Is Anybody There?

Death and taxes are inevitable features of life.  Their unavoidability are to be accepted even if they conjure feelings of dread.  Although not about money, acknowledging our demise drives Is Anybody There? - a film celebrating life.  Putting a gleefully snappy spin on the morbid premise, the great English cast make a virtue of seizing the moment for the time their characters have left.
Living in a nursing home run by his parents, ten year old Edward (Bill Milner) is obsessed with death.  His idea of a good time is recording the final breath of its inhabitants and attempting to contact them from the ‘other side’. Into his weird existence stumbles Clarence (Michael Caine), a retired magician who has accumulated a lifetime of regret.  Suffering from dementia, in his lucid moments he becomes concerned about the boy’s strange fascination.  Teaching him tricks while proving there is more to life than death, Clarence begins to confront past actions whilst Edward learns to engage with the present.
Bravely tackling the almost taboo themes of old age and illness, Is Anybody There? is about legacies.  In Clarence we see someone keen in passing his knowledge onto Edward in the hope his spirit continues.  With Edward we discover how death changes him and of its ability to impede his social interactions.  These elements are wonderfully conveyed by Caine and Milner giving first rate renditions of damaged personalities. Also impressive are David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff as Edward’s parents who go through their own excursion through mid-life doldrums.
Making events shine is the great use of humour amongst its tricky subject.  In fearing the unknown our ability to laugh at death is a common trait other movies have highlighted.  Importantly the elderly folk are treated with compassion in spite of the few eccentrics among them.  Even with these, their burden of long memories and ageing bodies become moving as they attempt to make the most of what they have.  Fittingly a dedication is made to one of the actors who sadly died before its release - a wistful reminder of the talented mark left behind due to their passing.
One of the best points of Is Anybody There? is Caine’s eagerness in further developing his talents.  Thankfully not giving into the temptation to slide into retirement, his seeming defiance against ageism is one skilfully matching the film’s subject.
Rating out of 10:  9 

State of Play

Sometimes the current state of news gathering gives one pause for thought.  Where the tiniest piece of third hand gossip is passed as a headline making story the new electronic age has cheapened the once worthy profession.  Although set in the here and now, State of Play harks back to a simpler time where the search for absolute and subjective truth was paramount.  Based on the BBC series this lean thriller makes the most of its intriguing topic.
When the body of a political research assistant is discovered, newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is suspicious.  Discovering she was in the employ of his friend Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), his journalistic instincts gathers apace.  Assisted by internet blogger Della (Rachel McAdams), his investigative skills unearth a sordid political scandal involving hitmen and shadowy dealings.  Relying on his wits and scrutineering abilities, Cal’s life depends on seeing events through to the final newsprint.
Kevin MacDonald’s taut direction helps elevate State of Play’s many ideas.  Questioning our acceptance of the visual facts presented and the value of true friendship, he appears to plea for his audience to maintain their inquisitive natures.  Even though Cal’s exploratory methods are less than perfect, he at least makes the effort to verify the information given.  This sets up the main conflict between him and Della who, as part of a generation used to quickly absorbed news bites, reluctantly participates in his old fashioned methods. 
Like its protagonists, State of Play takes time in weaving through its many strands.  As the reporters shape a narrative for their article, so too does the film in slowly increasing tension.  Cast in roles well suited to their personalities, the actors bring genuine conviction in various journalistic/political personas so often portrayed as villains.  Crowe in particular embodies the street smart edge needed in order to stay ahead of his rivals and of those he trusts.  These performances coupled with a strong screenplay create a potent lesson in embracing quality news in favour of instant hearsay.
As newspapers currently begin their inevitable surrender to electronic media, State of Play could have the distinction of being one of the last films to portray the medium in its current entity.  This might be a depressing thought for some, although as it proves there will always be those who will strive to maintain professional integrity in the face of any modern advances.
Rating out of 10:  8