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.

Why I’m going to be reverting back to SIM only pay monthly once my contract with EE is up..

.. because I feel they haven’t made it significantly clear as to the ownership / rights of the mobile phone you take out with them on a fixed monthly contract.  In my case it’s 24 months, and you’re essentially tied into the EE ecosystem for upgrading even if you take them up on the annual upgrade plan.

In trouble with the Imperial Forces.. again!

My problem?  I caved in after three months of using the iPhone 8 Plus and bought the iPhone X – despite the many, many times I’ve said to people I wouldn’t – including an article or two here too.  As it so happens, I bloody love it.  The screen, the size, the battery life, the Face ID – all of it.  It is definitely the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, and I thought the iPhone 8 Plus was a pretty damn excellent beast.

So now I’ve bought the iPhone X – untethered from the shackles of EE or any other provider’s contract lock-in – I thought I could sell the iPhone 8 Plus through one of my usual go-to companies, Envirofone.  They’ve been excellent in the past – but generally because I’ve been selling them phones that I’ve bought without any contract to any of UK telecom companies.  I haven’t been on a pay monthly contract with a phone for well over 3 years that I’ve forgotten what it’s like.  I’ve preferred to buy the handset outright and just buy a SIM only contract.

Haven’t heard anything from Envirofone for 4 days after they’ve received the device,  I today received an email which read:

Thanks for trading-in your old device with Envirofone.

We’re very pleased to tell you that we’ve received your old device(s). However, we need to let you know that there’s a difference between the value you were originally quoted and our final offer.

Here are the details:

Item Quoted Price Revised Price Notes
Apple iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE 570.00 0.00 • Software or Hardware Faults : Device has been blocked or stolen

This is because one of your items hasn’t passed certain checks carried out by Checkmend. Every item we receive has to pass these checks before we can process your payment.

Unfortunately, following these checks, we can’t pay you for the following device(s).

Item Reported Checkmend Certificate ID
Apple  iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE Reported failed XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXX

If you think we’ve made an error, please email [email protected] and use the certificate ID above to find out more about why it hasn’t passed.

What concerned me more is what they didn’t say – what was going to happen to the phone that they have in their possession?  So I first of all called EE and explained that I had bought the iPhone X and, in order to recoup the cost a bit, sold the iPhone 8 Plus to Envirofone, but it has come back as being “blocked or stolen”.  The operator checked and confirmed neither was the case, only that the phone couldn’t be locked until after 6 months had passed.  That’s fine, I said, they know it is locked to the EE network.

So I called Envirofone next.  The operator there told me that EE still considers the iPhone 8 Plus their property and have been talking to such companies about the preventing of these still-in-contract devices from being sold.  Yet, I am pretty sure that having read the terms and conditions of signing back up to EE, I did not see this clause.  Indeed, you’ll be hard pushed to find it on the EE website itself.

I will be getting the handset back (via Special Delivery – thank goodness), and I’m still deciding what I’m going to do with it.  Given I’m locked solidly into a two-year contract with EE and have never once missed a payment with them, I find the situation a farce.  Luckily I can recoup the costs through other means, and it does give me a backup phone, but what an enormous pain in the rear end it is.

I’m annoyed with Envirofone as this stipulation is not mentioned anywhere during the point of sale process, nor is it made clear in the email above.  The web site doesn’t mention it either.  And neither does competitor Mazuma Mobile whom I emailed and received the following reply:

We have been notified by network providers that a high number of contract devices are being sold into the second-hand market (high street traders, recyclers etc)

As you may be aware, a network provider has legal title over a mobile device for the first 6 months of a new contract or upgrade and it will state within the contract terms that the device cannot be sold within this time.

We have been instructed to ensure any model received is thoroughly checked and to reassess the IMEI after the device is received.

So the telecoms companies are enforcing contractual obligations through third-party companies like Envirofone and Mazuma Mobile.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand I can see why they have to do this, but similarly, as you’re paying off the mobile phone through the contract which you’re obligated to pay until such time the contract is either terminated by either party or the commitment period is over.

I was told by another operator at EE that I wouldn’t be able to use my iPhone X to upgrade next September – they’d only accept the iPhone 8 Plus.

Definitely going to terminate EE contract in 2019 and will either look at an alternative company or just switch to a SIM only contract and I’ll deal with the handset upgrades myself as and when.

EE’s a lovely company – technically very good and reliable – but I’m not keen on their contracts very much anymore.  And EE – don’t expect me to buy anything new from you for a very long time now.

Do I regret buying the iPhone X?  Not at all.  But it’ll just take me a bit longer to pay it off than I would have liked.

(The bloody irony of all this is that I’m a member of EE’s “Listening Post” survey emails – the most recent of which is what should be done about mobile phones when you want to upgrade; I feel like re-answering that survey again with some carefully chosen words)

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.