Movie Review: Dean Spanley

DeanStanleyby Brad Nelson   12/23/13
If you’re looking for a light movie to watch over the holidays, this might not be the one. And yet, with patience, there is a surprisingly good story that unfolds.

It takes this movie about thirty minutes to get going. I’m quite sure that if this movie didn’t do well at the box office, it was because most people walked out on the film before being able to see what it was about. And I don’t think the fault is with the viewer. This is a pretty lame and badly set-up story. Once you get to the meat of it, you can see that perhaps some set-up was necessary. But it needn’t have been so obtuse and boring.

Despite a stellar cast of Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, and Peter O’Toole, I’m not sure why I didn’t turn this one off myself. But something made me stick to it.

I became a Jeremy Northam fan from his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in the TV Series, “The Tudors.” That series itself is worth, at best, a season of viewing — at least until Sam Neill (a splendid Cardinal Wolsey) and Northam exit the series. After their exit (and after a few other notables leave as well), there isn’t anything to hold that series together. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is simply awful as Henry VIII. I took to calling him “The Dude” because he seemed unable to fit into this period piece and acted as if he were right off a California beach.

But I digress. Once you get to the main schtick of Dean Stanley (which has to do with reincarnation), then you get to the meat of the film. And it’s fun to see Northam and Neill together again in different roles, this time set in Edwardian England.

Peter O’Toole and Northam play the Fisk father/son…senior/junior. The senior Fisk is cold, old, cantankerous, and shows little emotion over the recent loss of his son in the Boer Wars. Northam (the younger Fisk) does his weekly sonly duty (on Thursdays) of visiting his father. There isn’t much chemistry between them, either as actors or in the movie. I suppose that helps make it work to a certain extent.

But the movie itself doesn’t get going until Sam Neill comes in as the central character. His life story is the main and redeeming aspect of this picture. Over glasses of a very rare and expensive Imperial Tokay (which appears to be some type of green, very syrupy, liqueur), Neill decants his rather surprising and interesting story of his past life.

But Neill will meet with the younger Fisk for a dinner engagement (and, later, with another fellow as well who wants to hear Neill’s story) only if he is supplied with sufficient quantities of the rare Tokay. And that stuff is expensive and not easy to find. That’s where the “middle man,” Bryan Brown (Wrather), enters the story.  He is rather good are procuring rare goods. And it is this rare drink that seems to propel Neill into a totally different persona and sets him free to get lost in it.

And this persona, strangely enough, intersects on the life of the elder Fisk (O’Toole) in a remarkable way. Neill plays it straight and is unassuming. I don’t know if this story could have worked without his low-key, matter-of-fact acting style.

But it does eventually work, even though it takes thirty minutes or so for the story to get going. The late Peter O’Toole has his moments. But it seems clear that all his cosmetic surgery (that really does look quite good) hampers his ability to act. So sometimes you just get “big surprise eyes” as his method of emoting and it doesn’t seem to work. But, in the end, he does pull off the important dramatic parts of the film.

As slow as this movie was to develop, I ended up liking it. It’s a story I hadn’t seen before. It’s also streamable on Netflix. • (3189 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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4 Responses to Movie Review: Dean Spanley

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The Tokay you mentioned is probably the one similar to Sauterne. Tokay is wine produced in Hungary and was fabled as top class for a couple of centuries. It was loved in Central Europe. I believe it lost some of its luster during the Iron Curtain years, but believe it is making a come back.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      In the movie, they said that you could open a bottle of the Imperial Tokay only with authorization from the Hapsburgs…or some royal family, I forget which one.

      I think if you’re going to drink one of those liqueurs, you’d better get a good brand because they’re so sweet. Peppermint Schnapps, for example, is like squeezing a tube of toothpaste right into your mouth.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        It would be the Hapburgs. They were not only Holy Roman Emperors and later Emperors of the Austrian Empire, but they were also Kings of Hungary.

        And I cannot drink the so-called “schnapps” which one normally sees in this country. For the real thing, on must try Kirsch, Poire Williams, Framboise or Marillen Schnapps from Europe. And I use the foreign names intentionally as if I wrote Cherry, Pear Williams, Raspberry and Apricot, you might get the idea that they were sweet and similar to peppermint schnapps. They ain’t.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’ve sampled a few variety of schnapps….mostly as a kid. My father and uncles were into that stuff and I would get a sip every now and then. Some of it wasn’t that bad. But it’s certainly a high-sugar drink, one that Elf himself would surely love.

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