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Is Anybody There?

Low-key English film about life, death and a fading magician

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In a dull Yorkshire town in the mid-1980s, a bored 10-year-old lad named Edward (Bill Milner) befriends a cranky former magician named Clarence (Michael Caine). They meet badly: Edward lives in the old-age home his fretful parents run, and Clarence has just moved into his old room. Yet, over the course of a few weeks, the two find common ground: Edward is an amateur ghost-hunter and Clarence, while a skeptic at heart, at least understands the allure of the mysterious. A few laughs aside, this is still a retirement home, and the residents' longing, guilt, illness and mortality are unwanted if inescapable companions for Edward. While there's little new about John Crowley's small drama, it's mostly well done and as comfy as an old sweater. The story's key events are oddly telescoped at the end, and the film's lessons about life, regret and forgiveness are just a teensy bit too spelled out. (Likewise, when presenting the other residents of the home, the film tips slightly toward "British eccentrics.") On the other hand, young Milner (last seen in Son of Rambow) is a keeper, and it's always a pleasure to see Caine in one of these quieter roles. AMC Loews, Manor

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