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Elsa & Fred Blu-ray Review

Elsa & Fred (2014) movie poster Elsa & Fred

Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Michael Radford / Writers: Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford (screenplay); Marcos Carnevale, Marcela Guerty, Lily Ann Martin (original film Elsa y Fred)

Cast: Shirley MacLaine (Elsa Hayes), Christopher Plummer (Frederick "Fred" Barcroft), Marcia Gay Harden (Lydia), Wendell Pierce (Armande), Jared Gilman (Michael), Erika Alexander (Laverne), Chris Noth (Jack), Scott Bakula (Raymond Hayes), George Segal (John), Reg Rogers (Alec Hayes), James Brolin (Maxwell "Max" Hayes), Jackie Tuttle (Receptionist)

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In an industry that neglects older people both as characters and as viewers, it's encouraging to see a movie assigning lead roles to octogenarians. Accomplished Academy Award winners Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer portray the titular protagonists of Elsa & Fred,
a film about love in life's twilight. This 2014 movie remakes Elsa y Fred, a well-received 2005 Argentine film that finally reached US theaters in 2008.

Despite its star power and some behind-the-camera clout, this English language remake did not really make it to North American theaters apart from a number of festivals, an LA premiere, and a miniscule number of limited, untracked engagements. It hits DVD and Blu-ray on 2014's final Tuesday, arriving in stores some eight weeks after becoming available through Video On Demand.

Seventy-four-year-old New Orleanian Elsa Hayes (MacLaine) notices when Frederick Barcroft (Plummer), 80, moves into the apartment next to hers. Elsa makes a bad first impression on Fred's family, hitting and running from his son-in-law's parked car and threatening the one young witness to the act, Fred's grandson (Moonrise Kingdom lead Jared Gilman).

Elderly next door neighbors Fred (Christopher Plummer) and Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) become lovers in the US remake "Elsa & Fred."

Elsa is a firecracker full of tall tales. She invents a sob story to get out of paying Fred for the auto damage she has inflicted. Though that is an unpromising start to their relationship, the two neighbors come to enjoy each other's company despite their contrary dispositions and lifestyles. Fred, who was recently widowed, spends much of his day lying in bed. He resists the home caregiver (Erika Alexander) his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) has hired for him. Elsa, meanwhile, is always coming and going. She wants to take dance lessons, but is required to have a partner. She listens to loud, boisterous music in her car. And she increasingly makes herself at home at Fred's place, reading much into the night when he asks her for help when his unit's pipes break down.

Elsa and Fred's blossoming romance is repeatedly set back as her fictions become exposed. She isn't so much widowed for 27 years as technically still married. Nonetheless, the yarn-spinning lady and grumpy widower are rejuvenated by their shared experiences, which come to include a spontaneous trip to Rome to recreate a scene from Elsa's beloved La Dolce Vita.

It's easy to appreciate the fact that Elsa & Fred gives its elderly stars more than just old geezer jokes. The two actors are unequivocal leads and their characters are imbued with complexity and depth. As delightful as it is to see these two actors who emerged in the 1950s become the rare old-timers trusted to fill roles of substance, Elsa & Fred isn't worthy of either's talents. Though the film looks nice and the cast is fleshed out with other actors of renown (like Harden, Chris Noth, James Brolin, George Segal, Scott Bakula, and Wendell Pierce), it has the feel of a television movie and not a very good one.

Fred's daughter (Marcia Gay Harden), son-in-law (Chris Noth), and grandson (Jared Gilman) have minor presence in supporting roles.

It may surprise you, then, to learn that an Oscar-nominated writer-director is at the helm. Then again, Michael Radford isn't your typical Oscar-nominated filmmaker. The India-born, British-raised Radford became a double nominee for Director and Adapted Screenplay on the 1990s Italian film Il Postino (The Postman), the rare foreign language production to earn a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. The 68-year-old Radford has a sturdy filmography on either side of Il Postino: among the before is his 1984 George Orwell adaptation 1984, most notable among his post-Postino credits is 2004's The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino. Both of those dramas are regarded highly and there aren't any obvious duds in Radford's internationally-flavored résumé.
Despite that, he hasn't worked steadily or maintained the reputation of a gifted craftsman. In light of his body of work, Radford is almost shockingly anonymous. You can understand that to some degree. His biggest success, Postino, clearly belonged to Massimo Troisi, the star and a screenwriter who gave his life to the film that was released posthumously. It's tempting to attribute source texts or other actors for Radford's other respectable works.

And yet it's tough to blame anyone else for the failings of Elsa & Fred. Radford, who reunites with Postino scribe Anna Pavignano here, does not make the material soar. Their script is not just formulaic, repetitive, and ridiculously predictable (you will correctly foresee how the movie will end by around the halfway point). It also feels like it's been translated from another language, which it is, since the original movie was in Spanish and Pavignano only writes in Italian. The movie deserves to be taken more seriously as a loving tribute to Fellini's La Dolce Vita than as its own December-December romance.

Elsa & Fred Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 30, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Elsa & Fred keeps its intended 2.40:1 widescreen ratio on Blu-ray, something it's too soon to expect regularly from the sometimes disappointing Millennium Entertainment. The Blu-ray's presentation is fine. It turns up the compression more than it needs to, but the picture maintains nice detail and definition throughout. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD doesn't garner any special notice, but nor does it raise any concerns. There's also a Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack for the home theater-less.

Recent Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer discusses his work here in the making-of featurette. Marcia Gay Harden counts the money while Shirley & Chris dance motionlessly on the Elsa & Fred Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's main bonus feature is an untitled HD making-of featurette which runs 18 minutes and 51 seconds.
It includes thoughtful interview remarks from a slew of cast and crew members, all of whom speak more highly of the film than they should. The talking heads material is complemented by some behind-the-scenes footage.

The other extra is Elsa & Fred's theatrical trailer (2:16, inexplicably SD), which joins the disc-opening SD trailers for Reach Me, The Humbling, By the Gun, and Fading Gigolo in a Previews section.

The menu plays silent clips and an end credits song in an empty space left by a reformatting of the cover art. The BD doesn't support bookmarks, but gladly does resume unfinished playback of the movie and extras.

No inserts or slipcover join the plain blue keepcase, but the disc's label at least adapts the cover art.

Fred (Christopher Plummer) and Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) recreate a famous scene from Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" near the end of "Elsa & Fred."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hollywood rarely gives old age the thought and respect it does in Elsa & Fred. Unfortunately, that and meaty lead roles for living legends of cinema Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer aren't enough to make this a good movie. Though innocuous, this geriatric romantic comedy is also tacky, obvious, and consistently underwhelming.

Millennium's Blu-ray offers strong picture and sound and an okay couple of extras. But you'd need to carry a love for the cast to consider this bland, soon-forgotten film a good use of your time.

Buy Elsa & Fred at Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Christopher Plummer: Barrymore • The Last Station • The Insider • Priest • National Treasure • The Sound of Music • Up
Shirley MacLaine: The Apartment | Marcia Gay Harden: Magic in the Moonlight • The Hoax | Scott Bakula: Behind the Candelabra
Last Love • The Hundred-Foot Journey • Everybody's Fine • Venus • The Good Lie • Stonehearst Asylum

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Reviewed December 29, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Millennium Entertainment, Cuatro Plus Films, Rio Negro Producciones,
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