Ah, the passion of the Russians!

A couple nights ago I watched The Last Station, which is based on a novel of the same title, written by Jay Parini.  The movie (and the novel) is about Leo Tolstoy’s last years, and the fight between Tolstoy’s wife and one of Tolstoy’s “apostles.”  Tolstoy seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by his wealth and position in society, especially when there were so many peasants that didn’t have enough food.  Because of parts of Tolstoy’s writings, some of his followers started “Tolstoyan communes.”  Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya felt that Tolstoy should leave his copyrights to his family (he had thirteen children with Sofya), while Tolstoy’s apostle, Vladimir Chertkov, felt that the copyrights should be left to the “Russian people.”

Chertkov sends in a young Tolstoyan follower, Valentin Bulgakov, to be Tolstoy’s secretary and his spy.  Chertkov wants to know all the details about what Sofya says and does.  It’s not long before Bulgakov is torn between his intense admiration for Tolstoy and his growing sympathy for Sofya.

Part of the excellence of this movie, along with the scenery and the costuming, is the casting.  Christopher Plummer is the beleaguered and sometimes confused Tolstoy, Helen Mirren is the volatile and passionate Sofya, Paul Giamatti is the plotter Chertkov, and James McAvoy is the impressionable and devoted Bulgakov.  On a side note, I found that McAvoy looks a little like a young Anton Chekhov.  It’s interesting that a Scot can look like a famous Russian author!

Some people may think this movie is only interesting to people who like Tolstoy’s writing.  I think, however, that it is interesting because it shows how someone’s teaching can be twisted by those who claim to follow his or her words.  In the movie, Tolstoy says about someone else, “He is a better Tolstoyan than I am.” 

The words of a teacher can be twisted to better suit the ideals of an “apostle.”

Making harmony

I recently watched a 2000 movie directed by Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth Paltrow’s father.  The movie is called Duets and the tagline is “Six lost souls in search of a little harmony.”  It is similar to movies like Love Actually or Valentine’s Day because there are a number of co-stars but not necessarily one main star.  Some of the people in it are Gwyneth Paltrow (a little nepotism, eh?), Huey Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Scott Speedman, and Andre Braugher.

The “lost souls” in the movie all end up involved in karaoke.  The interesting thing is that Gwyneth Paltrow, Huey Lewis, and Paul Giamatti perform songs.  And they do it well.  In fact, it’s worth watching the movie for Paul Giamatti singing “Try a Little Tenderness” alone, in my opinion.

Duets is an interesting movie about how people search for hope, and where they find it (or don’t).  It’s worth watching, even if you don’t like karaoke.

Giamatti’s got SOUL, yeah, baby

I’ve thought for a long time that Paul Giamatti is an under-appreciated actor.  He is so talented.  And now I found a clip to prove it!



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