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The Auteurs Daily: Telluride. The Last Station

 

The Auteurs DailyThe Last Station

"A melodramatic account of the tempestuous final year of Leo Tolstoy's life, The Last Station is solid middlebrow biographical fare in which meaty roles are acted to the hilt by a cast more than ready for the feast," writes Variety's Todd McCarthy. "Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren shine as an aged but still passionate couple at odds over the disposition of the great Russian novelist's legacy, a dispute rife with personal jealousy as well as ideology."

 

"Adapted from Jay Parini's historical novel The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Last Year, director Michael Hoffman's movie has been in the works for almost two decades." The Los Angeles Times' John Horn traces the path to its final realization.

"I've read enough Tolstoy to know that the guy was essentially a crackpot," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical. "The main problem with The Last Station is that the movie - which wants badly to portray the man as sympathetic - spends most of its running time madly equivocating on this score."

"James McAvoy offers the film's great performance," writes Kristopher Tapley at In Contention. "He benefits from having the most complex arc, but he takes his Valentin Bulgakov - a devoted Tolstoyan who learns nuance in the doctrine where others see rigid discipline - on a touching journey of love, commitment, anxiety and passion."

"At the screening, I sat next to a line of Tolstoy descendents, including great great grandson Vladimir Tolstoy, who runs Yasnaya Poliana, the family estate south of Moscow, and his 24-year-old daughter Anastasia, a lovely literature grad student specializing in Nabokov at Oxford." Anne Thompson at indieWIRE: "Even though the movie was directed by an American, shot in Germany and stars a cast of English-speaking Brits, Vladimir said that he was glad that the film would spread the love of Tolstoy to the world.... 'The Last Station is subverting the notion of Tolstoy as a prophet and genius,' Hoffman said at Saturday's panel on reality in movies. 'He was a victim of multiple narratives. He couldn't manage his own domestic life.'"

Update, 9/9: "Although this story of the last days of Leo Tolstoy is specialized material, it packs an emotional wallop that costume pictures often lack," writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter. "The picture is far livelier than the standard literary biopic. Welcome bursts of rowdy humor and sensuality punctuate the intrigue."

 

The quotes you’ve selected are not at all representative of these reviews or the reception this movie apparently got at Telluride . Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote: “The awestruck Valentin is warmly welcomed by the writer, who, in Plummer’s seductive, appealingly naturalistic performance, instantly emerges as a real man, not as a self-important legend. This Tolstoy does not need his ego bolstered by flatterers and sycophants; well aware of his status, he turns attention back on those around him. There is, impressively, virtually no ham in Plummer’s work here, just stature and humanity.” John Horn of the LATimes wrote it was “clearly the festival darling.” Anne Thompson wrote:" Plummer and Mirren are equally matched blazing adversaries and McAvoy is wonderfully reactive as the virginal acolyte who not only loses his innocence, but starts to learn about love and marriage. This German-financed $17-million movie is gorgeous—shot in the former East Germany—and utterly accessible and entertaining. The audience ate it up. This is one of those movies that’s not as much a serious critic’s picture as an adult crowd-pleaser." Not quite sure what she means about it not being a serious critic’s picture, since she’s an Oscar prognosticator, let the serious critics speak for themselves. Which leaves out the other two, one who dismisses Tolstoy as a crackpot (see the comments!) and one who writes that it was “a bit disorienting” that it was filmed in English. Think it would have been bit more disorienting seeing this cast try to speak Russian! Is he suggesting an all Russian cast? Anyway the reaction to this movie was apparently much better than your selective quotes. And why are the comments of Oscar prognosticators treated as if they are reviews? They’re more like odds-makers than reviewers.

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