Elsa & Fred—Christopher Plummer is Fred, a curmudgeonly disappointed widower. His daughter moves him into a New Orleans apartment next door to Elsa, a wacky life-embracing lady played by Shirley MacLaine. Elsa’s bucket list topper is to recreate the Trevi Fountain scene from La Dolce Vita, with herself in the role of Anita Ekberg.
Even if you haven’t seen Marcos Carnevale’s 2005 Argentine film Elsa y Fred, of which this is a Yank knockoff, you can probably guess where this comedy-drama is heading. Nothing that happens is any great surprise, and while the supporting cast of fretful friends, family and caregivers is impressive—it includes Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Noth, Scott Bakula, James Brolin, Erika Alexander and George Segal—they’re relegated to nearly bit roles.
So whether you care to come along will depend on how much of a sucker you are for the star power of Plummer and MacLaine. Middling though this material is, they really are pretty great. Plummer’s measured, musical Shakespearean cadences play an eccentric and winning duet with MacLaine’s casual purr—she’s almost entering into the territory of late-period Ruth Gordon dottiness.
The direction by Michael Radford is efficient, but he can’t make the contrived whimsy of the final stretch as magical as it wants to be. This doesn’t much matter, however—the stars have already given us magic enough to justify the 90-minute investment.
Big Hero 6—Set in the conflated city of “San Fransokyo,” this Disney computer-animated adventure is an origin story loosely based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the title. Hiro, a robotics whiz-kid, loses his older brother Tadashi in an explosion at a tech school. Later, he encounters a supervillain in a kabuki-like mask, marshalling the shape-shifting legion of mini-robots that Hiro invented.
Against this mystery man, Hiro organizes a team consisting of himself and four of Tadashi’s friends, each with his or her own specialty power. The sixth Big Hero, however, is the life of the movie’s party: Baymax, a robotic personal healthcare provider invented by Tadashi.
An inflatable white body with distilled dot-and-line facial features, Baymax speaks (in the voice of Scott Adsit of 30 Rock) with unflappable bland courtesy edged with the faintest undertone of maternal nurturing impatience, and moves with a sweetly deliberate gravity. He’s like Jacques Tati crossed with the Michelin Man, and he’s by far the most imaginative and original element of Big Hero 6. The movie is solidly enjoyable overall, with its mix of Marvel and anime/manga flavors, but Baymax is an instant cartoon classic.