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