Cineast: ‘Elsa and Fred,’ ‘Interstellar,’ ‘The Better Angels’


Elsa and Fred

Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer star as the elderly Elsa and Fred, she youthful and vivacious, he widowed and lost. The two meet while living in an apartment complex and Elsa, who has a long history of confusing fantasy and reality, slowly draws the reserved Fred into her world. Elsa has long dreamt of going to Rome to reenact her favorite scene from La Dolce Vita—the scene where Marcello Mastroiani and Anita Ekberg come together in front of the Fontana di Trevi—and Fred sees to it that she gets to live that dream. Based on an Italian film, Elsa and Fred is perfectly aimed at the greying boomer generation—the generation that made stars of Plummer and MacLaine in the first place—and comes at a time when the prevailing preference for establishing low-risk but stifling environments for seniors to live out their sunset years is giving way to a recognition that seniors will live longer, and with more satisfaction, if they are free to make their own choices. A timely film with a built-in audience.


In the wake of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s respectful but hilarious imitations of him in The Trip, Michael Caine has joked that even HE can’t “do” Michael Caine anymore. If by this he means his low, portent-filled growl that has lent an air of high seriousness to otherwise silly superhero films, it will be a great loss to directors who need an injection of gravitas into their goofier projects. In Interstellar, Michael Caine plays another in a string of grey eminences, but his voice is noticeably less “Michael Caine-y” than it’s been recently—perhaps as a result of his reluctance to “do” Michael Caine—and so the film is missing that foundation of epic consequence that Caine is supposed to bring. The film, which also features Matthew McConaughey, is a combination environmental disaster/sci-fi adventure story about the search for a replacement for a ravaged planet Earth. It’s weighty stuff that calls out for Michael Caine’s most throaty tones—but it might have to try to make do without.

The Better Angels

Abraham Lincoln grew up in the wilderness. There weren’t schools, or when there were, the teachers often didn’t know what they were doing. Education, if it was thought of at all, was considered a sissified luxury for the wealthy. The Better Angels, from director Terrence Malick, dramatizes the story of how Lincoln was able, against tall odds, to get the grounding in literature, writing, and law that allowed someone from such a background to formulate and articulate the way forward for a country torn apart by its own devotion to ignorance.

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