Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Seen: 2002.06.05   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.06.14

I was looking forward to Insomnia as a sort of Serious MoPixed Drama, of which there have been very few. Or as serious as Hollywood makes them, whose limits this “project” would surely tax, given that it is a remake of a lugubrious but very modern Norwegian/Swedish film starring one of my total faves, Stellan Skarsgård. The original is overrated. Insomnia? I fell asleep.

Yes, Christopher Nolan. Wonderful, yes. I know. I am the only cinéaste in Toronto who has not seen Memento. (Saving it up for a bigger television. Let’s hope Captions, Inc. didn’t fuck it up.) But Al Pacino is a grave warning sign. (Not Robin Williams. He’s entirely capable of serious acting.) And Hilary Swank graduates from trannie to cop, channelling Sandra Bullock all the while. John Cameron Mitchell could have played the role just as well.


It was another Movie Night. Mr. X showed up. We had a whole production at the front desk getting caption reflectors that weren’t banged to shit. (One more time: Insist.) A “playa” had to dig up Windex. I made the titanically original suggestion that playaz should clean the fingerprints off the reflectors. We do, he said, with a superexpressive wiping motion. You can’t “wipe” fingerprints, except into a smear. You need degreaser.

Our sign-in procedure tonight is yet another variation: The playa will sign us in without ID or we may sign ourselves in. They’re using the same book as the very first movie, which they told me they’d lost. About 215 usages of the various systems since November 2001.

Anyway, in we go. Dead centre again. Old couple to our right think we’re really frigging weird, going so far as to move their jackets farther away not once but twice. Some bint gives me a dirty look for talking through the previews (Mr. X found a bubble in the moulded plastic and was already distracted), and in return she hears me tell her in an even louder voice “We’re allowed to talk during the previews.”

The film was a failure at even indicating let alone communicating the exhaustion of insomnia caused by a guilt complex and the midnight sun. If nothing else, the Norwegian original was exhaustively complete at this task; the movie’s signature image shows Skarsgård falling asleep at the wheel. And the whole frickin’ thing, save for some ærials, was shot in B.C.

I had something of a J.K. Simmons moment: “Nicky Katt... Nicky Katt...” I thought to myself. Porn star? Or...? Yes, the tall, shockingly-black-haired actor from Suburbia and, latterly, Boston Public. I am sincere in stating that his performance offered me a model of new and subtler ways to be sarcastic. (It’s another cliché of sorts, you know, like the wiseacre soldier who always just barely gets away with his double entendres and carefully-modulated cutting undertone of voice in addressing his sarge – pace Colin Farrell in Tigerland.)

It’s the shock of shocking black hair, and the upright bearing, and the general skill that sell me on a straight actor with a gay-porn-star name. You know, him and Ben Chaplin.

There are too many references to Anchorage as either the capital of Alaska (Juneau is) or an easy shopping destination (you have to fly into whatever podunk town this movie is set in). I was an Alaska obsessif as a youth. I know these things.

Caption quality

Well, here we go yet bloody again: Can everyone please decide what names to give the characters? The medical examiner is IDed in the very same scene once as WOMAN and again as MEDICAL EXAMINER. An OFFICER is in fact Rich, named in the dialogue beforehand. How embarrassing to flub that one: He’s the only native with a speaking part, and we don’t want to give the impression we can’t tell them apart. (In addition, audio description: “In the rocks above, Fred and the ponytailed officer, Rich.”)

Also, DUGGAR is named thus in captions, but in description he is known as Fred. This keeps coming up. It needs to be fixed.

Oh, just one more thing: How can there be a medical examiner in Podunk, Alaska? If they’re big enough for a coroner, they’re big enough for Indian restaurants and leather bars.

“Thank God, you got me taking care of you” does not need a comma.

Description quality

Miles Neff is narrator. The earth revolves around the sun.

“As Dormer runs a gloved hand through Kay’s hair”: Kay hasn’t been named yet. Yes, we pre-identify characters in audio description; you have to in order to figure out the story. (Nondisabled viewers can keep characters straight by looks, though this admittedly falls down when characters are interchangeable, as in war movies – pace The Thin Red Line, Black Hawk Down.) Here the flashback structure, and the mere fact that Insomnia is a suspense film, call for an unidentified description: “through a young woman’s long black hair.”

The much-mentioned “SUV” is actually a Jeep Cherokee. I don’t see why it couldn’t have been called a Jeep.

Another case of describing a sound: “As [whoever it was] hands Dormer the megaphone, it blares feedback.”

“Dormer motions his head to the right”: No, head and to the left, dismissively.

Penknives! Jeez. Can we decide whether it’s a, the, or his penknife? [Additionally, caption: (knife opening).]

“The digital clock blinks between the 3 and the 5”: An overly-literal AudioVision Canada–style incomprehensible description. Digital clocks sometimes blink the colon between the hours and minutes. It’s a rather irrelevant detail, even though the numbers are seen in closeup. “The digital clock blinks” or something would do fine. Also, the digital clock? the 3? the 5? It had not been mentioned before.

Exit interview

A manageress said there actually is Windex under the desk and playaz are supposed to clean reflectors during downtime between movies. Not that this is actually done.

Amusing fun fact: Mr. X, though hard-of-hearing, can hear the descriptions. He tried on the headset. Naturally I gave it to him just as names like Port Alberni were listed in the credits, so I don’t know if Miles Neff pronounced them correctly.

We also took a close look at the display (this was one of the smaller theatres; the display had been moved in), which is now seen to be composed of three lines of 32 characters in a 7 × 5 dot matrix.

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