Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Seen: 2002.05.06   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.05.07

Now with special guest commentary!

I was trying to get the Movie Night thing going (another of my doomed clubs and groups, destined to join invert Macintosh users [GLAMOUR] and biketrials kidz on the pyre), so I waited till the Monday to give in to consensus reality and schlep out to see Spider-man.

I keep writing it with the initial majuscule only, as is morally and historically correct. But the official title regularizes the capitalization: Spider-Man. You’d think I’d welcome that, seeing as how I refuse to write Kiss in uppercase or K.D. Lang in lowercase (though what about ee cummings?), but on this point I become obstinate. I’m oldschool.

I arrived so early as to upstage Freud (who showed up two hours in advance for train trips – read The End of the World News) and was able to enjoy a superexclusive double espresso. I “bought” tickets, and asked the grrrl at the counter what she does when she has to deal with a blind or deaf person. Hands them pen and paper and gets them to write down the movie they want to see. But blind people can speak, right? Very long pause while the gears ground a little. Well, they usually come with another person that can hear, she tells me.

Remember, she’s gonna be prime minister someday.


Would I go stand in front of the Spider-man poster like a homely girl on a blind date, waiting for teeming masses of movie-night attendees?

Yeah, kinda. For a while. Then I bailed.

So up I went. They’re building a Burger King® where the Guest ServicesSM Desk™ used to sit. Well. Finding the replacement desk, I ask for the Usual. The place was nearly deserted, but still impossibly loud.

What was the sign-in system tonight? Yet another new variation: D00d handed me the book and had me sign in myself. No ID at all. Richard Pacheco was the name above mine. (I guess we see now why handing the book to strangers is a bad idea.) I was about the 27th user since March 12. What’s that, one a day? Not bad.

The “playa” dug out the reflector and started pulling off the wee antimacassar they are now using to keep the panels from getting more scratched to shit. A manager had described them as “socks” on another visit. And you know what? They are! – complete with different-coloured heel patch! And amusingly low-tech solution. The playa also switched the headset on and off to prove it worked.

I went to the can, came back out, and spotted another fellow getting a reflector. Hmm. “Who are you?” I asked him, actually meaning to say “What’s your name?” but flubbing it. It was indeed Mr. X, a correspondent over the previous several weeks. He uses a hearing aid in one ear and can understand a lot of dialogue when things are quiet, but not during the many noisy passages.

So we did indeed have a real movie night. Wow.

We tried the newly-equipped Cinema 6 (bigger than the original 8). The place was nearly full – on a Monday night. Spider-Man will clearly rake in unending dumptrucks of cash. By incredible coincidence, seats in the absolute geometric centre of the house were available, so that’s where we went.

We were by far the oldest people in the room. And we had lots of giggly teenage girls behind us. But they were the right kind of giggly teenage girls, as we shall soon see – the kind I wish I had been.

I have now decided that advertisements before movies must be captioned and described. This will be pursued.

I can concede that I found the movie (let’s not call it a “film”) not unenjoyable. The leaping-cavorting-slinging Spider-man was too obviously a computer animation at times. But I have long held maguireist tendencies (Ice Storm forever!) and appreciate his subtlety and self-awareness. (Among other things, Peter Parker does not behave as though he’d never heard of a superhero before.)

We will now take you back to a previous moviegoing experience. Lo those many years ago, I hauled arse out to a Saturday-night screening at the Inside Out homosexualist film festival to watch some kind of Italian melodrama about the army, rent boys, and murder. It’s better than it sounds: Marciando nel buio, 1995. It’s completely obscure.

The credits rolled and I was shocked as hell to read the name of Jean-Marc Barr, the impossibly smart, compact, multilingual French-American dreamboat. Sounds like melted chocolate in French. I could go on for hours. He’s that good. And he totally made Zentropa, which in turn made Lars Von Trier.

I saw his name in the credits and I gripped the arms of my chair and actually blurted out “Jean-Marc Barr is in this thing?!” A d00d next to me would then spend the rest of the movie casting furtive glances in my direction. Yes, dear, I am that recherché.

At Spider-man, I was somehow able to keep from shouting out “J.K. Simmons is in this thing?” as I heard Miles Neff (perennially) reading out the credits. Yes. Yes, indeed, Schillinger from Oz, and apparently a recurring character on one of the Law & Order vehicles. Something of a J.-M.B. type, actually, with the fleshy bald head. He will never surpass his role as Alexander Rausch on a single episode of Homicide (see ancient Usenet discussion).

And his eyes, while not quite as gigantic as Maguire’s, are impossibly bright and magnetic.

(Did you know he’s a Montanan with allegiance to musical theatre? And a wife unit?)

So I was in for a good time, clearly.

And it got better! When J. Jonah Jameson bursts onto the screen – why, yes, that would be played by J.K. Simmons wearing an intentionally artificial salt-’n’-pepper rug – the girls behind me all gasped and said “OMIGOD! That’s –” and trailed off before figuring out who he was. “ ‘Schillinger,’ you mean?” I wanted to ask.

Does this suggest teenage girls have better taste than we’d thought? Or are these merely Electra issues?

But we’re not done yet! Spider-man bravely ventures into a burning building to save a stereotypical baby. (One: I thought of The Untouchables. Two: What mother runs out of a building without her kids?) And out he pulls a suspiciously clean and intact swaddled form (described with that word by Miles Neff himself). We pull back the clothes to reveal a happy infant’s face – a rather unlikely event, given the high chance of suffocation.

“That’s not my baby!” blurted the girl behind me.

My kinda gals.

Caption quality

Well, here we go again: Can everyone please decide what names to give the characters?

Make up your frigging minds.

Peter Parker delivers some stultifying scientific trivia. “But what makes you think I would want to know that?” asks Harry. The answer is captioned Who wouldn't. I think a question mark is in order.

(And yes, I can notice things this small. Why can’t everyone else? Like the captioners?)

How about "Green Meanie?" must have question mark outside quotes. (They had gotten this right earlier.)

On two separate occasions, the single-word caption “Hey” could have come from Peter (facing us, centre) or Harry (facing away from us, centre).

Foreground and background vocals in the end-credits marketing-tie-in Nickelback® single were not differentiated. You do have three lines and some alignment to play with. But during the Macy Gray marketing tie-in (a bit late to the pop-culture prom there), we read BACKUP SINGERS:. (Can someone please explain why we don’t have true right alignment yet?)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we reveal the absolute bestest caption of non-speech information ever

(spider sense buzzing)

We can all die happy.

Description quality

A “red-and-black spider” is actually red and blue. It’s mentioned later. Seems to be a continuity problem on the part of the producers.

Small jump in audio at one point: “ ’abs his glasses off a dresser.”

An asterisk is not Astérix, let alone an “asterix.”

“Body, wrapped in a green sheet”: It’s dark blue, as sheets always are in Hollywood. Or black. (“Satin sheets to lie on.”)

Peter thinks to himself: “All I wanted was to tell her how much I loved her.” He turns to someone else (I forget who) and says “I can’t.” We are told “He speaks” before he actually does. This is of course necessary. And it suggests that audible thoughts sometimes need to be IDed verbally.

URLs are tedious to read out, but was accurately read as “dash einstein” and not “hyphen einstein.” It is conventional to use dash and dot for hyphen and period.

So hey, not bad.

Coope does MoPix

Physicist/biketrials dæmon Robin Coope, who used to do graduate research in the field of information displays, hauled arse to see Spider-man with MoPix.

Take it away, Robin!

We saw Spider-man on Thursday. Biggest Electron Microscope on the Eastern seaboard, my ass. [Now, who the hell said that? – Ed.]

I went up to the counter and said “Can I get a screen for the CC system?” The girl said, “Um, that’s for deaf people.” No problem, though, and they didn’t even get me to sign it out or anything. They took the sock off for me as well.

I went with Stacey and my colleague, Jon Nakane. We were pretty pleased with the device. Readability was quite good. A bigger display will always be better, but if it’s a matter of keeping costs down so they actually install the hardware more readily, then that’s much more important. The display they use is thin (two lines? [No, three, but display dimensions vary by theatre – Ed.]) but pretty wide. A higher-resolution screen of similar width would be huge, huge bucks.

One simple thing one could do to make it as good as it can be is to let the user know – maybe with a sticker on the reflector unit – that they should attempt to sit as close to the center of the theatre as possible. That way the distance to the text and the distance to the screen are the same, so it’s easy to change from one to the other without having to refocus your eyes. [You’re accommodating to the reflector, not the display. It’s a problem for bifocal and trifocal wearers – Ed.]

The reflector mount is well thought out. The little screw that holds the plastic to the stalk could use a tensioning washer or something, perhaps. Mine was threatening to loosen up in certain positions, so you couldn’t keep it at perfect angle. I also thought the plastic sheet itself could be narrower (in the vertical dimension) and I’d love to try a clear one. As it is, it’s hard to adjust so you don’t get the reflection of the projector window, or the plastic covering too much of the screen. If it were clear, it wouldn’t matter so much if it was in front of your view of the screen. I don’t know why they used a neutral grey sheet. There shouldn't be any difference in reflection coefficient between the smoked and clear acrylic. If you talk to the developers, I'd love to know why they went with the darker stuff.

In general I was pretty happy with it. We were at Metrotown, which has those short, high-angle theaters with comfy seats, big screens and high ticket prices. As a result I was able to sit near the center row and still be quite close (maybe 25–30 feet) to the the display and the screen. It might be harder to read if you were in a traditional large theater, which tends to be longer and narrow. Still, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better system on a cost/performance basis.

So hey, even hearing people who are experts in display technology like the shit.

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