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Dean Spanley - review: Unexpected Pleasure in a Movie About a Dog (and His Boy, and His Wine)

I watched Dean Spanley only because of the prominence of Tokay (also spelled Tokaji), a Hungarian wine I am partial to. What I found was an unexpected pleasure filled with layers of relationship, mystery and myth, each intertwining with the other. It is one of the most subtle, best-written movies I have seen in years.

The Tokay was a clever literary device. Curious about the afterlife and what Dean Spanley might think of reincarnation, Henslowe Fisk uses a good quality, very rare Tokay to tempt the Dean over for dinner. Conversation ensues intriguing Fisk, and more Tokay is procured, rarer than the first bottle.

Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos 500ml ($31.99. Scores: Wine Enthusiast - 90+, Wine Spectator - 90+)

Its unique sweet aroma draws out the Dean to remember a life much earlier than his own. He tastes it, smells it, and finds the kind of ecstasy only the best of memories can supply. He tells Fisk, and later, the resourceful supplier of the wine, Wrather, in subsequent dinners.

Dean SpanleyThe real story is the complex perspective Fisk has with his father. He has never connected well with him, and now, as his father ages, both recognize an emptiness. Father and son each see what is missing, but can neither name it, nor, more importantly, find a way back. Instead, they maintain a kind of austere, but familial companionship.

Wrather, at first, seems to be just a way to move the plot along. However, as the story develops, he not only becomes crucial, but is foundational at each stage of the tale.

The fine acting of Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Jeremy Northam, and Bryan Brown cannot be overstated. Carefully directed, and intelligently filmed, we see each character used with intensity, but always modestly. No one overacts in what might have been a maudlin film.

The packaging makes it look something like a Disney dog film. It is not. It carries a rich social wisdom, original storytelling, and a depth of insight into father-son dynamics.

I fully recommend, "Dean Spanley."

Anthony Trendl
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