Customer Reviews: Is Anybody There?
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VINE VOICEon November 17, 2009
Probably one of the lowest activity films this year on Blu that ended up looking this pristine. Michael Caine's performance was outstanding from beginning to end, but unfortunately he is not in every scene.

The story follows a young boy as he deals with his life of living at a retirement home in the 1980s UK (that his parents manage for income). I had to have subtitles on as the accents and slang were unintelligible throughout. Caine plays a retired magician and self appointed resident to this home who inevitably befriends this young loner. Over the course of the film these two unlikely characters impart upon each other their little nuances and knowledge of life. Extremely slow moving at times and unlikely in others, what makes this movie tangible is the believability of Caine's borderline senility meets second chance in a dead end home role.

The Blu clarity is outstanding. I even paused it in the most of unlikely places and the line definition was ideal for the scenes. Even in the near dark basement scene there was no pixelation or blur. The DTS was perfect, and the subliminal/background noises of the old folks home played through no matter what part of the house the scene was taking place. The only supplement was made up of a few forgettable deleted scenes.

Not a mainstream appeal film by any means, but the performances were believable by all involved. The Blu sells itself but in an unlikely film of sorts. Four for the Blu and the story.
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Is Anybody There? is one of those films that shows that it's truly better to have a small budget with a good story and people who know their craft than to have a big budget with a mediocre story and people who don't. It's a charming little film that didn't make a big splash at the box office but is now being discovered on DVD by word of mouth.

The film is set in what was once generally referred to as an "old folks home" in rural Britain in the 1980's. The center of the story is a ten-year-old boy named Edward who lives there because his Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrisey) run the place, with the help of a hired-girl named Tanya (Linzey Cocker). It's a marginal existence and the strains on the family are readily visible. Mum is harried and exhausted from carryig the lion's share of the load of running the place and looking after the home's various elderly residents, each with their various quirks, problems and eccentricities. Dad, barely half-hearted when it comes to shouldering his share of the load, is going through a mid-life crisis, trying to make himself look - and feel - younger as he gives unwanted attentions to Tanya. And then there's Edward himself (Bill Milner, who stole the show in the equally underseen Son Of Rambow), a lonely boy with no real friends who's become obsessed with death and the afterlife because barely a month goes by without one or two of the home's residents passing on.

Into this quietly desperate situation comes Clarence (marvelously played by Michael Caine), a retired stage magician who's been sent to the home - much against his wishes - after the death of his wife. Irritable and snarling, Clarence has no intention of 'going gentle into that good night' and insists on bringing his van that he carries his magic equipment for his act around in. Sparks immediately fly between Clarence, who openly professes to loathe children, and Edward, who is hit yet again with disappointment when Clarence is moved into what he feels should have been _his_ room after it was vacated by the home's most recent death. But in spite of everything, Edward and Clarence start to connect, Clarence indulging Edward's obsession with investigating the afterlife even as he tries to tell the boy that this life is the only one there is and, more importantly, the only one that matters.

The script is beautifully done, bringing all of the individual characters out in ways that make you care about each of them, with all of their all too human flaws and foibles. Edward's obsession with death and the afterlife has him planting a portable tape recorder under the beds of residents who are about to pass on, hoping to find some clue of what happens when people die. Clarence, aware that his memory is failing, leaves himself reminder notes written on his hand so he won't forget things.

And the dialogue is filled with little gems like these, marvelously delivered in Caine's inimitable style:

Clarence: "Now for those of you who have never before sat in a seance, there is absolutely nothing to be fearful of. Ghosts are very friendly sorts. They like a nice chin wag. But they're very scared of loud noises and sudden movements. Which is the reason why they're very rarely to be sighted in discos and wrestling matches, for example."
Edward: "You shouldn't joke. It'll make 'em vengeful."
Clarence [raising hand in supplication]: "Spirits, please accept my mortal apologies."

Clarence: "I'd like to come back as a badger."
Edward: "Why?"
Clarence: "They're bad-tempered, but they look good - and you can make sporrans out of badgers." (Sporrans, for those who don't know, are those little fur pouches Scotsmen wear in front of their kilts.)

Highly, highly recommended. Find it. Watch it. It's truly worth the effort.
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on October 17, 2011
I highly recommend this film, beautifully acted by Michael Caine! I think it is one of his best roles ever, bringing honesty and a real sense of what aging means and how people get old and cope, and how regrets become a part of the emotional landscape of people as they do so. I am glad I now have a copy of this film to wathc and share with others as I get tolder. it gives a sense of being understood to whoever wathces it and it also serves as fine story for people of all ages, too!
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on December 4, 2009
This is another of those little gems that should appeal to anyone who enjoys thoughtful movies. The plot is simple enough: an old former magician lands up in an old-people's home and we follow the action largely by accompanying the young son of the people who run the home. The plot is simple enough but what matters here is that the direction is assured and even the smallest parts are played by actors and actresses who give depth without over-playing. The cast, indeed, is a veritable who's-who of British film and television and it's a pleasure to observe the craft on display here.

The central themes are those germane to most people's lives: regret, the impossibility of doing anything more than muddling through, loss, acceptance, and - in a sotto voce manner - forgiveness. Michael Caine turns in a good solid performance that is under-stated to the right degree. In fact, everything is under-stated, which makes the emotional impact much greater. And the script avoids the standard Hollywood play-it-for-sobs-then-tears-of-joy schtick, up to the last 60 seconds of the movie. Although the premise of the movie sounds depressing - let's watch old people decay and die and the caretakers' marriage fall apart because of the stresses and strains - this is actually a very enjoyable movie to watch. The pleasure is akin to seeing a finely crafted time piece in operation: everything is where it needs to be and the parts move in synchronicity. So basically this is a low budget movie that delivers high value emotional content and the pleasure of seeing something done very well indeed. Absolutely a must-see for anyone who enjoys superior acting and confident direction.
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"Is Anybody There" is a 2008 production of British Broadcasting Corporation Films that has achieved a theatrical, art house release in the United States. It runs 95 minutes, was written by Peter Harness, directed by John Crowley, and stars that wonderful actor Michael Caine.

It is set in 1980's seaside England: it looks/sounds like the North of England to me, and concerns the interactions of Caine, playing the Amazing Clarence (Parkinson), retired magician, unwillingly taking up residence in an old people's home; and Edward (Bill Milner), an unusual ten year old boy who's fascinated by death, and well-placed to investigate that fascination, as he's growing up in the old people's home that's run by his parents.

Anne-Marie Duff plays Edward's Mum; David Morrissy, his Dad. The home is populated by a veritable stock company of well-known older English actors: considering the prevalence of plastic surgery, they might well have been made-up to look older, as Caine might have been. (The man seems to have no personal vanity.) They include Rosemary Harris as Elsie, Leslie Phillips as Reg, Elizabeth Spriggs as Prudence (it was her last picture); Sylvia Syms as Lilian, and that North of England stalwart, Peter Vaughan, as Bob. Speaking of which, you can cut the North of England accents in this picture with a knife: subtitles would sure have been helpful. Despite which, the acting is uniformly very good.

Conservative Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the 1980's, and this film is apparently set on her watch; it might have had some political thoughts. Thatcher's governance was noted for great, although costly in human terms, improvements in the British economy, and I'm a little surprised to see this setting of the family-run nursing home at that time. At one time, these live-in family nursing homes were not uncommon: a family just had to get a big old house -- they were not too popular, then --- and some old people to fill the rooms, and they had a living. During the time of my English exile, I actually knew such a family: they had to look after 24 little old ladies. It was always 24 breakfasts, 24 dinners, 24 teas. I wouldn't have thought this business model had lingered into the 1980's; but times have always been harder in the North of the country than the South, and perhaps it did linger in the North.

Let's face it; the subject matter makes this movie a downer. The thing about getting old is, you generally get sick, physically and/or mentally; you lose your looks, your job, your loved ones, and your friends; you get lonely, and then you die. There is some cheerfulness and hope in Caine's relationship with the boy; but this movie is certainly not going to be everybody's cuppa. The best reason to see it is, of course, Caine, a marvelous actor and a thrifty one, who can do a lot with a little. And he did give a bit of a nod to his loyal, longtime fans: at one point he's explaining to the boy why his marriage broke up, and he says," I couldn't settle down. I was very good-looking then, and I couldn't keep it in my pants." Well, hello, Alfie: some of us remember just how he looked then. For us, I give the movie an extra star.
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on September 12, 2014
Anyone who is a Michael Caine fan will enjoy this movie. In this picture, he plays an elderly man who has developed Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. Without going into a plot synopsis, one of the strengths of this movie is its combination of "a coming of age" theme with the dynamics of how a person with Alzheimer's tries to adjust to its fatal diagnosis and how others around that person adjust (especially in this situation how a young lad adjusts). Mind you, it is not all doom and gloom. In fact, quite the opposite. It is a testimony to life. There is humor (as only Michael Caine can do), many upbeat moments and yet plenty of pathos as well. Anyone who likes Kubler Ross and her work (Five Stages of Loss) will easily be able to trace the steps throughout the movie. Bill Milner as a young Edward plays off Caine beautifully and received high praise from the master himself. Well worth the watch for lovers of the Drama genre.
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on April 20, 2011
Michael Caine, as always, gives a superb performance in this sweet movie about a young boy, surrounded by old age and death, coming to terms with the inevitable aging process. The supporting cast performed well - little vignettes of an old ex-dancer who has lost a leg trying on her old dancing shoes were subtle touches - but somehow deep emotion was missing from a movie in which, given the topic, I expected to feel melancholy. There were delightful touches of humour (Caine in particular had some worthy one-liners), but the real cause of my inability to really connect with the characters was because of a lack of focus. Neither the boy's morbid fascination with finding out what happens after death, nor his growing relationship with the grumpy retired magician (Caine) were fully developed. The movie would have benefited if there had been a sharper focus on one or the other theme (life after death vs the sadness/acceptance of the aging process.)

Despite this, the movie was an enjoyable evening's viewing and provided sweet moments and some good laughs.
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on March 10, 2011
It's unfortunate that this film didn't succeed entirely in providing the viewer with something concrete to walk away with. It does have some great things going for it, like the always likable Michael Caine and the boy's portrayal of someone preoccupied with what death is really all about, but it's as if the director and writers decided to focus all their energy on those two things rather than exploring further the true moral of the story.

One example of this beaten to death (no pun intended) premise is the fact that this boy throughout the film is witness to many deaths as a result of his mother and father running a sort of hospice for elderly people with nowhere else to go. It's easy for the viewer to extrapolate further on their own after seeing one such instance, making it laborious and unnecessary to continue showing us further examples.

And does it REALLY have to take an 18 year old girl to make an impact on a dying marriage because the husband is infatuated by his past she reminds him of?

Since Caine's character of a retired magician wasn't fully explored, there is only a glimpse of the kind of magic he could have used to inspire joy of living. It's a completely dropped ball and is kind of disheartening.

The only reason I am giving this movie 3 stars at all is simply because of three extremely powerful and realistically emotional scenes that are some of the best acting of Michael Caine's wonderful and varied career. There is also a stellar moment for the boy which I will not spoil here. Suffice to say, it, and the Caine miraculous moments do a great deal to propel this otherwise disappointing, flat movie into something much more enjoyable, and heartbreaking.
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John Crowley has been creating sensitive films that deal with difficult subjects (Intermission, Boy A) and somehow pulls them off brilliantly. IS ANYBODY THERE? on the surface is a simple story about a friendship that develops between a somewhat despondent elderly man and a young boy who wants to know what happens after life. In part due to the writing of Peter Harness and in part due to the stellar performances by Michael Caine and Bill Milner, this little Indie film slipped through the cracks of public notice only to be discovered once it has been released on DVD. It is worth the wait.

Edward (Bill Milner) is a ten-year-old boy living with his parents, Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and Dad (David Morrissey) in 1980s England. In rough financial times the family has converted their small home into a retirement center where elderly folks progress towards their ends, grumble and gather for games and are entertained by whomever happens by. Edward, put out because he has given up his room for the old codgers, fancies ghosts and paranormal activities that he attempts to register on a tape recorder whenever one of the tenants dies. His life is one of frustration at having to live with the old folks, until one day by chance one Clarence the Amazing Magician (Michael Caine) parks at the house and takes up residence in a room recently vacated by a death. He is feisty yet he is also a bit morose, remembering his beloved deceased wife Annie who divorced him for his philandering - a fact for which he has never forgiven himself. Clarence and Edward gradually align; Edward learns some magic tricks from Clarence, while Clarence finds a fellow soul who will care about his plight. Clarence gifts the paranormal obsessed Edward with a séance and Edward shares secrets with Clarence - secrets such as standing before a mirror and uttering the name of a departed until they appear.

Not much changes around the retirement home until Dad foolishly tries to woo one of the young helpers and is recorded by Edward, releasing the recording to Mum, which sets in place a divorce. Edward is devastated at what he has done and turns to Clarence, but Clarence is set on suicide to join his Annie. How each of these two bruised males interact and help each other accept both life and death is the resolution of the story. The performances by Caine and Milner are remarkably fine and they are surrounded by some of our better elderly actors (Sylvia Syms, Rosemary Harris, Peter Vaughan Lesley Howard etc). Though the theme of the film is much about dying, it remains a buoyant, life affirming story of how desperately we all need to interact with others to give life special meaning. A very good film and one of Michael Caine's finest and most subtle performances on film. Grady Harp, January 10
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on March 24, 2014
I kept watching hoping it would get better, but to be honest it never did. The script tried hard to make some of the scenes humorous and maybe it will appeal to some, however I found it rather depressing overall and will probably "donate" my DVD to our public library for one of their fundraisers.
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