Joe Does the Movies: Accessible movie reviews in Toronto

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Star Wars Episode II

Seen: 2002.05.20 & 2002.05.24   ¶   Reviewed: 2002.06.17

Don’t do anything without reading the gigantic story in the Toronto Star!

This was my maiden voyage at the Paramount, the most popular movie house in Canada, located at John and Richmond Sts. kitty-corner to MuchMusic and always a total zoo. Famous Players had inaugurated the MoPix system at the Paramount with Star Wars.

The middle-aged manager was tripping over himself to help me find a caption reflector not banged to shit. It took him a while to start speaking to me, assuming, I assume, that I were deaf as a post. The sign-in system? Very nouveau régime: They hand you a book and you sign yourself in. This was the fourth day of exhibition of the movie and already there had been eighty uses. That’s 20 a day in one auditorium! Always a zoo.

Cinema 2 is very large in multiplex terms, with over 500 seats. The caption display is just this wee splotch on the back wall. I’m sashaying up the endless staircase and lo and behold, there are two people with reflectors in aisle seats. So of course I nod and give them the universal “hold on a second there” sign.

I find a central seat and dig out my notebook, expecting the tedious note-writing method of interspecies communication. No. The chick is hard-of-hearing but is so unhard of hearing that she has a cellphone. And also signs. D00d with her is Culturally Deaf™ and doesn’t do much apart from avert his gaze and look discomfited.

We chat for a second, then I suggest the obvious – THAT WE SIT TOGETHER! Total posse action.

So we do.

And, on a Monday night, the room fills up completely. I am absolutely the oldest person there. We are surrounded by fascinated kids and obnoxious frat-boy intellectuals, an heretofore unimagined combination. (“Yeah. Subtitles. I wouldn’t want to have to read the whole thing.”) Twelve-year-old kid in front of us cranes his neck around, puts two and two together in that now-par-for-the-course way they have, and starts reading the placeholder message on the display, haltingly.

“Welcome to Rear Window. Please ad....” and gives up, because the letters are in a crap font in reverse. “Please adjust your reflectors,” I told him helpfully.

My new friends were weird in a way – they positioned the reflectors so the captions were surtitles. (I eventually talked them out of it.) All this fiddling attracted attention. This chick next to me, dressed in a summery tank top, learned the hard way just how cold a movie theatre can be with 500 people pumping out body heat (why didn’t this happen during A Beautiful Man?). Her body language would later give off “My boyfriend insisted I come to this stupid guy movie. Can’t we go home now?”

During the first of many cinema advertisements, the 12-year-old kid turned around to see if it was captioned. Neato. (It wasn’t. This will have to change.) And chick with tank top looked over my way twice, finding this just another totally weird thing that was going wrong with her night out, and what do I see in this guy anyway, it’s not like I don’t have my pick of the litter or anything.

Now. Was there a movie? Yes. Everyone will be astonished to hear that it is much less bad than is universally claimed. Like Episode I, there is no protagonist. Maybe not every movie in the universe needs one anymore; Poison didn’t. But it’s still notable.

As for the allegedly wooden dialogue, particularly between the bint and the twink, well, what can I say? It’s a very fine line. It either sounds like a badly-acted badly-written script or comes off as perfectly embodied teenage awkwardness. The truth? It’s the latter. The only knock against it: Twenty-five-year-old actors are doing the talking.

BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS: A third of the way through the picture, Boba Fett answers the door, and I wonder why he looks like an Australian aboriginal. Then his father Jango Fett walks onscreen and my head explodes. I realize two things:

  1. That’s... that’s... that’s the guy from Once Were Warriors!
  2. I am the only frigging person in the room who knows it!

Whatshisface, Lucas, has been rebuked, with reason, for random racial choices – really, racial mismatches – in casting and nomenclature. (Why is Qui-Jon Ginn not Chinese? Why is Lando Kalrissian black and not Armenian? Why is Jar Jar Binks a Sambo?) Cast more aliens and the problem goes away, but in the meantime, making Jango and Boba Fett Maori is the bestest casting decision in the history of cinema. The Fetts are Maoris, and according to the story, after a certain point there will be 2,250,002 of them, each and every single one of them sounding like a New Zealander.

(Why do geeks adore Boba Fett? Names with two-syllable/one-syllable structure or the reverse are memorable. Anything like Boba or Bubba is fun and silly to say, which counterpoints itself against the dead-serious hiss of “Fett.” Boba Fett, in earlier Star Wars instalments, is an interchangeable figure in body armour and a fully-obscuring helmet. His memorable name induces nerds to project a personality onto his void.)

Now, the other weird thing is that I could find almost no errors in captions or descriptions on the first run through.


Four days later, I brought Sid Adilman of the Toronto Star to the show. I’ve been talking to him for a year about accessibility, and the story eventually ran. Our attendance was something of a production. Andrew Sherbin of Famous Players showed up with his wife unit. Two rear central seats carried big RESERVED signs.

Photographer Vince Talotta came along somewhat lateish and spent several minutes positioning me unnaturally so that the caption reflector could actually be photographed, a task akin to taking a snapshot of a vampire. (He did it!) All-business attitude, at least until I asked about his highest-end digital SLR camera.

Everyone was fascinated by this. “Yes. Thank you. Yes,” I said to a particularly piercing-eyed fellow. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just interesting.” Fair enough: It was. Andrew and his wife unit didn’t spend much time watching with captions or descriptions during the show, but Sid gamely stuck with it all the way through, literally scribbling notes. (That made two of us!)

And what did I scribble about?

Caption quality

The phrase (from Jango Fett?) “Boba, get on board” was not captioned.

“I think our lives are about to be destroyed, anyway” and “This is not looking good, at all”: No comma, please.

Description quality

Extremely pleasing historical continuity: DVS has described enough Star Wars movies that the opening titles are described consistently: “Now, in blue letters against a black background, a title reads ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.’ A title outlined in gold bursts on the screen: Star Wars. Suspended in the endless void of outer space, words in giant gold letters roll slowly out beneath us and disappear into the distant stars.” Quite appropriately stirringly delivered by Miles Neff.

(Joel Snyder described two Star Wars movies for Fox. I don’t know how he handled the credits.)

“Obi-wan strawls alongside Tuan We”: “Strolls,” you mean?

“Wind ruffles his short red hair”: It’s Jack Thompson as Cliegg Lars, late of homosexualist films like The Sum of Us and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Kevin Spacey in a moustache! everyone’s fantasy, shurely?!). Dirty blond at best. I mean, I am the expert.

The pilot Captain Typho wears an eyepatch. This is significant: Disabled characters must be pointed out. (Cliegg Lars was, only inasmuch as he sat in a hoverchair. No mention of his amputated leg; then again, he himself mentions it.)

“Large animals with long tails and curved horns” are banthas.

A “red planet” is later named as Geonosis, before, if memory serves, the script does. No biggie: We preidentify a lot of things in this movie.

“The goateed senator”: “The” goateed senator? As if there are a field of clean-shaven ones? (It’s Jimmy Smits, pointlessly. Why not David Caruso? At least he’s a real redhead.)

Subtitles are, of course, voiced. “I’m sending my warlords to hide in the catacombs” is misread. It said warriors.

Exit interview

We were taken care of elaborately on the way out, given that we were VIPs. I checked the sign-in book: Still about 80 people, and my name was the very last! It was explained that they no longer sign people in. (Untrue, as I found out later.)

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