The Shape of Water & Black Panther: Two films you don’t want to miss

Last weekend I went to the local Odeon – the one where I had a lot of fun collecting tickets from an online booking for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

ALAS!

While I initially booked The Shape of Water without any difficulty, I decided, while I was having a coffee at Costa coffee at Guildford station, to book to see the much-hyped Black Panther afterwards.  I got my phone out and attempted to make the booking, except, well, I’ll let the screenshots speak for themselves:

Did they try hitting the server repeatedly with a mallet? Works for me!

So I tried again.  ALAS!

Given the misadventures of last time, I now have no idea whether (a) they’ve taken credit from the gift card and (b) whether I have a seat or not.

So I made my merry way across the road and across the river, muttering under my breath how much the quality assurance of modern technology drives me insane, and went up to the box office, which – being Saturday – was open.

I explained the situation to one of the box office folk who had a look at the booking and presumably having given my name was able to confirm the seat.  Only he had to handwrite it for me:

Proud owner of one of only a few handwritten cinema tickets..

Now, two things happened here.  The first was that the ticket I had ordered for The Shape of Water had a seat reservation.  What you see above is NOT the seat I had reserved.  Had I paid for the premium seating, I would have flipped my lid.  The seat I ended up with wasn’t brilliant, but perfectly adequate.

Cinema escapades aside for the moment, The Shape of Water by Guillermo Del Toro is everything that people say it is.  It’s a stunningly beautiful love story that just happens to feature what is presumably the Creature from The Black Lagoon.  Sally Hawkins as the mute Elisa is nothing short of extraordinary – conveying her emotions physically and communicating entirely in sign.  Doug Jones as the Creature is otherworldly, yet is still capable of great kindness and compassion to those who are not out to kill him.

(Be warned, cat fans, as there is one unsettling scene which is really a bit of a misunderstanding (though the poor cat which is at the receiving end of said misunderstanding would hardly say that was the case.))

The film is brutal, romantic, lovely and surreal across the 2 hours it plays for.  It’s an adult fairytale and Del Toro took risks making it (including turning down the sequel to Pacific Rim amongst other projects).  But it pays back in spades.  It is well deserving of the BAFTA awards it has picked up (Soundtrack, Production Design and Director), and well worthy of picking up even more at the forthcoming Oscars.

So, after a stonking good two hours of fishy romance, I pretty much went straight into Black Panther.  I took my seat and waited.

ALAS!

Odeon double booked the seat.  Whatever happened at the Box Office didn’t properly reserve the seat, and whatever happened with the web app also failed to reserve the seat.  So I went back to the Box Office and explained what happened.  Thankfully seating was still available, and decent seating at that, so it was all booked without any fuss and I was able to go back into the cinema to enjoy the film.

Black Panther, it must be said, is perhaps Marvel’s best ever effort at making a superhero movie.  Not only does it feature decent character building of the good guys, but gives the main villain a decent background from which you can actually understand where he’s coming from.

The story centres around the kingdom of Wakanda, a central African nation that is technically superior to any other on Earth thanks to a mineral called vibranium which fell to Earth from a meteorite millions of years ago.  It leads to the people of the region to embrace its properties, which, thanks to the enrichment of the soil due to the mineral, grows a particular plant which if imbibed, gives the person superhuman strength.  Thus Wakanda was born, and of the 5 tribes, 4 yielded to the Wakandans and were given protection and access to the vibranium, with the fifth deciding to go their own way and live up in the mountains alone.  The subsequent rulers of Wakanda have become the Black Panther – a protector and warrior.  However, Wakanda remains hidden from the rest of the world.  To us, Wakanda remains a poor country – though in all its history, refused any aid.  While Wakanda’s neighbours were colonised and taken as slaves, Wakanda did not intervene – they stayed hidden.

Fast forward to modern times, and events after Avengers: Age of Ultron.  King T’Chaka is dead, and his son, T’Challa is to become king of Wakanda.  Meanwhile, a South African arms dealer (played by Andy Serkis) has just stolen a weapon from the British Museum, unbeknownst that it is made from vibranium (and hence originates from Wakanda).  Along with the South African, an American (Michael B. Jordon) shows a keen interest in the weapon and its origins…

And so begins a well-paced movie that explores multiple themes.  One of which is belonging, and another being whether Wakanda should share its technology with the rest of the world.  The result of the secrecy is one of the reasons behind the American finding Wakanda and, well, it becomes a feud of epic proportions.

The film features a gadget sequence that would be Q to shame.  T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (played magnificently by Letitia Wright), would put Tony Stark to shame.  At point in the film when Martin Freeman’s CIA agent, Everett Ross, awakens in her laboratory, she greets him with, “Hello, coloniser”.  We can pretty much assume not many western white people have been this way..

The women of Black Panther are fierce as heck.  Special mention must be made of Okoye, played by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, who is the general of the Dora Milaje, the elite (female) bodyguards that protect the royal family.  She wields a very pointy and shiny spear which she uses to great effect.  No more so than the casino sequence in which hits, stabs and throws people about like rag dolls.

The entire film is absolutely wonderful.  The Afrofuturism is well done, and most importantly, believable.  I’m about to start reading Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series, about a young Himba woman who is the first of her people to be accepted into a prestigious galactic university.  If Neil Gaiman loved it, I’m sure I will to.

But getting back to Black Panther – this is definitely the best Marvel film to date, and long may we see sequels.  We’ll be heading back to Wakanda for quite a spell in the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War, so it’ll be nice to see some familiar faces.

Long live King T’Challa!  Long live Wakanda!

Porgy and Mess: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I finally went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week after waiting it out and trying very hard to avoid internet spoilers.  My patience was rewarded (of sorts) as I went to see it outside of peak hours at the local Guildford Odeon.

ALAS!

Using my Odeon Limitless pass to book the showing was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced so far during the time I’ve had the subscription.  I wanted to go to an earlier showing, but for some reason, the Odeon’s website was playing up.  I wasn’t able to book the same slot again, or the later slot.  For some reason, Odeon’s website locked off all uses of the Limitless cad and refused to let me use it.

More error codes then there were stars in heaven.

As the Odeon is now very heavily reliant on the website for bookings, the availability of customer service via telephone is rather limited (9am – 4pm Monday – Thursday, 9am – 5pm Friday at all other times).  I was booking this on Friday evening.

What really got my goat was that Odeon does not publish email addresses.  Internet standards are ignored – an email to [email protected] bounced.  This is extremely bad practice, Odeon.  Let me, as a customer, choose how to contact you.  Web forms aren’t always appropriate.

I had to wait until the following morning to call and try and sort this out – and even then, not much could be done.  The system enabled me to book for the later Monday performance, but there wasn’t confirmation that credit I used from an Odeon Gift card to upgrade seating would be refunded immediately.

I popped along to the Odeon on Monday and found this:

As I didn’t use a debit or credit card for this booking, I usually pick up tickets at the Box Office.  So I had to go to the confectionary counter to figure out what was going on.  I was told that the ATM machines can dispense tickets with a booking reference, but it’s not entirely obvious from the choices on display:

Perhaps Odeon needs to reword that third option – just say that if you have a booking reference, you can pick up tickets using that rather than implying it may only be for Tesco and Business Voucher holders.

The third complaint was that it appears Odeon do not sell Butterkist Toffee Popcorn.  I’m not a fan of the sweet or regular flavoured stuff served in buckets the size of my head.  In the end, I chose Aero mint balls and the smallest Coke Zero at the extortionate price of £6.68.  I’ll pay it, however, because I do like the Odeon and would still like to see cinemas remain in business.  But if I had a family, kids and all, this would definitely bankrupt me if we visited regularly.

As for the film?  It was alright.  I think the sooner the main franchise moves away from the Skywalkers, the better.

Poll: Can I cancel my Virgin Media package?

This is a letter I’ve received from Virgin Media about a week ago, telling me that the price of my package is about to go up (by £3.99) after my special offer has finished.  Special offers usually apply to new customers, but Virgin do occasionally run special offers for existing customers.  And this is where things become very blurry…

.. I want to leave Virgin Media.  After 7 months use, the Tivo 6 box is pretty rubbish.  Stuck recordings.  Recordings that have failed to record correctly, and so on.  And it’s not just the box – that Virgin doesn’t carry Sky Movies fully in HD is a persistent problem that is not going away anytime soon.  And where is the 4K / UHD content?

Broadband has been fine for the most part, but I question whether I really need the 300Mbs and the contention that I have to fight with on a daily basis to get it.  The telephone service has been okay, but I don’t use it that often. So if Virgin were going to offer a cancellation fee-free way to get out of the contract before the price goes up, I’d take it. I’d look to move to a broadband-only account – no more TV subscriptions. I’ve decided that I’ll stick with the Apple TV 4K and various streaming services. That’s more than good enough for me these days.

ALAS!

As I’ve been told three times now by various phone operatives at Virgin Media, I can’t cancel the entire package without penalty as I’m still within the first 12 months of my contract, plus the fee isn’t going up until my special offers run out next year (they run alongside the minimum contract length).

So have Virgin Media contradicted themselves?  Could I still leave Virgin Media without a penalty fee now?  Could I pay the penalty fee and then pursue them through the courts?  I have no idea.  But when I see a letter like what Virgin Media has sent, it does suggest that I could.

Here’s the letter.  I was testing out the scan document feature in iOS 11, and I didn’t do a very good job of it.  You might need to click on the image to read it properly…

 

Halt and Catch Fire: Irony Edition

I’ve previously mentioned how AMC, the US-based TV broadcaster, has about as much grasp on international marketing and promotion on Twitter as a badger has for astrophysics.

Well, they’ve just taken that to a whole new level.  A TV show called Halt and Catch Fire, which I’ve watched all three seasons within the past few weeks, is about to start season 4.  So AMC are promoting it.  It’ll be on Amazon Prime UK too.  But, as they’ve done for Better Call Saul, any clips are strictly limited to the US only.

The irony is that season 4 of the show, which is a fictional drama that’s set around key points of the computer industry in the 80’s and 90’s (season 1 – IBM clones, season 2- starting up a BBS/online gaming company, season 3- much the same, with hints of the internet about to come on the scene) .  Season 4 will heavily feature the internet.  The same internet which I can’t view AMC’s clips because they’ve geoblocking all video on social media and on their web site.

Again, the official social media from AMC doesn’t cater for international users.

Halt and Catch Fire, along with HBO’s Silicon Valley which is also a favourite, is a brilliantly written and performed show that combines a strong storyline with the crazy technologies that I fell in love with as a kid.

Dear P&O Cruises

On the 9th April this year, I paid for a variety of shore excursions for my trip on the Arcadia to Norway, Iceland and Ireland. One of them was for a tuk-tuk tour of Reykjavik. I’ve taken tuk-tuks before – I know they come in a variety of sizes and styles. But it wasn’t until I left the Arcadia and went shore side to see how cramped they were. One tuk-tuk looked as if people were crammed in there like sardines – one poor sod facing backwards looked very uncomfortable.

Then it was my turn.

Bloody hell, I’ve never known anything like it. I’m a big lad – both tall and, well, outwards (fat). There were two other people (presumably a husband and wife) who were sitting forwards, which left me, realistically, facing backwards in the middle seat. Given how high the floor was, it was physically painful to sit in that position for 90 minutes, so I left. I don’t pay £56 for 90 minutes of being super uncomfortable.

Or let me put it this way: you pay for a tour in a car, except you end up shoved in the boot.   Would you pay for something like that?  No, I didn’t think so.  Not unless you’re a bit kinky.

I went back on board the Arcadia and made my way to the Shore Excursion desk (since nobody from the tour company pointed out there was a tour manager or anybody managerial shore side – in fact, nobody from the tuk-tuk company offered to assist me with anything). I was then told I should have spoken to a man called Frasier, but it would be pointless to do it there and then because it was “rush” hour. So I left for the shore side again and took the City Sightseeing tour bus instead.

When I got back from that, I managed to find Frasier and told him the problem. “Sorry,” he said, “but we cannot issue a refund because you saw what the tuk-tuks were like on the website, that there are all sizes of tuk-tuks, and we buy all tickets up front”. I went on to explain that yes, I saw what was on the web site, but it gave no indication whatsoever about what they were really like – that it was only until I saw them up close and personal could I make an assessment. And I DID try to get in them. Frasier told me flat out that there would be no refund, and that if I made a complaint, it would be referred back to them, and he’d still decline any refund.

So I went and cancelled my Dublin city tour.

I reached out to P&O on Twitter who reached out to the Shore Excursion team and said that the manager would get hold of me. If that manager is Frasier, there is little point. Also whoever the team leader for the Shore Excursion team is, they haven’t reached out to me yet since I made the complaint.

While I have generally enjoyed this cruise so far, and I have been looking at cruises from 2018 onwards – I am thoroughly hacked off with P&O regarding a single £56 refund. In the 17+ years I’ve been travelling (and I was married to a travel agent who has worked for Lastminute.com, Wexas, Royal Caribbean and Cruise.co.uk amongst others – and let me tell you that we did a heck of a lot of travelling together to all manner of destinations far and wide), I have NEVER had to make a complaint about anything travel related. Then along comes P&O Cruises – my first P&O cruise, but my second overall (the first was with Azamara) and they managed to hack me off big time because apparently I have to care about their contracts with their vendors.

So this will be my first and last cruise with P&O unless they pull their fingers out and do something. If we still cannot resolve the issue when I write to P&O’s head office, then I’ll take them through the small claims court.  If I do end up buying another holiday from P&O again, I won’t be booking any of their shore excurions ever again.

The stupid thing is that I ended up not doing the Herdal Mountain Farm tour. I lost £52 for that. And I completely understand that – nobody needed to explain that to me. And because I am nice, I actually went down to the Shore Excursions desk as early as possible to apologise and say I wouldn’t be coming so that they didn’t have to wait around. So I did them a favour.

Oh, and the stupid thing about the tuk-tuk tour was they had to move the start time backwards from 9am to 8am. I could have had a refund then, apparently. I wish I took it. But I wouldn’t have known what these tuk-tuks are like until I got out there.

I’ll write more about my trips a bit later. Lots and lots of photos to come.