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The other day I wrote a blog about finding a sort of meaning in our existence with dogs. I do a little too much rambling, but essentially get to the point that the movie makes: companionship, in a way, helps define meaning in a meaningless life.  Dogs, in their strange and often but not quite innocent way, provide a sort of companionship.

I only highlight that because of a tiny bit I wrote about the film, which I’ll insert here (saving you from the aforementioned rambling):

I saw a movie the other day in the city, My Dog Tulip, which was about the author of the book with the same name, J.R. Ackerley, and the fifteen years he spent with his dog Tulip. It was fascinating to watch, primarily with the animation that brought to life a lot of the exploits of Ackerley and Tulip. It was often times humorous, but also touching and heartwarming at times. The narration was taken directly from the book, so it gives us a hint as to how Ackerley wrote.

I subsequently added the non-fiction work to my Amazon wish list.

The trailer shows the animation used.  The style – paperless hand drawn animation – will obviously turn people off.  I enjoyed it a lot, especially when the animation breaks down into sequences that explain Tulip’s certain “charms”, like when she goes to the bathroom, what she goes to the bathroom on, and her various sexual escapades.  It’s adult humor, pure and simple, and it’s a riot at times.

There was another dog movie that came out a couple years back that I never got the chance to see (the one with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) that I can make a comparison to.  I remember a lot of the reviews stating that there really is no plot, or no conflict, but rather just what happens when you have a dog and watch one grow (and eventually die).  I think you can get away without having a conflict in this movie.  Actually, I digress, as there is a continual conflict between Ackerley and Tulip, as one tries to understand the other, and the misadventures a dog can cause to an old man who doesn’t understand just what a dog thinks.  The Wilson/Aniston movie probably does the same thing (I remember a part in the trailer where the dog decides to walk himself while the couple is driving the car).

I will admit, I’ve never been much of a dog person.  In the last year though, that’s somehow changed.  My dad owns two dogs: Tonka, an Akita, and Tyco, an Elk Hound.  Tyco is the one that gets to you quicker.  He has this perpetual smile that never leaves his face, and he listens to you.  Tonka is sort of grumpy and never listens (and I mean never listens), but that is the nature of Akitas.  I think what I’ve discovered the past year is how they’ve grown on me, and I on them.

It makes me appreciate this movie a little bit more, understand the trials one has to go through in trying to understand a dog, and sometimes never really knowing what it is until you just stare into their eyes and say “Oh, is that what you wanted all along?”

Then again, that never does happen.  Dogs are a pain in the butt, but at least they provide unwavering companionship.

A

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Helen Mirren. If there is a name to be praised in this, it’s hers. Oh, and Christopher Plummer too. As one can tell from the trailer, the Last Station chronicles the final months of Leo Tolstoy’s life, surrounding the turbulence of the marriage between himself and Sofya and the Tolstoyan movement, which wants to leave his works to the Russian people.

But it’s the two aforementioned actors that makes this movie shine. Every scene they’re in are some of the best scenes committed to film in recent memory. Their interplay with each other is phenomenal, showing quite convincingly the love and breakdown of a marriage between a leader (albeit not a very good one) of a social movement and the wife who thinks it’s all phooey. Their Oscar nominations are well deserves.

And they’re not the main characters either (though Mirren and Plummer receive top billing). While the plot surrounds the reworkings of Tolstoy’s will, the central character in this is Valentin (James McAvoy), a dedicated Tolstoyan who becomes Tolstoy’s secretary. He’s hired by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), the leader of the movement in Moscow, to write everything down that he witnesses. Everyone believes the Countess to be mad (the sentiment is returned), so they only want to get her out of the picture by changing the will. Sofya plots as well, and asks Valentin to write for her. Valentin, easily worrisome, sneezes repeatedly when dealing with this chess game.

The rest of the film is fine indeed, but the other actors (McAvoy, Giamatti, Kerry Condon as a maybe Tolstoyan in the movement’s colony, and McAvoy’s real life wife Anne-Marie Duff as Tolstoy’s Tolstoyan daughter) can’t keep up with the two powerhouses in Mirren and Plummer. All play their roles as they should (all of them fine performances) but Mirren and Plummer really do become their real life counterparts. You become lost as you watch them on screen.

Hilarious at times, sentimental as well, with an overarching question as to what love really is. Which, between Sofya and the Tolstoyans, it becomes really hard to define. Well made and well done.

B+

Note to the tag “movies 2010”: for date of release, I determine that by when the movie officially begins box office tracking (usually by finding the movie’s page on Box Office Mojo).  The movie’s official release was January 15th, 2010.  However, the studio played it in select theaters for a weekend in December to qualify it for the Academy Awards.  So, while the movie has nominees for 2009 movies, the box office tracking begins in 2010, hence, the tag “movies 2010”.