When We Go To War: A Review

When We Go To War started flat and ended flat. With its focus on New Zealand’s efforts in Gallipoli, the series promised a lot but ultimately failed to deliver in the first and final episodes. However, the series’ inclusion of more controversial aspects of the war throughout the remainder of the series still make it a worthwhile watch.

A six-part series, When We Go To War follows a seven strong middle-class New Zealand family and Maori brother and sister during the Gallipoli campaign. Separated into three distinct narratives – that of headstrong and opinionated nurse Bea Smith (Esther Stephens) and her tumultuous romance with Dr William Chambers (Tom O’Sullivan) while caring for the wounded in Egypt, the Gallipoli campaign’s effects on lawyer-turned-officer Charles Smith (Ido Drent) and his ‘black sheep’ brother Harry, and finally family friend Manaaki Kokiri (Alexander Tarrant), who struggles not only with his move from preacher to soldier, but also with his stubborn sister, Awa (Shavaughn Ruakere) – the story was framed around letters that six of the central characters wrote home and from home.

The series’ focus on character, rather than on action, was what made it a slightly better watch than Gallipoli and one of the reason’s why I continued. I wanted to know what happened to the characters and if the war changed their outlooks in any way. The fact that the series was told through a succession of letters by members of the Smith family and Manaaki allowed the audience to truly understand the characters and invest in them.

This was particularly the case for Charles, an Auckland Territorial keen to do his bit for king and country, who became a man disillusioned with the war.

The shows ability to delve into controversial and oft forgotten aspects of World War I, including shell shock, conscientious objectors and anti-German hatred, made it a truly worthwhile watch. The series also briefly touched on homosexuality through the youngest member of the Smith family, James (Leith Towers) and his feelings for best friend George. The series also did not neglect to touch on, albeit briefly, the vulnerabilities of many women left behind on the home front and this was done, rather successfully, through Cissy Smith (Freya Milner), whose desire to comfort Manaaki on his return from the front result in her being in the ‘family way’.

Through Manaaki’s horrible experience of putting his best friend Harry out of his misery after being horrifically injured, to seeing visions of him – almost acting as the darkest parts of his conscious and a visual representation of the war within himself, preacher versus solider – served to paint a humbling picture of shell shock, what is now termed PTSD.

And Harry’s mother’s determination to not let another son die explored the controversial, and less known, existence of conscientious objectors, a group I did not learn about until Year 11 History.

The fact that George’s father, a well-respected watchmaker and repairer, was imprisoned just because he was from Germany, and James’ turning his back on his best friend, served as an exploration of anti-German hatred in New Zealand and the fact that both sides in the war were affected.

My favourite character was Bea (not just because I love a good love story :P). She would not let herself be ruled by a man and scoffed at a woman’s ‘proper place’ being in the home as a bit of a ‘blue stocking’ (and now, come to think of it, reminds of Molly Dawes in Our Girl, although being a century apart). Although she got herself in to a pretty sticky situation having an affair with her lecturer, Dr William Chambers, she had the tenacity to get herself out of it – albeit having to give up her dream of becoming a doctor – returned to nursing.

Altogether, a well-rounded series. If you can ignore the rather disappointing first and final episodes, When We Go To War is a series well worth the watch.

You can catch full episodes here:

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/when-we-go-to-war

 

 

First Impressions: Indian Summers

Indian Summers may be three episodes in on TVNZ’s One, but so far it hasn’t wowed me. There may be political intrigue and equally intriguing relationships, but I’m not totally hooked – yet. The first episode definitely well established the plot and characters and in the second the plot thickened and characters true motivations were revealed, to a certain extent (I haven’t watched the third :P). So far the political intrigue/India’s push for independence is definitely what’s keeping me watching.

The 10-part series follows a number of British socialites as they enjoy, and ultimately rule, India during the summer of 1932, as all the while India pushes for independence.

However, only two episodes in I know who I like, who I don’t and who I can’t stand.

Who I like:

77944d44-68b7-4462-9ca4-eaf6c83d389b_625x352Alice Whelan (Jemima West) – The younger sister of Ralph Whelan, Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India, she’s returned to India as a single mother. However, a mystery clearly surrounds her return. She warns her husband not to follow them and tells others that she’s a widow, so there’s definitely a lot of intrigue there.

Who I can’t stand:

indian_summers_20140523-141-EditSarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) – I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone whine so much. Sure, your husband (Dougie Raworth, played by Craig Parkinson) isn’t home that much, but he’s doing something amazing with the mission school and she should appreciate his commitment. Plus, she’s so nosy.

Madeleine Mathers (Olivia Grant) – I can think of plenty of other ways of 1) getting a guy’s attention and 2) securing yourself a respectable position than spreading your legs. Stupid red head.

Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) – Although I can’t quite put my finger on him, Mr Whelan has, and is, definitely up to something bad and fishy. Don’t like him one bit. Plus, using the shooting of one of your workers, who, I might add, took a bullet for him, and using him for propaganda is not, in any way, shape or form, endearing! 69706

I know I haven’t included all of the characters, simply because there are a few I can’t put my finger on or seen enough of them yet.

If I stick with this series (purely for the political intrigue thus far), you’ll be sure to see my review of the rest of the series in another 7 episodes.

In the meantime, here’s the trailer:

Jurassic World: A Review

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) playing the 'alpha' with three of his velociraptors in Jurassic World.

John Hammond’s dream may finally have come true in Jurassic World, but it’s the only thing separating it from the other three films in the Jurassic Park franchise. It was the typical run of the mill Jurassic plot – dinosaur escapes, run away, hunt it down – that closely echoed the events of the first two films, Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. InGen and the director getting their just desserts in the jaws of a dinosaur was pretty typical too.

The only thing Jurassic World had going for it was the performance by leads Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. The pair really carried the narrative as operations manager Claire Dearing and Owen Grady, former Navy man and velociraptor ‘alpha’. I didn’t much like Claire at the start, thinking she was going to be just another damsel in distress, but she really came into her own in her quest to save her nephews, and her adversarial-to-romantic relationship with Owen provided a few laughs along the way.

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Claire leading the T-Rex out with the flare so it could fight the I-Rex, torn skirt, high-heels and all (which I thought was pretty kickass) turns out is just an echo from scenes in Jurassic Park with Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum distracting a T-Rex. So, once again, originality in this film was severely lacking.

Don’t even get me started on the pteranodons wreaking havoc…

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The velociraptors are my favourite dinosaurs (along with the compsognathus) and it was great to see them have yet another central part in Jurassic World as siblings Charlie, Echo, Delta and Blue. They could have really come into their own in this film, but sadly in the end they were just Grady’s pets.

I was really looking forward to Jurassic World, but it didn’t live up to expectation. If you’re expecting an original plot with just as much teeth, blood, and running as the other films then you’re sadly disappointed.

There was nothing new with this film, apart from a dinosaur solely cooked up in a test tube, dog-like trained velociraptors and an up and running theme park.

If you’re looking for a great film, try the other three Jurassic Park films.

5 out of 10.

San Andreas: A Review

Art Parkinson, Alexandra Daddario and Hugo Johnstone-Burt in San Andreas.

San Andreas would have to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year (so far), up there with all of Marvel’s films in action sequences and CGI. San Andreas is also one of the best disaster films I’ve seen since The Day After Tomorrow and for me that’s saying a lot. Here’s why (warning: spoilers ahead):

Great casting.

I loved Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in this film, particularly because he was a ‘family man’ right from the get-go and went above and beyond, not only in protecting his family, but also as a rescue pilot. Yeah, sure he was tough, but he also had his vulnerabilities and wasn’t afraid to show them. He’d lost one of his daughters in a kayaking accident, never really gotten over it and felt like it was his fault. Subsequently he had this fear of losing his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) and remaining daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario).

I didn’t really have much respect for Emma until she delivered that kick-ass ‘I’m going to kill you’ speech to her boyfriend Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffud) and evolved into this no-nonsense, ‘let’s go and get our daughter’ mum. She really grew a backbone after that phone call and for me her best moment would have to have been when she drove the IRB through the window of Daniel’s building. Great thinking and a symbol of her severing her final ties with Daniel and truly sticking with her family (at least that’s how I interpreted it).

Ever since seeing King Arthur all those years ago I’ve been in love with Ioan Gruffudd (loving him right now in Forever, stay tuned for my review on that). It was great to see him play a bit of a dick – no scratch that – a dick in this film, as Emma’s love interest and wealthy real-estate developer. It was so awesome to finally see him getting his comeuppance in the end after leaving Blake trapped and alone in the parking garage (so not step-father material, I might add) and shoving every other poor soul in to the line of fire (as it where) to save his own skin.

I absolutely adored brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) (hey, not just because they were British :p). I loved Ben from the moment he spilt his coffee down his shirt front. The fact that he was Blake’s love interest and so awkward was just the icing on the cake. The moment he saved Blake from the parking garage I knew he was another character to add to my “please do not die” list that grew with every passing moment of the film (Paul Giamatti’s character, Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes was securely on this list after the Hoover Dam incident). And how could you resist a cute little genius like Ollie. So good to see Art Parkinson back on the big screen after Dracula Untold and particularly because I’ve missed him on Game of Thrones.

Now, let’s not forget Blake. She wasn’t your typical run of the mill teenager or damsel in distress. Even when she was trapped in the parking garage screaming for help she didn’t lose her head or her cool. She was constantly on her toes and both times she was saved she was strong. She never resigned herself to the fact that it was pretty likely she would die. And she had a good head on her shoulders, due in part to her dad, but still. I don’t how the boys in the film would’ve survived without her (they probably wouldn’t have :p).

Action.

Boy was I on the edge of my seat with this film. So much anticipation and apprehension. Plenty of twists and turns (or should I say rolls?) to keep any action buff more than satisfied. The film was up and running way before the first quake hit which was so refreshing. The plot never dragged on at all, it was nail-biting scene, after nail-biting scene, after nail-biting scene…you probably get my point.

The only let down with this movie would have to be the rather pathetic ending. It was flat and disappointing after all of the nail-biting action. It appeared that the writers ran out of steam, surprising since the film’s had a lot of writers and re-writes.

So, if you want to emerge from a film with no nails, empty sweat glands and an irrational fear of mother nature, I would definitely recommend seeing San Andreas.

9.5 out of 10.

Gallipoli: A Review

I know it’s long overdue since the series wrapped up a while ago, but here is the long-awaited review of Gallipoli which has been sitting in my draft folder since I don’t know when!

The rest of the series proved just as powerful as the first episode, but it was the action and not the characters that really made this series.

Tolly grew from a boy into a man over the course of the series, as any person would having had to confront the darkest parts of himself, particularly being a sniper for a time. However, that said, we never really got to know what he was like as a character, and I think that was because his flashbacks home only seemed to reinforce his crush on his brother’s girl. Because the campaign was largely told through his eyes and narration, he was more of a vehicle for the narrative than anything else.

It would have been nice to see more of the Anzacs and just not Australian troops. The only episode we really saw the New Zealand forces was the one in which Chunuk Bair featured (Episode 5 “The Breakout”). To me that was the most powerful moment of the series and the moment the audience truly understood the stupidity of the British officers and tacticians, watching all of these men mowed down and the New Zealanders fight hand to hand with the Turks (albeit with a few historical inaccuracies – television certainly likes to “dress” things up).

I learnt the full extent of the Allies propaganda machine with Gallipoli, thanks to the relegation of the reporters to an island off Gallipoli the fact that all but Ashmead Bartlett seemed content to go along with this really opened my eyes as an aspiring journalist.

Gallipoli also opened my eyes to the fact that the Turks and Allies weren’t always fighting or ‘sniping’ each other – The Turks and Aussies shooting each other’s spades and the uneasy alliance in helping one another to bury their dead earlier on in the series.

Although the final episode did not end as powerfully as the first started, it brought the series to a close nicely as the campaign to capture Gallipoli was abandoned. Ending with Tolly shipping out, staring back at the peninsula, left me with a few questions.

What happened to Tolly after the campaign? Did he go on to fight at the Western Front, as so many did? Did he and Celia become an item?

Overall, a good series that did justice to the Gallipoli campaign, but not a series that I’d personally race out to buy on DVD.