Life, the universe, and everything! 42!

A new milestone was reached last Tuesday – the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything!  42!  But I don’t feel a day over 41.

I took myself off to the movies to watch Deadpool 2.

ALAS!

I’d forgotten quite how uncomfortable the seats at Ambassadors Cinema Woking were.  They kind of force you to slouch in a reclining position which makes it difficult to support the lower back.  After about an hour, I had to keep twisting and turning to remain comfortable.   Why didn’t I go to the Odeon?  Long story.

I cancelled my Odeon Limitless pass earlier in May before the next payment was due.  There’s no way to cancel the Odeon Limitless pass online.  Doesn’t even tell you if/when it’s going to renew.  But from previous experiences, it just expired.

ALAS!

It doesn’t expire, it turns out.  It just moves onto a 30-day rollover.   So, having cancelled the direct debit thinking I’d be safe and they’d just cancel the Limitless pass, I was immediately contacted by Odeon’s payment processor (Harlands Group) who threw down a £10 administration charge.  Here’s the letter (delivered by email):

“It may be a mistake, but we’re going to add a £9.99 penalty anyway”

Spot the mistake (clue – I have to email Energie Fitness Club?!).  After a couple of phone calls, it was resolved – yet they told me that I’d receive confirmation of the cancellation with 5-6 days.  It’s now been nearly two weeks.  Also never received any GDPR information from Odeon either.

As for “harlands-cloud.co.uk”, it’s leaking the version of PHP being used and also tells me which version of Ubuntu Linux is being used too.  Both very out of date.  CloudFlare will do so much.  This is terrible for any company dealing with financial data.  So I’m not at all impressed with Harlands Group.

Given the mess that Odeon Limitless has given me as a member, I’d rather not go back to an Odeon cinema again for a very long time.

Another tale of woe from using Odeon Limitless:

So that’s the reason why I decided to pay the Ambassadors Cinema in Woking a go.  Having bought my drink and made my way into the cinema, I was trying to get comfy when the film started.

ALAS!

The curtain on the screen didn’t open properly, resulting in a 4:3 aspect ratio presentation of Deadpool 2.  I waited a couple of minutes before I left the auditorium to find somebody to fix it.  Somebody went up to the projection room and shortly after the film stopped.  The curtains drew back properly, and the film began from the beginning again.  Except the lights remained on.  After another 2 minutes, somebody else went outside to complain.  Another 2 minutes later, the lights dimmed.

Cramped seating and poor presentation made me regret my decision.  Though I had to go back as I had also booked to see Avengers: Infinity War the next day (no spoilers: it was excellent).  Deadpool 2 was a good film, but the marketing team appear to have done a better job than the filmmakers.

In other news: sold the Apple Homepod.  Siri was truly a massive pile of donkey manure and thing just would just get confused when other Siri devices were about.  Sold it for a decent price – and replaced it with a webcam, since as I use a desktop now, and that I work from home on a semi-regular basis, Google Hangouts is a thing for me these days.

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.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Silly, but great fun

Empire Magazine rated X-Men: Apocalypse just two stars, but if I paid attention to all movie reviews, I’d never go and see any.  But last night I utilised my Odeon Limitless pass to watch the latest installment in the X-Men franchise.

I’ve been fond of the X-Men movies since the first film was released in 2000.  Heck, I even managed to get to work on one of the films (X-Men: The Last Stand) – but that’s pretty much universally acknowledged as being the worst out the whole series – old and new.  I wholeheartedly agree (at least plot-wise – the VFX were, of course, phenomenal, but then again I’m biased).  Sigh.  But after Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman released X-Men First Class, the franchise was back to its good old self.

Apocalypse’s 144 minutes crams a lot in – just like Captain America: Civil War.  We’re dealing with an ancient mutant, Magneto and his family, the introduction to Jean Grey (played by Game of Thrones Sansa Stark herself, Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler, Quicksilver and Cyclops.  We’re seeing the first proper formation of Charles Xavier’s X-Men.  It’s a big family drama that just happens to feature an extraordinarily large amount of digital visual effects.  My former employers, MPC, are the lead facility on this film and they do a grand job.  But be warned: some of the effects go a bit cartoony at times.  Especially comical was Quicksilver’s rescue of the students after Apocalypse turns up to wreck havoc.  But I did love the pizza eating pug.

And then there’s the ending.  The CG VFX is cranked up to 11. At one point we’re treated to a game of punch tennis, with Apocalypse as the tennis ball.  Very surreal, very silly, very cartoony, and quite frankly hilarious.  But I actually liked it!  It was different.  Completely off the wall stuff.   There was one plot point that didn’t make sense given the circumstances, and it’s perhaps a little too early to discuss it here because of spoilers, but I’m sure the filmmakers have a reasonable explanation prepared.

Yes, by all means X-Men: Apocalypse is not without its flaws, but at the same time it’s by no means bad.  Just switch off one’s brain, enjoy the visuals, the explosions, the madness.  It’s not a bad way of spending 144 minutes.

Odeon Limitless Reviews: Captain America: Civil War; Eye in the Sky

On Saturday I pootled along to the local Odeon in Guildford to take advantage of my new Odeon Limitless pass.

I had already booked Captain America: Civil War for the Saturday and Bad Neighbours 2 for today (after work), but given that Limitless only allows for 2 advanced bookings (to avoid people booking stuff and never turning up), I’ve had to hold on until Sunday to book Florence Foster Jenkins.  Limitless does, however, let you book multiple same day tickets.  It just so happened that Eye in the Sky was showing straight away after Captain America, so I booked that on Saturday morning.

Captain America: Civil War had a Premium Seating booking (an extra £2.30), Eye in the Sky did not (therefore no additional charges).  Bad Neighbours 2 is standard seating, but I’ve gone for Premium Seating for Florence Foster Jenkins.

Picking up tickets

If you’ve paid for an extra (3D, seat upgrade, etc.) not included within the Limitless programme, you can collect your ticket automatically via the machines in the lobby.  For everything else you’ll have to queue, present your (temporary) Limitless membership card, and get them issued manually.  Not sure whether the card will be able to handle tickets automatically via the machines, but we’ll see.  The Odeon staff didn’t seem to know.  It’s all still very new.

The films!

Captain America: Civil War is currently showing in Screen 1 – one of two biggest screens at Guildford.  Unfortunately the air condition wasn’t working at the time, and combined with a very comfortable seat and a very slow first act, I keep falling asleep until the airport sequence which is when the film picks up the pace and action.  Overall a great film (when I remained awake), but needs a bit of a tinker to bring the running time down (147 minutes) and get that first act into shape.  I’d still rate this as one of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best films – but perhaps not THE best.  We’ll see what Avengers: Infinity Wars brings us.  Also it sets things up very nicely for the Black Panther and Black Widow films.

Eye in the Sky is currently showing in the smaller Screen 7.  Normal seating.  For a lad of my size, I started to get very uncomfortable towards the middle of the film.  I have long(ish) legs, so not much room to stretch out or change “bum: positions.   This may have been in part because I had already been sitting down for over two hours, so I have to rethink about double features in the future.  Not unless they’re both Premium Seating.

Eye in the Sky itself I found more engaging that Captain America.  As Alan Rickman’s last film role, it tells of a joint British-American-Kenyan operation to take down suspected terrorists operating out of a compound in Nairobi using a combination of remotely operated drones (the Eye in the Sky) that are under the control by the US military (specifically Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) and Kenyan ground forces.  It’s a very tense drama.  Some of the spy tech seems a bit far fetched at times, but this is only a very small complaint.  The story as a whole is gripping from start to finish, even if maybe you can see where things are heading.  I wholeheartedly recommend this film.