I didn't just read during Spring Break. I got away to Little Rock one afternoon, had lunch at On The Border, and went to Market Street to see The Last Station. All in all, it was an afternoon well spent (although historically based movies, or novels for that matter, always make me want to go to the library and do research. What was real? What was invented? What actually happened? Curious minds want to know!).
Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, and James McAvoy lead an impeccable cast in The Last Station, a sweet comedy-drama about the final days of the Russian novelist Tolstoy. Nineteenth-century paparazzi lurk outside of Tolstoy's estate, hoping to snatch a picture of the rumored strife between the world-famous writer (Plummer, The Insider), who's launched an antimaterialist movement, and his aristocratic wife, Sofya (Mirren, The Queen). Also lurking is Tolstoy's aide, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti, Sideways), who despises Sofya and pushes to change Tolstoy's will to prevent Sofya from inheriting the royalties from Tolstoy's books. Into this nest of conflict comes a young secretary, Valentin (McAvoy, Atonement), who idolizes Tolstoy and strives to live by the principles of abstinence and vegetarianism… only to find his purity tested by sensual temptations (including a headstrong young woman played by Kerry Condon of Rome) and an unexpected sympathy for Sofya. Moments of sly comedy keep The Last Station from becoming overly literary. The movie as a whole lacks the emotional punch it reaches for, but every scene is a polished jewel, expertly and passionately crafted by the actors and writer-director Michael Hoffman (A Midsummer Night's Dream), rich with feeling and social detail. Mirren, of course, is superb, with a wonderful portrayal of a woman who can't help turning her genuine passions into a performance that repels her husband. --Bret Fetzer