Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Panic Room

Seen: 2002.04.06   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.04.07

I underwent my trademark mild cardiac arrest when I learned that Yonge & Eg would be playing A Beautiful Lie instead of Panic Room, which had been skedded as the first Movie Night outing and which my friend was also willing to see (with CC and DVS – not all noncrips are hostile to the idea).

Instead, there it was stuck way the fork out in Scarborough. I decided on the coveted Saturday-night showing.

Playa at the cashier’s desk actually asks me “Do you have a student card or student ID?” “I’m 37,” I tell her, and then I realize she wasn’t trying to card me. How odd.

Other playa hands me the equipment no problem. (Kids are pro-captioning, pro-description. They like this stuff.) It’s only half-full for the 7:00 show, which I find ominous.

Now, the thing about the Coliseum Scarborough cinema is that it is attached to Scarborough Town Centre, the big mall in Scarborough, a contiguous suburb that was its own city before amalgamation. “Scarberia” has a very large population of what newspapers annoyingly call visible minorities; the black, Chinese, and Indian populations are most noticeable. Toronto genuinely is multicultural, and it is very weird to experience the racial mix of U.S. cities. (Not only are there more black people, due to immigration patterns, those same black people look different from those in Toronto. And where are the other races? I almost never see Indians in the U.S., for example.)

When you get to the Scarborough Town Centre, nobody’s in the majority. It’s like Hawaii all of a sudden. Blacks have the plurality, but every race is represented, save, apparently, for natives. In fact, Scarborough’s ethnic makeup is different from downtown Toronto’s. And the black population seems more U.S.-influenced, a trend that’s been ongoing for 20 years. (I distinctly remember the days before rap hit.) This means the young fellas talk big and take up a lot of space. But I’m an old fart and I hang out at leather bars, so I know from standing my ground. Walk right through them, like an ascotted Truman Capote wandering through podunk southern towns researching In Cold Blood, and they get out of your way.

The fun part at Guest Services, then, was waiting my turn behind some teenagers getting refunds (for what?). We have the term wigger to refer to white boys frontin’, but it collapses under the weight of the Scarborough reality: These three young guys, decked out in full-on hiphop gear (Lycra do-rag, sized baseball cap rotated 60°, the pants, the layered hoodies, everything), were respectively black, Chinese, and Indian.

Welcome to Scarborough!

I found a seat in the (again ominously) half-full auditorium. Attendance augurs poorly for this picture. I have a neighbour on my left (late 40s, Indian – welcome to Scarborough). I have never had so much trouble adjusting the caption reflector. I began to feel conspicuous. This does not happen that often.

The Woman’s Intuition told me I should have tried the back of the lower seating section rather than the middle of the upper, which I’ll have to do next time.

And by the way, I have no time whatsoever for complaints by some deaf activists that they want a captioning system that lets them use a cupholder for its intended purpose. Two decades of accessibility stopped in its tracks because some malcontent wants a place to stick her Diet Coke. I don’t think so, honey.

I have developed my peripheral vision enough so that I know when people are looking at me without my having to acknowledge it. (Honed over the years in leather bars.) Man to my left tried to be polite for a while, but eventually just looked over my shoulder, then turned all the way around to find the caption display. Two and two were put together. After that, there was no problem. Lesson: Let people figure it out and they’ll get used to it.

Now, I am pro–Jodie Foster, and not just because she’s a lesbian. (A lesbian who dated Russell Crowe. “No woman is safe!”) She’s only slightly overrated, but any actress who always comes off as smart is OK in my book. I am also pro–Forrest Whitaker, asymmetrical and gargoylish as he may be. His purpose in Panic Room is to be lovable and sympathetic – and also a thief, just the sort of contradictory impulse Hollywood loves. (Like closeted lesbian actresses.) So now F. Whitaker has three points to his compass: The Crying Game (a twentieth-century masterpiece), Prêt-à-porter (speaking of Richard E. Grant!), and now this. I found him lovable and sympathetic.

Jared Leto has grown up terrifyingly fast since My So-Called Life. (Since whichever of the unending parade of failed Steve Prefontaine movies he starred in, too.) But no actorial growth spurt can excuse his frigging corn rows. What is this, a Bo Derek reference? And Ann Magnuson! Last seen in the Bongwater music video “The Power of Pussy” (ridiculous and a complete joke, but cinematographically beautiful in parts), here she shills real estate and screams, as if a Tilda Swinton/The Deep End manqué, at Jodie Foster’s kid. (Her onscreen kid. She’s pretty good, but she was saddled with two kinds of outré schtick – diabetic ketoacidosis and the teenager-is-calm-while-mom-freaks-out archetype of nouveau teen dramas like, indeed, My So-Called Life.)

The credit sequence was a Modernist typographic triumph, adequately explained in audio description. (See Typecasting.) The planar structures of lines of type floating in perspective high atop New York perfectly foreshadowed the self-contained setting of the film – the only brownstone (“townstone”) in Manhattan with no colour at all. It will be conceded that I am also pro–David Fincher, and anyone who says the slightest disparaging thing about Fight Club is gonna have to get past me first.

Caption quality

Well, first the Notes Problem. I try to take a couple of index cards with me to jot down howlers. Since I had already attracted so much attention, I felt chastened and did not want to rustle around in my jacket (a Vancouver æsthetic ill-suited to Toronto – I’m Gore-Tex and fleece all the way, and Gore-Tex is crinkly!) to dig out both the cards I brought.

So I used only one. And later found I had done a complete Ouija board and written and rewritten on top of the same lines. (The hands have certain spots on the unseen paper they like to write on and are magnetically drawn back to those spots every time.)

On the way back, I undertook hieroglyphic cuneiform rune analysis and tried to retranscribe everything. I thought to myself: “Moral of the story: Bring more frigging cards!” But when I checked the various pockets of my purse, I saw that I had had seven of them on me. Never frigging again.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Captions.

The presence and absence of music were handled well, but I wish to hell they’d stop using this ♪♪ (two staffnotes). They’re already intelligently writing (music continues), which is correct. Do not try to collapse complex auditory phenomena onto punctuation.

The absence of true flush-right text is still inexplicable and is increasingly bothersome given how little space there is to differentiate speakers.

There may be further issues, but I’ll leave it to future archæologists to decipher my overwritten notes.

Description quality

Miles Neff was the narrator again. Surprising number of little problems.

Exit interview

The playa at Guest Services was bouncy and positive. She told me it was pretty unusual to give out any kind of equipment, in her experience. She checked the book (they take I.D. and jot the details down later in the book): Since March, about 40 uses of the equipment. Actually, that’s not bad. And three reflectors had been signed out the night before. Memo to self: Try to go to Friday shows more.

Curious factoid: I asked how she communicates with people. After all, a lot of them are deaf, right? She replied that she can usually tell they’re deaf and knows a bit of sign language. I think it is generally unremarked that big-D Deaf people (the signing kind – the kind who practice apartheid and are suspicious of hearing people) can in fact be spotted a mile away. Hard-of-hearing people generally cannot, because they consider themselves hearing and act like it.

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