Gods and Monsters
Bill Condon’s breakout film is a pleasant biographical work, for sure, but it truly shines as a thoughtful meditation about the corrosive power of desire — the Hollywood sort, in particular. Ian McKellen plays James Whale, the troubled film director who made Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, as his life and health slip away with old age. Whale’s romantic life becomes the subject of conflict and flashbacks, and he indulges memories of former flings and taunts his young gardener (Brendan Frasier) with the lurid details of his love life. McKellen’s performance alone is reason enough to watch Gods and Monsters, if only to watch in awe of the dizzying, unusual array of emotions that play across his face. In a long, magnificent career, this is McKellen at his best — he does splendid, clever work in this odd little film. His talent, coupled with the film’s haunting message, makes Gods and Monsters a gay classic. –CH
How to Survive a Plague
A tremendously important film, the Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague is the story of how AIDS victims were treated is so outrageous and upsetting, it’s nearly unbelievable to consider today — but it happened. Our society’s demons need to be remembered. Enter David France — an investigative reporter who has spent decades covering gay-rights issues — with this astonishing, meticulous documentary. How to Survive a Plague carefully charts the early years of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, an aggressive gay-rights advocacy group that spontaneously came together at the nadir of the AIDS crisis in 1987. France combed through hundreds of hours of footage to recreate the desperate air of the times, lending credence to the righteous outrage that fueled ACT UP through the group’s early, controversial years in New York City. It’s an inspiring method of storytelling that keeps attention toward the filmmakers — the original ones who filmed on camcorders during ACT UP’s rallies and demonstrations. If you care about gay rights, civil disobedience or social activism — and, really, who doesn’t? — you need to see How to Survive a Plague. It’s a history lesson that boils with indignation. –CH
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