Sunday 28 May 2017

Movie Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Even when the main story appeared to conclude a decade ago with At World's End, Disney were of course never going to bring their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to a close considering it's bankable potential. With On Stranger Tides receiving fairly unwelcome reviews but still hitting big at the box office, a sequel was all but likely - and after many delays and complications during production, the newest installment is finally here; and, to be honest, I'd hope it's the last.

The infamous Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) finds himself a washed up failure following the loss of his own ship and his unsatisfied crew, and also the target for the malicious Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate seeking revenge for Sparrow's actions against him many years prior. Tangled in with this is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who seeks Jack's assistance to help free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman - all linked the mythical trident of Poseidon, which Salazar also seeks to lift his own curse.

I've always loved this series even when it's hard to defend many of it's flaws. However, this latest installment is hard to defend in almost every aspect, from it's writing to it's acting to it's obsession with noisy set pieces: a flaw that has admittedly plagued the series on several occasions and was especially apparent in the previous entry, On Stranger Tides. As thrilling as the set pieces can be and as stunning as the visual effects are, they often find themselves popping up with little justification other than to inject some more excitement back into an otherwise boring story. The end result is a series of visual treats but ones that lack any real context and can be serious hell on your ears. 

In terms of plot, it's not unreasonable to say it's virtually non-existent; Javier Bardem gives it his all with Salazar, who has lots of potential considering Bardem's talent and his creepy visual design, but his lack of development and lengthy absences at random moments render him mostly forgettable. Nearly an hour in, I still found myself struggling to understand the meat of the story; the film instead seemed bent on delivering a number of goofy action scenes and mixing in tons of random characters into a messy, underwritten plot that clearly was not refined enough to be stretched out to such a bloated run time. Another key element to the story is of course the aforementioned trident of Poseidon, something that initially seems to hold major importance, but eventually serves as no more than a generic magical MacGuffin and the product of lazy, contrived writing.

Jack Sparrow has always had his comedic charms, and it's of course one of his most loveable traits. Here, he finds himself as little more than an overly brainless comic relief, sitting on the back burner during many key scenes and acting as little more than a source of repetitive, drunken humour. Depp has virtually no compelling content to work with, but even his performance lacks the energy of his previous efforts, making the character generally unlikeable and irritating from start to finish. Mixed in with his obnoxiousness is the mediocre acting of Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario; both of whom portray their key roles with little interest and passion. We also have yet another forced inclusion of Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, a character who feels completely unnecessary and poorly mixed in to an already unfocused story. I see even the most passionate fans of the series being letdown by this boring slog of a blockbuster, and it now seems to time to either finally retire the franchise or have a long think on the direction of it's future.

Monday 22 May 2017

Movie Review - Alien: Covenant

Ridley Scott's most acclaimed release is arguably the 1979 sci-fi horror hit Alien - a superb blend of eerie scares and outright shock value, as well as a demonstration of some expert practical effects, it remains one of the most iconic films in cinema history even four decades on. Scott himself returned to the franchise with 2012's Prometheus - acting as a prequel to further explore the film's universe, it was met with general praise for it's performances and effects, though fell short on explaining much of it's overstuffed narrative. Now, half a decade onward, comes Alien: Covenant: not only acting as a new prequel to explore the franchises universe, but also a much needed successor to Prometheus that helps to elaborate on many of it's unanswered questions.

Within the spacecraft Covenant resides a human colony bound for a new potential homeworld - Origae-6. Still seven years from their destination, the crew soon (and suddenly) finds an even closer habitual world boasting potentially better conditions for colonisation; naturally, the mission is diverted to this new locale to explore not only if such findings hold any merit, but also the origins of a mysterious transmission that unveiled it's origins int he first place, only for the crew to soon realise the consequences of a dire mistake.

Initially, Alien: Covenant feels like a brand new film over a direct sequel to Prometheus - there is not a huge focus on the characters from the original once things get going, with their eventual presence and the fate of those absent coming to fruition as we approach the middle portion of the story. Indeed, the film does a solid job of not only answering many unfinished plot points from it's predecessor, but also introducing a plethora of new, interesting characters, all of whom are brought to life by some fantastic performances. Michael Fassbender once again stars as David, the renowned android from before, but also as Walter, an updated android based on David's core design. This dual performance that Fassbender subsequently delivers is exceptional in terms of his raw acting talent and the clever effects used to allow the two characters of David and Walter to interact. Just as with Prometheus, Fassbender once again proves himself to be the finest of the film's cast from start to finish.

Alien: Covenant doesn't hold back on shock and gore; fans of the originals will be satisfied to see the eponymous frightening alien creatures return with an interesting origin story that helps to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the subsequent classic Alien films. Whilst certain set pieces involving the aliens mauling numerous victims sometimes get a bit samey and repetitive, they still make for some shocking and exciting end results, and this is balanced with a genuine sense of unease when the real threats begin to emerge closer to the film's climax. One common criticism many have acknowledged is the film's lack of innovation; while not a crime by any means, it may disappoint some to see that it feels seldom different from the original franchise, rendering it potentially more predictable for diehard fans. That said, Alien: Covenant still does a great job of tidying up many unresolved plot threads from Prometheus whilst also providing viewers with a solid blend of action and horror, making for an entertaining, thrilling watch for the most part.

Wednesday 10 May 2017

Customer is always right...?

Customers. Without them, a business could never thrive. So while they frustrate many employees when things go wrong, and we all sometimes wish we could break free of our regulations and tell them how we really feel, it's never possible if we want to keep our careers intact. Plus, without these customers, assholes as they sometimes may be, said career wouldn't even exist - let alone have any risk of being in jeopardy should you misbehave. However, too often do some customers take things too far, resulting in maddening stress for employees.

I've served customers of many categories: monotone, harmless people who come and go with no real impact, lovely people who make you feel like you've done a good job and thus increase future confidence....and then, of course, the rude and abusive ones. These customers respond with such an attitude for many reasons - they may think you're being rude, they've been messed around by previous staff and now you're just unlucky enough to be taking the heat for it, or they're simply not getting what they want (even if for a good reason) and think going into a tantrum is the way to resolve it. Probably my favourite moment is when they request to speak to the manager.

Customers, in my and many others' experience, become angry in different lengths; some just become blunt, rude, and quite cold, snapping and patronising the staff member as if they're stupid and useless, as if they're trying to break you into, again, giving them what they want in order to avoid an argument. However, I've had many go one step further and bring personal concepts into it, with some threatening to slit my throat, fuck my mother with a dildo (I'm dead serious), burn me alive, and continuously request my full name so they can find me and "shank me". One had even wished my partner dead so I would know how it'd feel to lose someone you love - words spoken only because said customer didn't succeed in starting a product application due to failing the security process, and thought she'd bring up the recent death of her boyfriend as an irrelevant, pathetic attempt at a guilt trip. Kudos.

Can't say I've never done this at my desk at work.
What's more upsetting is I've worked for companies where the management continue to side with the customer, trying their best to nitpick my actions and locate my wrongdoings and using even the slightest faults to justify why a customer reacted that way and thus negating the need to take action against them. In fact, what's hilarious is while the customer can say whatever they like to a staff member, as soon as the staff member replies with maybe something as little as "oh just stop embarrassing yourself" or "get lost", the customer then wishes to raise a complaint for rude service. I'm not trying to justify or even promote rude behaviour towards loyal customers, but sometimes they press and press for a reaction and when they get it (and still nothing major really happens), it comes as some sort of surprise.

Customers may also go down the route of serial complaining; those who find any personal fault with a company's procedures and policies, even if they are fair and legit, and raise formal complaints in order to...well, we never really know how serial complainers work. Maybe they just want something for free, maybe they just like to express hatred, maybe they just want to make the lives of staff members difficult if they don't get their own way. At the end of the day, most would agree that they should simply get a life and grow up, and it's satisfying that most companies choose to remove serial complainers from their business if their behaviour doesn't stop, under the reasonable explanation that they're obviously not happy with the service being provided and so should seek similar services elsewhere.

But alas, customers. Such abusive ones are, admittedly, rather uncommon, at least in my experience, compared to those who come and go or those who, again, are incredibly kindhearted and increase your confidence. Don't get me wrong, some customers have a right to be angry and genuinely upset if they've received poor service, but expressing it professionally and calmly is the way to get a sensible and beneficial outcome - entering, again, an angry tirade solves nothing. It's always these bad ones that stand out, and we always like to rant about them because they leave a lasting impression - not in the right way. If you sometimes call up companies and act abusive, hurl insults, shout mercilessly, or complain about anything a staff member does, then let me just remind you of one key fact:

You're speaking to a human being.

Thanks for reading!