The Fountain 2006 ****

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Sometimes, a film is worth some second thoughts; first viewers of Darren Aronofky’s sci-fi epic The Fountain were quick to point out that this was not a commercial proposition; for sure, watching one of the main characters becoming a tree during the finale didn’t suggest the public would be champing at the bit. So it’s probably for the best from the POV of Warner Brothers that Aronofsky’s original $70 million version starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett didn’t happen, but this discount $35 million version has much to comment it. Three stories are intercut, one involving Conquistadors, one involving a scientist who, tending to his dying wife, resolves to cure death itself, and one involving a space traveller. Hugh Jackman does what he can with various characters which are little more than ciphers, while Rachel Weisz has even less to play with as the object of his love. This is not the sci-fi universe of lazer-guns and action, but more of a Last Year in Marienbad-style mind-zonker, and judged within the latter terms, The Fountain works really well, with unique micro-photographed visuals and a Clint Mansel score. When discussing the film after the Venice Film Festival premiere, Aronofsky and Weisz seems to be not quite on the same page when discussing the film’s meaning, and critics were in the same boat; seen at a decade’s distance, The Fountain is a highly original if compromised artwork that should be retuned and revised. For those interested in spirituality, and re-incarnation in particular, a single viewing is not enough for this strange, mind-boggling epic, one of the greatest, grandest follies of recent cinema.

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Dean Spanley 2008 ****

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Adapted from Lord Dunsany’s book, Dean Spanley is a wordy fable that feels like a story told by a fireplace on a winter’s night. Neither outright comedy,fantasy or horror, it’s a quaint little drama about whether it would be possible for dogs and people to be reincarnated as each other. Sam Neill is Dean Spanley, who way well have been a dog, and Jeremy Northam and Peter O’Toole are the estranged Fisk family, who visit Spanley and try to understand his bizarre story. Toa Fraser directs from a script by Alan Sharp (Don’t Look Now), and there’s a light brio about the way Fraser guides his mature cast through an ingenious set of narrative pirouettes. Dean Spanley is a minor delight, a friendly ghost story from Edwardian England that offers a wealth of minor pleasures.

Heaven Can Wait 1978 ****

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One of the few 1970’s evocations of screwball comedy to hit the mark, Warren Beatty stars as sax-loving athlete Joe Pendleton, whose US football career is cut short by a fatal accident. Rejected in heaven has having arrived before his time, Pendleton is sent back to earth to inhabit the body of a millionaire, under the watchful eye of the angelic Mr Jordan (James Mason). A likable romance with Betty (Julie Christie) ensues, leading to a bittersweet but remarkably romantic ending. Collaborating with Buck Henry on direction and Elaine May on the script, Beatty fashions a winning role for himself in this light, bright comedy from 1978.

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 1975 ***

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As musty as something found under the mildewed driver’s seat of a Mazda Bongo abandoned since 1975, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud is a wonderfully musty supernatural-themed thriller. Since it came out, J Lee Thompson’s film seems to exist in a forgotten netherworld were the interests of science-fiction, horror and drama resolutely fail to intersect.  Shot in 50 shades of brown, Michael Sarrazzin plays a man troubled with memories of a past life. Margot Kidder is his lover, and the whole thing in interspersed with shots of a boating accident, the exact meaning of which is ambiguous to the end, and quite possible well after that for many. The romantic but menacing tone makes for an enjoyably dated trip back to the 70’s