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HTF Blu-ray Review: IS ANYBODY THERE?



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#1 of 1 Michael Reuben

Michael Reuben

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Posted November 15 2009 - 09:26 AM

It’s 1985, and young Edward (Milner) lives in a small town in the south of England with his Mum (Anne-Marie Duff; Notes on a Scandal and the forthcoming The Last Station) and Dad (David Morrissey; The Reaping and Basic Instinct 2, but you won’t recognize him). Edward does not like what has happened to his home. His parents have turned the house into a retirement residence, and Edward has had to give up his room, because it’s more valuable to the family when it houses an additional tenant. Edward despises living among the various stroke victims, palsy sufferers and worn-out pensioners that surround him day and night, and he’s less than thrilled at the toll the daily grind is taking on his parents. The business is struggling, and while Mum tries to put on a cheery front, Dad is suffering a midlife crisis with a wandering eye that has settled on their young assistant Tanya (Linzey Cocker).
It would be inaccurate to say that Edward and Clarence strike up a friendship. It’s more like a partnership between outcasts. Clarence wants nothing to do with his fellow residents, while Edward is mocked at school for his fascination with the occult and the “weird” circumstances of his home life. (It also turns out that he doesn’t like “football” a/k/a soccer, which automatically makes him an outcast in England.) But as partnerships go, this is a strange sort in which the partners can’t possibly fulfill each other’s needs. Edward wants Clarence to help him study the occult, because magicians are supposed to know about these things. Clarence has come to the bitter conclusion that he’s seen all there is to life, that “eing a person is a pain in the ass”, and that the main experience of living is accumulating regrets that “stick to you like old bruises”. The only thing that engages his interest, even briefly, is getting Edward out of his shell so that the kid will go off and do something besides looking for ghosts and bothering old people.
To ensure that the story keeps its edge, screenwriter Peter Harness and director John Crowley (whose credits include the tough-minded social drama Boy A) surround Clarence and Edward with various darkly comic subplots, many of them involving the elderly residents at Edward’s home. Take Lilian (Sylvia Syms), who lights up with smiles when told that her daughter is on the phone from Canada; then she picks up the receiver and immediately begins balling out her daughter in the most vicious tone imaginable. From there Lilian’s story only gets darker. The great Rosemary Harris (still best known as Peter Parker’s Aunt May, but also one of the finest living theater actresses) plays Elsie, a former dancer who now only has one leg but is determined to get another resident, Reg, to dance with her (Reg is played by Leslie Phillips, who co-starred in Venus with Peter O’Toole). When Reg finally gives in, Elsie takes over his life. Harris is so good that she can convey the sense of a complete character with just a few lines and few minutes of screen time.
The DTS lossless track is solid and serviceable, giving priority to the dialogue, as it should, and using the surrounds for a subtle sense of ambiance. Occasionally, there are pronounced rear channel effects such as traffic passing, but these are the exception. Dialogue is generally clear and well-rendered, but American listeners should be warned that the accents are unusually thick. Fortunately, the English subtitles are detailed and accurate (and I know this because I had to consult them a few times, which is unusual for me, but Caine mutters the occasional line in a kind of throwaway gesture where the tone is more important than the words). Jody Talbot, who also scored Son of Rambow, has written a delicate score that avoids easy tugs at the heart strings, and it’s both well integrated into the mix and well-presented on the Blu-ray.

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