On the third Date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: “Stan & Ollie”

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Yesterday, after a brief outpouring of angst about how complex it is – for me anyway, apparently not for anybody else – to search for a movie, Cathy and I decided to see Stan & Ollie at the Cineplex Varsity downtown.

Capsule review: we both loved it. Steve “Stan Laurel” Coogan and John C. “Oliver Hardy” Reilly are great and to my mind totally believable. I am not quite old enough to remember the glory days of Laurel and Hardy, but now I want to see more of their work. And this movie focuses on the team in the twilight of their career – I’d love another biopic about their early days!

Also Cathy and I need to learn the dance number from “Way Out West”.

AND NOW THE NITPICKING

Cineplex continues to tinker with the style in which they present a movie. Apparently our choices now include IMAX, DBox, Ultra AVX, VIP and a new thing called “Prime Seats” – which we chose; the best two rows in the theatre are reserved, slightly more comfortable, slightly wider seats. I don’t mind paying a couple of bucks extra for that. I wish searching for that option was easier. See earlier whiny post.

“VIP” means different things at different theatres, it seems. Sometimes it means “This is the kind where you can order a beer to your reserved seat” but not at the Varsity, where it now means “VIP is just our word for this particular theatre. Oh you want a reserved seat? That’s ‘Prime Seats’. And no we don’t wait on you at this one.”

I’m glad they’re working on refining the experience. Just like professional sports is discovering, people find it pretty comfortable watching on their big screen TV at home and it’s hard to get them out.

Also, people, PLEASE, stop talking when the movie starts. I had to give the couple behind me the half-turn a few times.

FOR THOSE SCORING AT HOME

Searching for Movies

Cathy and I want to go to a movie tonight as part of the #12DatesOfChristmas and I can’t believe that in 2019, the process of searching for showtimes is still awful. It took me way too long this afternoon to come up with a list that might work.

How It Is Now

We live in the Greater Toronto Area, where most of the theatres are part of the Cineplex chain – although we’re lucky to have the excellent Film.ca theatre nearby too.

By my count there are at least half a dozen movie theatres within a reasonable drive of here – Film.ca, the 5 Drive Inn, two Cinepleces (Winston Churchill and Oakville) in Oakville, a Silver City in Burlington, a few more in Mississauga, and even Cineplex’s flagship Queensway in Etobicoke is only 29 km away. And for the right movie we might even venture to downtown Toronto.

We’re lucky to have this many choices. The Maps app shows even more than I thought –

TheatresNearUs

And here’s Cineplex.com’s main site –

NewImage

why is this so hard

So why is it so hard to find a movie to go see? I’ve just spent way too long on the cineplex.com site searching. Their search process seems to assume you know exactly what movie you want to see, and in exactly what theatre. And I guess it’s good at that.

But it shows me WAY too many choices, or hides the info I really need.

Tonight, f’rinstance, I’d really like to see “Stan & Ollie”, the new Laurel and Hardy biopic starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. If I search for that, here’s what Cineplex shows me –

Movie Search Results

I recognize a couple of those theatres – but Park Lane? Where’s that? [Spoiler: Halifax.] “Eau Claire Market Cinemas”? [Spoiler: Calgary] Why are you showing me these theatres thousands of miles away?

Fortunately I know that the Varsity VIP is in Toronto at least. Let’s check that out. Two or three clicks later after specifying the date, here are my choices

Show times

OK that’s fascinating but useless to know that the movie was on at 1:50 PM, several hours ago, and, I dunno, it’s 4:40 as I write this, have I got time to get to the 6:50 show?

Other search options aren’t much better. The actual show times for tonight are always hidden away, buried under the clutter of a bunch of movies I have no interest in.
Or, if I decide I want one of Cineplex’s reserved seat options, it shows me what theatres have that option, and I have to dig through to figure out which movies are playing that way.

What People Actually Want

My conjecture is that most people visit a movie theatre web site wanting to do one thing:

  • See a good movie tonight
  • Possibly in one of several different nearby theatres as long as I can get there in time
  • Have a generally pleasant experience

For me a pleasant experience at the theatre is sometimes “A nap in a comfortable chair in a dark room”, but the older I get, the more I like the idea of paying a slight premium for reserved seats so that we don’t have to gamble on how early to get there.

What Movie Theatre Web Sites Should Actually Show

Why can’t it be like this?
Let’s assume I want to see something tonight, and I’m not too particular.

Searching

And show me the results on a map – but only show me the ones I can reasonably get to from home –

MoviesOnMap

Look, it’s 2019. You, Cineplex, have a computer. So do I. You know my location. I might be willing to share that. You know how long it takes to get somewhere. You can avoid showing me the 95% of things I won’t want, and pick out a couple I might like.

Help me out like that and I’m WAY more likely to go to the movies.

On the second date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: “Green Book”

You’ll recall that my adorable wife gave me the greatest Christmas gift of all, and last night, we saw Green Book in #12DatesOfChristmas #1.

Before I get to my review (tl;dr: we both loved it, in particular, the musicianship was outstanding) let me complain for a moment or two.

irrelevant complaining

We took a Lyft to the theatre (so that I can safely look at my phone in the car). On the way there I used the Cineplex app to buy tickets. Normally I like what Cineplex calls the “AVX” experience where you get a reserved seat and need not worry about getting there at the last minute … but this was a normal you-take-your-chances-where-you-sit film, and the Cineplex app was only letting me enter “1” in the ticket quantity field. The stupid “+” button to increment the number of tickets was disabled. Obviously this means there is something broken with the UI in the app. We’ll fix it when we get to the theatre and buy a ticket by standing in line like cavemen.

Well guess what, when the app only lets you buy 1 ticket, it actually means “you are buying the very last ticket, the movie is almost sold out.” Live and learn. We couldn’t get a 2nd ticket, so we decided to have dinner in one of the many fine restaurants in what is actually called the “Oakville Entertainment Centrum” and come back for the 9:30 show.

Conveniently the fine restaurant we selected took their time with abysmally slow service which ate up most of the 3 hour wait for the next show.

movie review

Anyway.
We loved the movie. Movie reviewers love it too, and our local reviewer strongly encouraged us to see it (thanks, Tyler, you were right.)

There are plenty of reasons to love Green Book, but one actually struck me: The actors genuinely seem to be playing their instruments! Mahershala Ali is VERY believable as a concert pianist, and the other actors playing cello and bass seem to be doing it properly too. Even the big band you see at the Copacabana in an early scene seems to be playing the notes correctly. (Am I the only person who studies trombone positions and trumpet fingerings on the screen to decide if they actually represent the correct note? I hope not.)

If you play any instrument, you cringe when you see actors trying to do it, usually badly. Their hand and arm movements are out of sync, the camera shoots from the other side of the piano so you can’t actually see the keyboard, the trombone slide is moving when the note is not changing, the trumpet fingering is all wrong. Actors-as-conductors are usually the worst, waving their arms as if they were shooing away a fly.

But in The Green Book, they really took the effort to make it all believable.

I came across this article on The Secret to Mahershala Ali’s Piano Playing. The film’s music director Kris Bowers is the one actually performing, but he worked with Ali to get the posture and gestures right, and the effect really shows. I wish more productions took the trouble to get this right. (One of the commenters on that article says that Ali’s head was superimposed on Bowers’s body in many shots. It’s seamless.)

It reminds me of one of my all time favourite films, Brassed Off, starring the late Pete Postlethwaite as the leader of the Grimley Colliery Brass Band in a coal mining town in the U.K. and the adversity they face when the mine shuts down. I totally bought that he was a band conductor. I didn’t for a moment think he was an actor faking it – and I felt the same way in The Green Book. Bravo.

More like this please. Find actors who can do it properly, or train the ones that can’t, or – here’s an idea – cast actual musicians once in a while.

postscript

I was intrigued by this story. If you’ve seen the movie, you might also like to read up on the real Don Shirley and Tony .Vallelonga

legal note

Counsel has raised an objection to calling this #12DatesOfChristmas #1 since we had earlier seen Mary Poppins Returns, and that this should more properly be at most Date 1(b). I will respond that the viewing of Mary Poppins Returns was #12DatesOfChristmas #0, actually a Pre-Tournament Exhibition Date, in the same way that Canada plays Finland before the World Junior Hockey Championship actually began. And also in Computer Science we often begin counting at zero anyway.

On the first date of Christmas, my true love saw with me …

I like going to the movies.
My wife doesn’t like going to the movies.

So we have always compromised: we don’t go to the movies.

But she gave me an amazing Christmas gift –

Movie Certificate

This certifies that Steve Hayman is entitled to one movie date per month with his wife (movie subject to review) with no whining from his wife.

Wow.
I am a lucky man indeed!

We decided to attend Mary Poppins Returns on December 30, 2018. Does this count as the first date, or is it more like an exhibition date, in the same way that Canada plays Finland before the World Junior Hockey Championship actually starts?

I sought advice from counsel; I happen to be related to a brilliant lawyer, who commented

Very liberal interpretation of contract, construed in favour of the beneficiary. If only she’d consulted a lawyer, she could have inserted “commencing January 1st 2019.” Looks like you are getting a bakers’ dozen.

Followup, if it please the court. The clause that says “movie subject to review” can be reasonably interpreted to mean “reviewed AFTER we see any arbitrary movie of my choice”, can it not?

The clause is ambiguous. In my view, the drafter (your wife) clearly intended to have some say in the movie choice. I would therefore read that word into the contract, as in “movie choice subject to review by wife”. This is a contextual, feminist analysis and should be preferred to the standard approach of “contra proferentem”.

I accept this contextual, feminist analysis, and I’m sure know you know what *contra proferentem” means, but just in case you don’t –

Contra proferentem (Latin: “against [the] offeror”), also known as “interpretation against the draftsman”, is a doctrine of contractual interpretation providing that, where a promise, agreement or term is ambiguous, the preferred meaning should be the one that works against the interests of the party who provided the wording.

So anyway.
We both deeply enjoyed Mary Poppins Returned. Date Night #0! I cheered when Dick Van Dyke appeared. Of course I saw the original when I was a kid, and the fact that Dick Van Dyke is still in it must surely mean that I am not actually getting older myself.

Even though they didn’t use any of the original music in the film, there were plenty of musical quotes of the original themes. Fun to listen to that too. And if you go – not only is Dick Van Dyke back from the original, but watch for the scene where a woman asks Jack and Jane for directions to #19 Cherry Tree Lane. That actress is Karen Dotrice (age 63), who played Jane Banks (age 9) in the original movie.

Many thanks to Cathy for this awesome, selfless present, and I will do my best to suggest movies that we might both enjoy equally. (I’m guessing that any upcoming Transformers or Fast and Furious sequel won’t be on the list.) (although really, we probably WOULD enjoy those ones equally.)