Underrunners by Margaret Mahy (Viking, 1992); audiobook read by Richard Mitchley (Brilliance, 2017) Set in rural New Zealand, a down-to-earth middle-grade exploration of hope, disappointment and making the most of things; of using imagination as a coping mechanism yet still facing up to reality. Mahy plumps for realism and character development over clichéd happy endings.
The New Legends of Monkey, Season 2 The plot this season is more coherent and engaging, though in an odd inversion of the 1970s production, Monkey’s vain, rather dim-witted character proves the weakest of the regulars. Josh Thomson is masterful as Pigsy, showcasing New Zealand’s distinct brand of humour.
Guns Akimbo dir. Jason Lei Howden (2020) Daniel Radcliffe works hard to carry this stylised and at times highly violent action comedy. (‘Comedy’ is used here advisedly; a pervasive graphic novel vibe all but obliterates the film’s understated New Zealand humour.) Clunky characterisation and scripting undercut the intended satire.
Mrs Windyflax and the Pungapeople by Barry Crump; ill. Murray Ball (Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995) Though Crump’s rhyming verse and storyline aren’t up to much, Ball renders this children’s picture book visually resplendent through a mix of vibrant cartoon watercolours and his more usual Footrot Flats-type illustrations. The New Zealand landscapes offer a pleasing point of difference.
Teeth of the Wolf by Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2018) Rabarts and Murray go from strength to strength in this second instalment, blending SF, Horror and Mystery in a murky, not-quite-dystopian New Zealand setting. Again, the story alternates between Penny and Matiu, two disparate but—to the authors’ credit—evenly balanced protagonists.
Hounds of the Underworld by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2017) An understated but engrossing SF murder mystery set in rundown near-future New Zealand. What starts as a character study—pairing up and alternating between Penny, a straight-laced scientific consultant, and Matiu, her dissident brother, both of Chinese-Maori descent—blossoms into supernatural horror.
Footrot Flats, Gallery 1 by Murray Ball (Hachette Livre NZ, 2005) Just as Charles M. Schulz gave the world Charlie Brown and Snoopy, so too did New Zealand artist Murray Ball give us grouchy farmer Wal Footrot and his imaginative Dog – the lesser known of the comic strip duos but no less charismatic!
Hunt for the Wilderpeople dir. Taika Waititi (2016) A distinct, refreshingly understated vein of Kiwi humour runs through this New Zealand coming of age (at all ages) film. Sam Neil and newcomer Julian Dennison excel, playing the withdrawn farmer and troubled foster child who unwittingly set off an international manhunt.
What we do in the Shadows dir. Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi (2014) Three flat-sharing vampires in modern-day Wellington face upheaval to their already incongruous lives when one of their victims is accidentally turned and joins the group. This New Zealand comedy has its Conchords-esque moments but the mockumentary format feels more limiting than enhancing.
Flight of the Conchords, Season 1 (HBO, 2007) Centred around the eponymous New Zealand comedy duo’s fictionalised (non-)attempts to crack New York’s music scene, Flight of the Conchords evoked The Goodies (but with deadpan drollery), or Spinal Tap (with real musicians), quickly earning cult status… if only in real life.