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The Last Station review February 21, 2010

Posted by mrcatdog100 in Film Reviews.
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Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer in The Last Station

I thought about starting this blog with a review of the first episodes of MasterChef, but it became obvious when I was watching them that they were virtually unreviewable in their early stages: it’d be a waste of energy to keep typing the words “that dish was good”, “that dish was shit”, “John and Greg are ridiculous”. Until the semis it’s always ridiculously repetitive, and to review it constantly would just provide fruitless criticism to write and read. So, the premiere critique is The Last Station. Enjoy!

In an early episode of Modern Family, Cameron Tucker says one of my favourite lines of the show so far. I’m probably paraphrasing, but it goes something like “Meryl Streep is so good, she could play BATMAN and she could make it work!” Whilst this may not be a new opinion/fact, The Last Station simply confirms Britain’s equivalent actress strikes again. While Sofya Tolstoya may not be as much of an acting challenge as Batman may be for Mirren, to turn such a shrill, self-involved shrew of a woman – one who would probably be the evil money-stealing antagonist in any other film – into a relatable character who the audience ultimately ends up rooting for is certainly an achievement on her part.

Set around the final years of Leo Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) life, the film’s primary focus is not on Sofya but on James McAvoy’s character Valentin Bulgakov, a raving Tolstoyan who becomes secretary to the ‘great man’ himself through the help of Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) – Tolstoy’s right hand man. It soon becomes clear that Valentin’s job is not to record Tolstoy’s dying thoughts, but that of his wife who wants to keep her husband’s copyright for herself and the rest of the family – an ideal abhorrent to Chertkov and the rest of the Tolstoyan movement opposed to any notion of private property.

Less a film and more of a series of excuses for Mirren and Plummer to have a number of scenery-chewing contests, The Last Station is strangely at its best when these scenes are being ripped apart by two acting legends. Both attack their roles with considerable aplomb and come out on the other side with their dignities intact. Less so is Paul Giamatti, who is apparentl regarded as so eveil that he actually has a handlebar moustache akin to a Victorian villain. He approaches his role as if he is Satan himself getting Tolstoy to change his will: for a character that it is assumed that the audience should have differing opinions of, Giamatti approaches his role with a decidedly one-note performance. Whether that was his call or writer/director Michael Hoffman remains to be seen. James McAvoy is perfectly fine in a role that allows him to become the bland audience substitute; the only time he seems to show one emotion or another is when he’s losing his virginity, and that is thankfully short and sweet. Indeed, the scenes with McAvoy and Giamatti makes one cherish the scenes with Mirren and Plummer, and creates an almost unquenchable desire to see more plate-smashing, window-falling, scenery-chewing goodness.

Mirren and Plummer keep the show alive when they’re on screen, but the film falls strangely flat when they’re gone and its flaws become considerably more apparent. One would hope there’d be some sort of prequel of Leo and Sofya before they meet Chertkov and he was simply the writer of War and Peace, but that’s probably too ‘boring’ for modern audiences to take. FOr that, we have much to be sorry for.

Grade: B-

Also, I wasn’t planning on doing this, but after watching the final Take Me Out episode (sniff), I just had to comment on it. After a boring first date, things got considerably more interesting when First-Week Emily finally met the man of her dreams – despite the fact he doesn’t like bread or pasta – and, even though he seems a cocky shit, it seems as though they might be happy together. Cue the obligatory no-date for a guy I remember extremely little of, and we get the most weirdly happy conclusion to a show like this. Enter Ben Way who, although saying he doesn’t care at all about money, proceeds to make everyone talk about how he’s worth £10,000,000… but don’t let that put anyone off! In the end, he has to turn off about 16 lights (despite everyone saying they weren’t golddiggers and hated their guts) before he finds the girl of his dreams : DAISY!!!!! The four-time perennial Take Me Out bridesmaid finally gets her dream wedding – in a truly metaphorical Take Me Out sense. What’s weird is that out of all the couples on Fernandodates, they actually seem quite happy. Who’da thunk it? But this is all leading up to the fabulously brilliant conclusion which sees Paddy McGuinness take Rian from Sheffield into Fernando’s to try and hook her up! I swear I was shouting ‘BEST ENDING EVER’ to the television at least three times! It was a glorious ending to a certainly less-than glorious show… but all’s well that end’s well. Goodbye Take Me Out!

Grade for the episode as a whole: B

Grade for the final third: A+

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