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Sunday, January 4, 2015

DEAN SPANLEY (2008)

MY TALKS WITH DEAN STANLEY is a trifle, a piece of Edwardian England whimsy, but a lovely one. And the film version is loaded with old favorites in new roles that give them something to chew on. (No phoned-in paid appearances here.) Peter O’Toole is splendidly irritating & charming as Jeremy Northam’s emotionally stoppered dad. But when their weekly visit leads to an eccentric lecture on the transmigration of souls, a chance meeting with Bryan Brown (a dealer in hard-to-find imports of dubious legality) and Sam Neill’s Dean Spanley (an Anglican cleric with a passion for dogs & Hungarian Tokay) becomes the first step toward a spiritual & emotional breakthrough. Don’t be put off by the fuddy-duddy first act, the film quickly warms to its task as a funny, quirky and unexpectedly moving meditation on times past/times lost and the possibility for change at any stage of life. Toa Fraser, working off Alan Sharp’s witty script, keeps the story focused on essentials, resisting temptations to wallow in sentimentality. (Tight budgets can be a blessing that way.) The film apparently went a’begging for theatrical Stateside distribution, but don’t let that put you off.

DOUBLE-BILL: You have to go all the way back to character actor James Gleason in HERE COMES MR. JORDAN/’41 (remade as HEAVEN CAN WAIT/’78) to match O’Toole’s reaction shot on coming face-to-face with reincarnation. Perhaps it has something to do with their shared combination of fragility & resilience.

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