Thursday, 4 April 2019

No. 261 : Wonderball (TV)

My regular reader (Hello!) will be shocked at after 260 entries we have moved away from the movies and into regional TV for this post. Fear not, soon we will return to obscure straight to video films and 1930’s Westerns shown at 3 am on Film 4.

The reason for our change of focus is a request. I know! I can’t say 'reader’s request' but we’ll take what we can get. Yes Julie from the office, who has followed my own stellar game show career, advised that she was soon to star on the glitzy new show ‘WonderBall’ and could I take a look? She didn’t actually ask that I write a sarky review and post unflattering photographs of the event, but that’s what she’s getting!

Firstly, the format. ‘WonderBall’ is shown on the new BBC Scotland channel at 7pm on weekdays, and is hosted by news reading lovelie, Catriona Shearer. I’ve been a fan of the Amazon like Catriona since her days of giving local traffic updates, so it wasn’t a hard sell to convince me to tune in. She has a chirpy sing-song accent and sometimes looks like she dressed out of a pantomime’s costume box. Did she wear this one?

Oh yes she did! The King of Hearts called - he wants his outfit back!

The game is played with three teams, each of two people. Each team have five balls numbered between 1-15. These are slung in a bag and the teams each pick one out in each of the four rounds. If they get an opponent’s ball they answer an easy question to take it out of the game. If they get it wrong it goes back in the bag. If they pick their one of their own balls they have to answer a harder question to get it back in the bag and if they’re wrong it stays out. The idea is to have your ball the last one in the bag which makes it the ‘WonderBall’ and wins you £2000.

There is also a danger ball which is the boo hiss baddie ball - if that’s the WonderBall at the end everyone gets hee-haw (apart from sold balls cash but we'll get to that soon). A new danger ball is added each round and if picked out the three teams can confer to give a correct answer which will take it out of play. Still with me? That’ll change!

At the end of each of the first three rounds players are offered a cash bribe to sell one of their balls - £100, £200 and then £300. If you sell your ball it stays in the bag but if it’s the WonderBall you get nothing apart from looks of disdain for your weak willed, money grabbing tendencies.

Each team gets to appear on two shows, but if you win the jackpot on the first you forfeit your second appearance. A flawless pair of games means you could trouser a decent £3200 overall if you sell a ball every round and still retain the WonderBall. That’s just less than what I won on ‘The Weakest Link’!

That complicated explanation can be simplified by reading the BBC page for the show or by watching it. I would recommend neither - unless Julie is on!

Julie appeared on the show with Stephen who left one circus to join another. They had some decent banter and clearly weren’t intimidated by the slightly low rent set which includes some large balls and the colander on wheels which contains the game balls.

My first gripe is that the regular questions are too easy - “Where is Ayers Rock?” and the hard ones are too hard “Which vice president was in a duel?”. Lots of ‘oh I know it’s…’ before ‘Aaron Burr’ was announced to a roomful of shoulder shrugging.

Julie and Stephen’s games followed similar paths with early optimism soon giving way to money grabbing economic decisions. The main problem is the luck part of the format. If your balls are constantly picked you have no chance whereas if you’re lucky you can bluff your way to the jackpot without knowing a thing. Julie and Stephen suffered badly with their luck in their first game and had to salvage £300 by selling their last ball. This was a slightly dodgy decision economically as their ball had a real value of £400 (1 in 5 chance of £2000) but £300 in the hand was too tempting and ultimately proved to be the correct decision when it failed to gain ‘WonderBall’ status.

On show two any nervousness had gone, evidenced by some better play and, more importantly, some decent banter. “I’m putting in a complaint to Scotrail’ quipped Stephen as a Railway employee eliminated one of his balls. Julie did well too by getting an answer about Isaac Newton correct - tempered slightly with her comment that she heard about him on ‘The Big Bang Theory’. The hostess did well too despite a late alarm call meaning she had to do the show in her dressing gown…

This time our dynamic duo had two balls in the mix meaning they had a 40% chance of winning the £2000. They opted however to sell one for £300 meaning they had a 1 in 4 shot of the top money. Sadly it didn’t come to pass and they were correct to sell as neither of their blue balls reached the winner‘s podium.

My main problem with the format is that it makes sense to take the cash, but by doing so the players take any thrill out of the game. You’d do it too - potentially £600 in the hand for an outside chance of £2000. If it was five grand people would risk it, but there simply isn’t enough gain to offset the allure of the easy money.

The show is only 30 minutes long but even then it gets a bit samey as the rounds are repeated each time with the last round twist being there are no questions, so it gets even less demanding! There is canned applause added in which makes the whole thing seem a bit contrived and the method of passing down the balls and then displaying them on an Ikea lamp from the 70’s just looks a bit cheap and cheezy.

I enjoyed the shows I watched but manly because I knew someone on them. Julie’s howlers such as thinking Benjamin Franklin was a president of America and her wonderfully delivered ‘Horse please’ line will never be forgotten, as long as slaggings are allowed in the workplace. Stephen was good value too although I thought he was going to smash the set up when he missed the ‘Glasvegas’ answer. Maybe he should have done  - he could have caused hundreds of pounds of improvements!

It was also strange that there was a long conversation about juggling on a show about balls an no one thought of having a quick demonstration. They must have been worried that entertainment may have broken out!

All in all a fine effort and a good day’s work - £300 each for grabbing some balls. You can insert you own joke here………………

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

No. 260 : War Dogs

War Dogs at the IMDb

We all remember how dire ‘War Pigs’ was, but what about the canine variety of war film?

This one isn’t about the war itself or fighting in general but is more about the arms dealers who occupy the morally dubious role of gun runner and weapons provider to the highest bidder.

The film opens with the familiar premise of the lead character having a bad day. His voice over does the predictable thing of saying ‘I’m getting ahead of myself’ before we dissolve into the past where things start off.

Our hero is David (Miles Teller) who is making a few bucks as a Miami masseuse. He gets come ones from his elderly male clients and has a failing sideline of selling Egyptian cotton sheets to old folks’ homes. If he’d invested in rubber ones he’d have had more success. At a funeral he meets up with Efraim (Jonah Hill) who seems to be doing better - at the buffet table at least.

Efraim has a lucrative business finding the ‘crumbs’ on a government procurement website and supplying the goods to the army. They do OK for a while but David keeps his activities secret from his annoying wife as she is against the war in Iraq - we are in the 90’s after all. He wife is so annoying she takes the huff when she finds big bricks of cash in the bathroom - I’d have given him a big kiss!

Things take an upturn when a deal for Italian pistols comes their way and, despite having to deliver them in person, the success of the deal opens new doors for them. Soon they are in Vegas and a seemingly chance meeting with Bradley Cooper’s blacklisted arms dealer sets them up for a deal of a lifetime. The crumbs are forgotten as a $300 million banquet hoves into view. As you’d expect locating and delivering 100 million AK47 bullets is no small task, and soon the lads are falling out and dodging lots of shady characters in 90’s tracksuits.

Will they survive to tell the tale? The voiceover suggests yes!

This was a pretty decent film with a good cast and production values. Romania ghosted as Albania and it looked suitably bleak. The scenes in Iraq were well done and there was a bit of peril as they tried to escape those guys in a van out of ‘Back to the Future’.

There was an ongoing reference to the film ‘Scarface’ down to even the poster which seems a bit insensitive as actor Miles Teller has several facial scars from a real life car crash - still, do what you know I guess.

The three acts of the film were rote large with the success moment lasting about two minutes before the usual twin beasts of greed and paranoia taking over. It seemed such a waste but you do have to remind yourself that these are terrible people.

Jonah Hill was a lot like his persona from ’This Is the End’ and you knew he wasn’t to be trusted from the start. Teller’s every-man David was supposed to elicit our sympathy but between his naivety and annoying wife he failed to get a smidgen from me.

The file was directed by Todd Phillips from the Hangover films and this one was short of laughs, although reasonably engaging. He and Cooper co-produced so that gained the film a couple of scenes of Cooper going through the motions in a pair of glasses that magnified his eyes to a distracting level.

The film boasts a great soundtrack with several rock classics keeping things moving along - and then Leonard Cohen at the end!

It was a decent ride and seemed shorter than it’s near two-hour running time. I don’t think I learned much and the write ups I’ve read suggest the ‘based on a true’ story caption should be taken loosely at best. Still an enjoyable watch and free on Amazon Prime as I write.

Best Bit : No we're not waiting for your free glass token at the garage.
‘W’ Rating 17/23

Sunday, 29 October 2017

No.259 : What Happened to Monday

What Happened to Monday @ The IMDb

No question mark for this seemingly interrogative title - maybe it’s just a report as to the fate of the weekday monikered heroine?

This was a pretty enjoyable Netflix offering with a good cast, plenty of action, nudity and violence to keep things ticking over. The scene is set with a familiar montage over the opening credits as the world goes to shit. Over-population has led to a new policy of ‘one child per family’ with any extra siblings put into 'cryo-sleep' until things get better.

Willem Dafoe lacks a social conscience so when his wife, who dies in childbirth, hatches seven daughters he decides to keep the lot of them. As there are seven he names each after a day of the week, meaning each girl can go out on their name day each week. Lucky he wasn’t a Disney fan or Grumpy would be waiting for Bashful to get out of the goddamn toilet.

Anyway we fast forward 30 years and the plan is going well. Willem has disappeared off the scene with no explanation given - guess he was only booked for the first half hour. The girls share the identity of ‘Karen Settman’ and manage to hold down a job at a bank by giving the others a bed time run down of the day’s events so the rest can pick things up on their day. Guess Saturday and Sunday got the best of this deal!

Things go awry when Monday doesn’t come home after her day at work. The rest, all ably played by Noomi Rapace, try to work out what has happened whilst trying to keep their own secrets safe. Meanwhile evil politician Glenn Close is trying to get to high office where her plans for even more draconian laws spell trouble for everyone - well except the planet.

Soon our fish are well and truly out of the water and the hunt is on - how many will survive and what has happened to Monday?

This was an above average sci-fi thriller. It’s a pretty dystopian 2073 - pissing down and rubbish on the streets are your clues! Some of the tech like the well designed palm phones and a digital punch bag sit uncomfortably with the all rat diet but I guess you can piss away resources on some shiny stuff while making do on rodent stew.

The seven sisters are well realised with predictable quirks and differing haircuts setting each apart and the editing is excellent so you really can’t see the joins when Noomi is on the screen as seven characters all at once. The flashbacks with Dafoe are well done although they did lift that finger chopping bit from ‘The Prestige’ more or less wholesale.

What surprised me was the level of violence with some really brutal men versus ladies fist fights with plenty of blood. I was also surprised that some siblings were lost but not so much about the big reveal.

There was a bit of an attempt for some social commentary regarding climate change and overpopulation, this was however a bit muddled. Glenn Close is seemingly a mental baddie but her policies will save humanity whereas Dafoe is the hero father who's spewing out kids faster than the midwife can catch them. I guess the theme is 'difficult choices' but as Close said if everyone procreated like Dafoe the planet wouldn't last five minutes.

At a bit over two hours the film could have lost 20 minutes, with the last third decidedly flabby. It was however well constructed, so that a potentially confusing tale of seven identical twins was easy to follow. The title was a bit poor though - I’d have went with ‘The Secret Seven’. No wait, ‘Sister Act 7’.

Best Bit : Blonde Karen syncs with the guard
W Rating : 17/23

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

No.258 : Where the Devil Hides

Where the Devil Hides at the IMDb

Pat Farrell in Lee Van Cleef’s hat stars in this low budget 'serial killer in an Aimish community' romp.

The film opens with Pat making dramatic statements regarding ‘the prophecy’ Word on the streets is that when six girls are born on the same day only one will live until their 18th birthday and that one will become the Devil’s Hand.

Before the title card appears the girls start popping out and Pat is on the scene with his sickle to get all biblical on their asses. He’s shoved down the stairs by Rufus Sewell out of ‘The Man in the High Castle’ but that’s not the end of the matter, sadly.

One of the six new mums, who has presumably seen the rest of the script, opts to smother her baby and cut her own throat. Probably easier to wrangle five accesses than six and it’s easier to remember who everyone is too, so it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.

We flash forward to the present day and the girls are about to celebrate their 18th birthday - which is strange as one of them looks about 30. Their community of New Bethlehem has accepted them but the nearing of the prophecy puts them all on edge - a good time for a skinny dip in the lake then. The girls meet a couple of horny lads, one of whom saves one of them after she has a fit and lots of visions.

They split up and go to their own homes but one is soon butchered with a big sickle after choosing somewhat bizarrely, to hide down a well. With the murder weapon clearly shown it has to be Pat who is the murderer - surely?

Things take a predictable path as the girls start to thin in number and we have to wonder if the prophecy will be true and whether someone with vested interests in local jam and quilt sales may be pushing things towards his own agenda.

As we near the welcome 86th minute, sorry 18th birthday, we have to wonder who will survive, who’s doing the killings and whether the prophecy will become true - bet you manage 3 out of 3 too!

This was a lot of clichéd and risible nonsense but I have to confess to quite enjoying it. The dialogue is atrocious with poor Colm Meany having to spout out so much drivel. Sewell gets little to do and you can almost see him mulling over new agent options as he delivers his Aimish lines that look like leftovers from ‘Kingpin’.

For a horror film they are quite coy with the sex and violence with a bare bum and a few off screen slashings all you get.

If you are looking for a new take on the serial killer genre you won’t find it here and the religious angle is just ridiculous and never given any traction, no matter how many ‘visions’ they crash cut in.
Overall a bit of throwaway hokum with nothing to really to recommend it apart from a few unintended chuckles and a plot that couldn’t be more transparent if it were written on glass.

Best Bit : Pat has a look for the ‘Devil’s sign’ - the dirty bastard.
W Rating  12/23

Thursday, 16 February 2017

No.257 : War on Everyone

War on Everyone at the IMDb

 Well we’re back after a brief year long absence. I know the appetite for ‘W’ based movie excitement is unabated but fear not, the wait for the four of you is now over!

‘War on Everyone’ is the first American film by English director John Michael McDonagh who impressed with his last two offerings, ‘The Guard’ and ‘Calvary’ both of which starred Brendan Gleeson. I say ‘American film’ but I noticed that it was partly funded by the National Lottery despite starring two ‘B’ list Americans and being set in Albuquerque. Still if anyone likes a gamble it's them.

The film is billed as an ‘action comedy’ but the laughs were few and the action was low rent.

Michael Pena, last seen (by me) in ‘The Martian’ and Alexander Skarsgard who was Tarzan in his previous film before this, star as couple of New Mexico police detectives. They play fast and loose with the rues but can’t afford a scriptwriter to supply them with any zingers - “Where’s my X-Box?” “Do ya wanna look up my ass?” Titter you will not.

They highlight their badness by drink driving and swearing a lot but they just come across as a pair of tiresome jerks who are trying too hard to impress. The plot is lifted almost entirely form the ‘Starsky and Hutch’ movie but at least you don’t have Vince Vaughn as the baddie. Here the budget is clearly limited so you have to make do with the guy who got shit on his nose at the end of ‘The Inbetweeners’ movie. To be fair he is backed up by a guy channeling Malcolm McDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ but he’s even worse and exudes the menace of a declawed kitten made out of cotton wool.

Our heroes set out on a quest to gain some drug money but soon get distracted by an exotic girlfriend who was better in ‘Westworld’ and a cute child who offered nothing, not even the intended softening of Pena’s character. The limited plot drags along with the investigation following no logical path and offering no laughs or thrills. At one point they do travel to Iceland for five minutes which seemed totally pointless and probably used up the script polishing budget as well.

The two leads were poor and didn’t gel at all. They were set out to be bad boys but you didn’t care about them at all and have nothing invested in their schemes. The direction was OK but I couldn’t help but think the director was out of his comfort zone and relied on tired old tropes rather than doing anything original. When Paul Reiser showed up as the police chief and demanded our heroes’ badges and to leave the prime suspect alone someone must have called ‘foul’.

The action sequences amounted to some low speed car crashes and a bin through a window so you can tell this isn’t exactly ‘Die Hard’. They also have the familiar trip to the strip joint where all the strippers were fully dressed. This looked like they were trying to secure a lower certificate but when they went back again it was all topless - had they went on Prudish Tuesday the first time around?

The locations were great and it did bring back memories as I too had traveled in that Albuquerque cable car. It wasn’t enough however; the film was dull and predictable and the Frankenstein’s monster of every buddy cop film that you’ve ever seen...

Best Bit : Let's check out the strip joint again...
‘W’ Rating 10/23

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

No.256 : Words and Pictures

Words and Pictures at the IMDb

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche star as rival teachers trying to prove which of words (language) or pictures (art) is best. If that sounds a bit of a pointless endeavour you’ll not be surprised to learn that the film is too.

Owen plays Jack, that tired old cliché of a character of the great writer who hasn’t written anything worthwhile in years who takes a teaching job to finance his creeping alcoholism. Binoche plays a totally different character, a great painter who hasn’t painted anything worthwhile for years due to her creeping arthritis who takes on a teaching job.

The pair teach at a school for precocious teenagers who can’t act. Clive’s lessons are like something out of ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ with the kids all admiring and fancying him in equal measure despite his contempt for the job and his fat and unshaven appearance. Binoche limps when she remembers to do so and has a stick, but a steely determination to help her pupils - they’re the original odd couple!

Owen takes a shine to Juliette and soon engages her in his tiresome ‘how many syllables’ game to which she rightly tells him to piss off. Owen isn’t discouraged however and tries to woo the stuffy artist while juggling with a career crisis and a distant son who is embarrassed about pissed old Dad.

During one of Owen’s unstructured classes a debate arises over the phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ to which he argues that words can supply the details and emotion that a picture cannot. When Binoche’s art class hear of this they are outraged; surely a good picture can convey a lot more than pages of a book? This not very interesting argument captivates the school and a big showdown is planned for the end of the term/film.

Meanwhile Owen is up for dismissal for being pissed all the time and for not offering the school any published works to raise their profile. He wisely chooses to steal his son’s best poem for himself and sets off to get drunk to celebrate. Elsewhere Binoche is trying out new ways to make a mess by dropping paint onto canvas using different methods.

For reasons not clear Owen manages to get Binoche into bed before spoiling it all by getting drunk and wrecking her new ‘masterpiece’ a big red and blue splodge that frankly looked better once Clive had his way with it.

With his career and relationships all pissed against a wall Clive decides to try Alcoholics Anonymous and start afresh with Binoche and his son. But will it be too little too late and with the ‘Words and Pictures’ showdown coming up can he win the day for words? C’mon words!

The premise of this film was a bit like the Hugh Grant vehicle ‘Music and Lyrics’ and when I say Grant’s film was more enjoyable you’ll understand what a clunker ‘Words and Pictures’ is.

The main issue is the central relationship which has no spark whatsoever. Binoche, lovely as she is, cannot act while speaking English and Clive Owen didn’t seem to believe in either his wooing or his madcap fervour for words over pictures. You are probably thinking ‘can’t we have both?’ - well don’t as that will spoil the ending!

Some of the arguments were quite interesting but they were articulated by some of the worst teen actors you will ever see and they look like winners of an essay writing contest reading their work on screen. There is a lamentable subplot about an Asian girl with self worth issues but that was ghastly and predictably resolved. Don’t even ask about Owen’s woes with his prissy son - awful!

So what we have is a no rom, rom-com with no com either. You’d think in a high school there would be some chemistry - I blame the cuts.

Words and pictures? If they are presented like this I’ll have neither please!

Best Bit _ Owen does some redecorating.
‘W’ Rating 7/23

Friday, 30 October 2015

No.255 : Which Way Is Up?

Which Way is Up? at the IMDb

Richard Pryor takes on three roles in this 1977 comedy which is about as un-PC as you can imagine. Not only would it never be made today, being caught with a copy would probably see you get time in jail!

Still we are a broad church here at the ‘W’ Movie Quest so let’s see we if we can be offended.

The film opens in the run down shack that Pryor shares with his wife and extended family. He wakes up all horny but his wife isn’t in the mood. No problem as he tries to pry her legs apart in a scene that could be used in a ‘rape within marriage is still rape’ information film. The wife is saved when a young boy wanders in looking for his breakfast. Meanwhile elsewhere in the house Pryor’s father is getting some noisy sex in - luckily for Pryor he plays both roles!

Pryor plays Leroy Jones, a hapless everyman who works in the fields of California picking oranges. Their work is interrupted when a union march passes and when they ask for someone to volunteer to lead the orange pickers - Pryor lands the role when he falls off his ladder into the union leader’s arms. This doesn’t go well with the white farmers who run Pryor off for trying to unionise the workers - some of the language they use is just plain racist!

Our hero heads to the city and his brief foray into workers’ rights holds him in good stead with the local co-operative who give him a job as a painter. Pryor dispels any racial stereotypes by immediately slacking off the job and chasing a leggy lady who is impressed with his union credentials. After some downright stalking she gives in and lets Pryor into her bed - on one condition; he never sleeps with another woman, even his wife. This lady has class!

He sets up home with the lady and gets a couple of promotions when he interrupts an assassination attempt. Is ‘The Man’ seeing something in Pryor and will the man with the shiny ring be as menacing as is being implied?

Despite a couple of laughs this film fell flat after an hour and totally lost it’s way. It follows the same path as ‘The Jerk’ which followed it two years later, with an idiot rising up the ranks due to happenstance. I thought it was going to have Pryor make a difference and have some say in workers’ rights but the last section was nothing but him trying to have sex with the wife of the man who had sex with his long abandoned wife. Again the rival lover was played by Pryor in a thinner moustache - the man has range! - so the message seemed to be that all the woman, even the pastor’s wife, can't get enough of our man!

The language and slurs - both racial and sexual - certainly dated the film and while no one took offense it would cause ‘Points of View’ to explode if it were shown today - and rightly so. The good people at Blogger would shut me down if I repeated even half what was yelled throughout the film and although I did laugh, it was only in an ironic and uncomfortable way.

The film ends with a sort of lesson with Richard’s rise up the career ranks costing him on a personal and emotional level so much so he didn’t know which way up was any more. That said if he kept his dick in his shorts he’d be a lot happier regardless of what ‘The Man’ had planned.

I did laugh without reservation or justification at the thin coffin laid on for the man who was run over by a steamroller. Everything else is condemned outright!

Best Bit : Piano lessons at church
‘W’ Rating 14/23