Monday, 31 March 2014

"The Last Station" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 2011 Film by Michael Hoffman

Here is a link to Amazon UK to get this BLU RAY at a very cheap price:

"…You're What I Came To Find…" - The Last Station on BLU RAY

In the last two decades of his life – the author of "War And Peace" and "Anna Karenina" - wasn’t just the most famous writer in the world – Leo Tolstoy was the inspiration for an entire movement that advocated pacifism, vegetarianism and love as the core of its commune philosophy. Tolstoy also rejected Church dictate, private property and was even seen by some as a living saint. And in 1919 his fame was such that he actually became one of the world’s first modern-day celebrities - filmed on Pathe Cameras everywhere he went - with crews and press teams relentlessly stalking his home for photos and footage of the great man. And although he neither sought out publicity nor was comfortable with it – his ego as Demigod enjoyed it too – putting huge pressure of his home life and volatile marriage.

The statistics surrounding the lifelong union of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy are incredible (played to perfection by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren). Married when she was 18, she bore him 13 children and they were still sexually passionate into their 80s. But forces like the leader of the worldwide Tolstoyan movement Vladamir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), his devoted Doctor Dushan (John Sessions) and even his daughter Sasha (Anne-Marie Duff) all wanted him to give his legacy to posterity. This effectively meant forfeiting the copyright to his written works – giving the lot to the people and not his family.

Seeing how her ageing husband was being flattered for political ends while her family’s fortune was being simultaneously shafted - Countess Sofya thought otherwise - battling constantly with him and his army of devoted followers. After all - she had hand-written “War And Peace” six times for him – spent her entire life devoted to the man – only at the end to see his life’s accomplishments be used by reformist zealots ("They read him but they don't understand a word…").

Entering into this cauldron of personal warfare and political intrigue comes a young virginal Moscow idealist of 26 - Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) - who becomes Tolstoy’s Private Secretary for the last year of his life. Valentin’s stay at the Tolstoy Estate of Yasnaya Polyana and the nearby Tolstoyan commune of Telyatinki introduces him to temper tantrums, ideological debate at garden parties, endless scribbling and even love in the shape of the feisty Masha (a fabulous turn by Irish Actress Kerry Condon – the jockey Rosie in the TV series "Luck" – her dialogue above titles this review). But soon Valentin is more than in love – he’s conflicted. Should he keep on spying for the ruthless and obsessed Chertkov or should he leave the great man in peace. It all culminates in driving the old author into despair - until one day Tolstoy can take no more and leaves on a train. But ill health brings him to…

"The Last Station" was adapted by Writer and Director Michael Hoffman from Jay Parini's 1989 novel of the same name (itself based on Valentin’s diaries). With such a juicy story and a well-written script – big names and big talent were drawn to it.

But none of this would amount to naught if it weren’t for the central story of their 'love' – the difficulty of living in it and the impossibility of doing without it. Mirren’s Sofya is all spiky rage, steely determination and drama Queen swoons while Plummer’s bearded Tolstoy looks benevolently on her - adoring his long-suffering wife one moment - repulsed by her need and annoyed by her courage the next. Both characters are big shoes to fill – and with fantastic word battles – they give utterly convincing performances of trapped people – giggling in young bedroom tenderness one night then spitting ideological venom at each other the following morning on the porch.

There are also fabulous conversations between Plummer and McAvoy as they walk on lilac-scented evenings about 'actual life' instead of philosophy and the scheming Giamatti character fills ever scene with a self-righteous knowing that he is so good at. Throw in acting heavyweights like John Sessions, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon and the spot-on James McAvoy (married in real life to Anne-Marie Duff) and you’re in for an emotional ride as well as an engaging historical tale. This is sumptuous, well-crafted, intelligent filmmaking (and even funny too in places) and quite why either Mirren or Plummer didn’t get Oscars for their lead roles is frankly a bit of a mystery…

Filmed in Germany with huge production values "The Last Station" is also a gorgeous watch on BLU RAY. Defaulted to 2.35:1 – there are bars top and bottom of the screen - but even stretching to Full Aspect – it’s looks beautiful throughout – especially on close ups of clothes, steam trains and in the idyllic countryside communes.

One of the two Extras includes a truly superb 45-minute Making Of called "Conversations On…" which features extensive interviews with Director and Screenplay Writer Michael Hoffman, the original author Jay Parini, Producers Jens Meurer and Bonnie Arnold and all the leads (the work process, favourite scenes, discussion of Tolstoy and the period). There's even Anthony Quinn’s agent who owned the book rights for decades (he had hoped to do the part). Audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and the Subtitle is English.

In the end it’s a fascinating story – and an insight into the world of arguably the world’s first global pop star – only with a beard, arteritis, a cranky wife and a troop of peasants in tow waving their cloth caps instead of their Dolce and Gabbana handbags.

A top job done by all (especially Michael Hoffman) – "The Last Station" is a movie journey well worth the huff and puff…

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