally, I have a rather moderate level of enthusiasm for Brooks' films. LaGravenese displays a common fault of screenwriters-turned-directors: a tendency to emphasize dialogue over visual style. If one is Jean Eustache, Eric Rohmer or Preston Sturges, this isn't such a bad thing, but LaGravenese is far, far away from them. As a result, LIVING OUT LOUD looks and feels much like a TV program, not a movie. (To give the film some credit, it's grittier and more melancholy than the average TV program, and it refrains from the same kind of indulgence in younger woman/older man fantasies that AS GOOD AS IT GETS catered to.) The cast is appealing, and LaGravenese was wise to flesh the film out with several memorable bit parts. None of this can conceal its underlying slightness and blandness.