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4.4 out of 5 stars
Is Anybody There? [DVD]
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Edward is fed up. Stuck in a run down retirement home run by his parents in the mid 80's he finds his room being occupied by wrinklies who are not long for this world. Young Edward helps pass the time by recording the old 'uns sleeping in the hope he will catch one dying and thus find out what happens when we die. Into the home comes grumpy old curmudgeon Clarence,(Caine), who takes a dislike to just about everyone but eventually takes Edward under his wing. Clarence was a magician and it's through his sleight of hand tricks and magic show that he helps Edward see the bigger picture, stop worrying about death and in return Edward helps him face his own end.
This manages to avoid all the usual problems that come with this type of film. Theres no mawkishness, this is really pretty grim stuff, every laugh,(and theres a lot), is counterbalanced by a sad moment. For a change we are not bombarded by an endless soundtrack of 'music of the era' but rather a melancholy saw whines away and lends a very grim atmosphere.
Caine is up there with the best when he gets a script he likes. He is totally convincing as the lonely old man, regretting his past so much that he is fighting the inevitable end his rapidly worsening dementia is swiftly bringing. He swings from old grump with a quick blast of "bugger off!" to reaching out to help Edward to lost and bewildered seamlessly and with ease. Understated and yet a commanding presence in every scene he is in. Bill Milner as Edward does a great job of keeping up with his illustrious acting partner as he lends believability to his fed up but feisty boy trying to get to grips with his life. The two work together very well and at no point can you see either of them 'acting' it's all very natural.
They are well supported by Anne-Marie Duff & David Morrissey as Edwards struggling mum & dad. No great histrionics here just a normal couple trying to keep their heads above water and making mistakes. Duff is particularly good as the mum, a very sympathetic character who is trying to hold everything together. There's a nice cameo performance from Leslie Phillips too.
This manages to balance laugh out loud moments with grim realities very well and although the atmosphere always remains quite dark it's not overdone.
The picture is fine with a slightly washed-out effect to the colours adding a sense of atmosphere. Sound is all about dialogue which is clear and well centred.
The extras are a bit sparse, just a collection of short interviews which are chopped up to make them seem longer, but give some insight into how the actors felt about their roles. Caine in particular was quite clearly very happy to have been involved and is well worth listening to. It makes a change to hear interviews that don't see the actors all gushing about each other in the usual sickening self-congratulatory manner that usually accompanies a film.
This funny film remains well grounded in reality and is blessed with a light hand from the directors chair, some very funny lines and a top notch performance by Caine in amongst fine work by those around him.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Set in a rather improbable Residential Home for the "Elderly" (a word I hate), this is a boy's-eye view of old people, aging, and the sheer bone-aching misery of growing up surrounded by the very old, with parents who are run into the ground by the demands of Care - this is not a home which would pass any Social Services inspection in terms of staffing levels. 11-year-old Edward (Bill Milner, withdrawn and resentful) copes with this by retreating into a morbid obsession with ghosts, the afterlife, and especially with the moment of death when the soul leaves the body - or does it?

Into his life comes Clarence (Michael Caine), retired magician, dragged kicking and screaming into institutional care, and equally truculent and withdrawn. Clarence is particularly obsessed with the loss of his wife, and the sense of loneliness in him and in Edward is overwhelming. The rest of the film is the development of their relationship from mutual loathing to mutual affection, with Clarence becoming the grandfather lacking in Edward's life. In this journey, both characters learn to engage with the world - Edward for the first time, Clarence to re-engage, and come out of retirement for a show for Edward's birthday party.

This optimistic scenario is clouded by Clarence's increasing memory failure, which culminates dramatically in a trick which goes disastrously wrong, in a bleakly comic way. Clarence's final decline is skipped over, the pitiless demands of Alzheimer's being ignored in favour of leaving a positive image in the boy's mind..

What I really like about this film is the insistence that old age, extreme old age, is not about dying or waiting to die, but about living. There's an excellent background cast of other residents in the home (Peter Vaughan, Leslie Phillips, Sylvia Sims, Rosemary Harris), but although death is present amongst them, it's notable that life continues. A touching romance blossoms between Harris and old soak Phillips; Vaughan, who suffers from severe tremors in his hands, finds he's cured through the trauma of an accident. Clarence himself teaches the boy to accept that when we die, we die, and in himself accepting a role in the substitute family offered by Edward, no longer sees this as a bleak prospect.

The script and Caine's performance of it are both superb. Caine in particular works well by not treating the boy as a child in any way, and in the onset of his dementia is particularly affecting because he plays it so matter-of-factly. His anger and his affection are both underplayed, and move us more because he never asks for sympathy. Indeed, our sympathy for the cantankerous sod rather creeps up on us unexpectedly.

If I dock a star, it is for two reasons: first, as I've indicated, it rather glosses over some aspects of dementia which I wish it could have encompassed. I think, for example, Edward should have gone through the pain of not being recognised by Clarence. The ending is slightly too easy. Secondly, although Caine and Bill Milner are both excellent individually, I don't feel there's a true spark between the two of them. Having just seen the extraordinary rapport between Dirk Bogarde and Jon Whitely in "Hunted" Hunted (Region 2 import) Dirk Bogarde, maybe I'm spoilt. But it's the difference between Being and Acting. Whitely has a rawness and transparency which Milner at 13 is already maybe a mite too self-aware to achieve. It also has to be said that John Crowley's direction is a bit humdrum, particularly after the concentrated ferocity and beautiful composition of "Boy A" Boy A [DVD] [2007].
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2009
This is a lovely little film which is lifted from being just nice and fluffy by the wonderful Michael Caine. It's about a friendship between an old man and a young boy who's obsessed with what happens to people after they die. This is a touching, well made movie, although it takes a bit of time to get going; the first 20 minutes or so seem a bit of a mess, while an attempt is made to establish all the characters and a back story; which for a film that clocks in at little over 90 minutes is a bit excessive. This isn't a film that's probably ever going to change anyone's life, but for an hour or so it will make you feel happy, sad, cry, laugh and maybe value life a little more. There are some genuinely emotionally powerful moments in it and its subject matter and Michael Caine's portrayal of his character prevent it from being the lightweight `eccentric British comedy' it could easily have turned out to be. (My mother died less than a year ago, so perhaps I'm still a bit sensitive to seeing old people in homes, dying and becoming senile.) It has Leslie Phillips in it too, who, playing exactly the same character as he does in every film he's ever been in, appears to look much the same as he used to in black and white in the 1960s. (Except now in colour, obviously). He also gets to deliver the funniest line. This is a film well worth watching, probably best with someone you care for, (which for someone like me with no friends is a bit difficult). Despite there being one scene with a cat in it, Penny (my cat) steadfastly refused to watch any part of it, instead sitting with her back to the screen the whole time. So it's unfortunately not a great film to put on if you have a group of cats to entertain.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2009
Never Laughed so much , First saw it at the Cinema, The whole audience was in uproar. Michael Caine at his best, also the boy who plays Edward(Bill Milner) is a fine actor for his age, also some old faces.Very touching in parts.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 1 January 2010
"Is Anybody There ?" is a pleasant British film ,set in an old folks home in the late 1980's ,about the friendship between an old ex-magician, played by Michael Caine and a spirited young boy. Caine's character is suffering from dementia which gets progressively worse as the film goes on and he is in a depressed mood, but making friends with the boy cheers him up and inspires him to teach him some magic tricks and generally bring the boy out of himself. The boy's parents are having some marital difficulties and he thrives on the attention he gets from the magician. Michael Caine is excellent in this role and I'm sure he didn't expect to still be getting leading roles in movies at the age of 76. There are some comical moments in the film and the scene where a magic trick goes wrong is particularly amusing. "Is Anybody There ?" is characterised by the caring nature of most of the characters and there is no nastiness in it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2011
Most of the media reviewers were luke warm about this movie. They didn't so much pan it, just niggled about it, which is a shame as it deserved much better and demonstrates how jaded reviewers can become. The story is a mixture of drama, pathos, and a some humour to lift it from the morbid. The high point for me was the acting, all the characters are believable, but Michael Caine and young Bill Milner are superb in their roles. Utterly delightful.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 May 2014
This film is touching in so many levels as it deals with so many issues including life ,death and everything in-between. I am not going to spoil anything so I am just going to say that it is about a young boy growing up in an old people's home and a man living there dealing with his regrets. All the cast were wonderful but especially David Morrissey and Michael Cain. I think this is one of Michael Cain's greatest performance to date but lets not forget about Bill Milner and Anna Maria Duff who also gave great performances. The chemistry between Michael Cain and Bill Milner was very good and really does make the film the heart-warming comedy-drama that it is.

A wonderful film that I would highly recommend to anyone. 5 STARS
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 December 2014
I loved this film, and Michael Caine is once again brilliant, plus Bill Milner who plays Edward a 10 year old boy, is a great little actor. He becomes friends with Clarence(caine) a ex magician who resides in a old peoples home. Edward who is trying to get evidence of death, even recording the last moments of some of the residents last moments. The one thing I loved about this film was the ending, plus the relationship between Clarence and Edward.
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on 8 February 2010
Another English quirky gem. No action, no war and no blood'n'guts! Just a lovely easy on the eye movie. The ensemble is excellent, lead by Michael Caine. A cantankerous man of yesteryear, full of magic on his mind! The supporting actors are great, wheeled out especially for this one. Leslie Phillips made me laugh and he has been on the British movie scene longer than Mr.Caine!

The story line is slow but gentle, the boy who wants to trap the spark of the end of life on a tape recorder is both sad and funny. This movie has a blend of dark humour and respect for seniors. I could almost smell the urine in the carpet.

This movie bring home to the viewer some home truths about ageing, letting go, family, fun and the meaning of adventure in one's last days! A very enjoyable sunday afternoon movie.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 19 November 2009
My wife and I saw this with two friends one wet afternoon having no previous knowledge of the film. We found it entertaining and very moving too, we all laughed and cried in equal measures. Superb casting and wonderful performances by all.
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