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Movie Review: The Last Station

Alternate Title: Practice What You Preach

Story: Can I still give a film a rotten review even if I liked the subject matter? If you agree I can, then here is a rotten review of a film that could have been much better.

It is 1911 Russia. The last year of superstar Leo Tolstoy's life. His writings (War and Peace and Anna Karenina) are known the world over and he has accumulated fame and vast wealth. There is even a movement named after him called 'Tolstoyian.' We enter Tolstoy's world as the leader of the Tolstoyian movement is feverishly working on Tolstoy to change his will to give the copyright on his work to 'the people.' Tolstoy's wife, Sofya, is super pissed by the idea that her family would be disinherited.

The good news is that the film is visually nice to watch and you do get a sense of being in 1911 Russia. The bad news is there are too many undeveloped characters and a story with no clear direction. The meandering is confusing and the film takes it for granted that the viewer is intimately aware of Tolstoy's life and times. Not true. I even leaned over to my Wednesday movie buddy and asked him if he thought the film was true. It turns out, essentially it was based on true events. It was written and directed by Michael Hoffman and based on the book The Last Station by Jay Parini.

It was contradictory to watch the Tolstoyian's preach about 'the people' and the redistribution of wealth when these on-screen characters enjoyed such opulence. Fast forward a few years (not depicted on screen ) and we get the Russian Revolution. Anyone want to see 'Reds?'

Watch the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1JA7Go_PCk

Acting: Helen Mirren does some serious scene chewing as the Countess Sofya Tolstoy. Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy matches her scene for scene in the chewing department. Paul Giamatti as the wicked-ish Vladimir Chertkov was somewhat a caricature. Anne-Marie Duff as Sasha Tolstoy was undeveloped. Kerry Condon as free love activist, Masha was fine and James McAvoy as secretary, Valentin Bulgakov was adequate but nothing to write home about.

Trivia: To read more about the life of Tolstoy check out this site: http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/. Director Michael Hoffman was a former Rhodes scholar. Paul Giammati's father, A. Bartlett Giamatti, was a professor of Renaissance Literature at Yale University, and went on to become the university's youngest president. (In 1986, Bart Giamatti was appointed president of baseball's National League. He became Commissioner of Baseball on April 1, 1989 and served for five months until his untimely death on September 1, 1989. He was commissioner at the time Pete Rose was banned from the game.)

Predilection: I like to see films that have Oscar nominations. This one has two (see category below).

Critters: Horses, goats and chickens and mosquito's.

Food: Sumptuous tables with plenty of food.

Sex Spectrum: Yes, young Valentin loses his virginity to the wild and wacky Masha.

Soundtrack: Soaring and a bit much at times.

Opening Titles: I cannot remember. However, during the end credits there are some vintage reels of the real Tostoy.

Visual Art: It is a pretty film.

Theater Audience: About 15 other Bolsheviks.

Weather: Russia wa lovely in the summer.

Sappy Factor: 0

Quirky Meter: 0

Squirm Scale: 0

Drift Factor: I drifted a lot.

Predictability Level: High

Tissue Usage: 0

Oscar Worthy: Helen Mirren is nominated for Best Actress and Christopher Plummer is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither is deserved and I like both of these actors.

Big Screen or Rental: Rental is fine. I would see Reds before I see this one again.

Length: Under two hours.