My film-and-media-major heart has led to me to pick out some of the best, most integral apps, movies, shows, and books that are somehow connected to my time in New Zealand and/or are of importance in New Zealand culture (an asterisk indicates that the asterisked item in question originated in New Zealand):
- Hipstamatic: If I’m ever caught in a photo-worthy situation without my trusty Canon, I run to my go-to photography app. Hipstamatic is the perfect alternative for the poor girl who doesn’t have access to an old film camera and a darkroom. I can mix and match lenses and film to create very different and stylistic looks; after some experimentation you begin to get the feel for which combinations complement one another in various situations. I never really got into Instagram, but I think of Hipstamatic as Instagram’s slightly better-looking, more exciting, more pretentious, and more difficult-to-use older sibling. Hipstamatic often allows me to more effectively capture the vibrancy of New Zealand’s landscape…
- Pocketbooth: Another fun photo app which turns your phone into a portable photo-strip-producing photobooth. For more photo app ideas, check out my friend’s article – Photography: How to Fake it With an iPhone.
- Snapseed: A photography editing app. In a pinch, I use this app instead of Photoshop. The layout is simple and innately understandable, and provides for quick and easy adjustment of lighting/color elements as well as some snazzy effects. I usually just twiddle around with contrast and vibrancy, and sometimes add a “retrolux” effect if the photo subject calls for a touch of whimsy.
- Sleep cycle: Hallelujah! Science and magic have gotten together to create this app. Lay it on your bed at night and it measures vibrations in order to record your sleep pattern and score your quality of sleep. Set time parameters for your alarm clock, and the app wakes you when you are in your lightest sleep state (read: less tired and cranky in the morning). The app also lets you write sleep notes and, after accumulating information, lovingly informs you what sorts of activities help you sleep better or worse at night (for instance, drinking tea has a positive effect on my sleep quality, but drinking coffee has, for some reason, a negative effect). So. Many. Statistics. And it plays ocean noises to send me off to sleep. I love sleeping – it’s something I’m quite good at and happens to be a hobby of mine – and this app has turned me into even more of a sleep nerd.
- Boy*: A heart-warming coming-of-age comedy/drama about a Maori boy nicknamed “Boy.” Another enjoyable and well-known New Zealand film that explores Maori culture is Whale Rider.
- The Lord of the Rings*: I had to. I just had to include these ones. What could possibly make New Zealand more beautiful and magical than it already is? Knowing that it is Middle Earth. If you haven’t seen these films (the extended versions!), please, take a moment to re-evaluate your life. Funny story: quite a few New Zealanders are not very fond of the movies. One guy actually mentioned his overall dislike of LOTR (trying to impress me with your I’m-too-cool-for-fantasy act? Well, fail) before offhandedly mentioning how he met Peter Jackson at The Hobbit premier (me thinking: YOU DIDN’T DESERVE THAT!). I guess I can understand native Kiwis being a little annoyed with or disturbed by crazed fan tourists, coming as I do from Washington and La Push which has seen an influx of Twilight fan girls breathlessly asking the cane-using Native American if he is Jacob’s father (Did you even read the book? Jacob’s father is in a wheelchair. Fool. And more importantly: THE BOOKS ARE FICTION!). But it’s true that certain environment can deepen your sense of belief and wonder – taking away from the fiction and adding reality. One of the greatest pleasures of my New Zealand travel has been exploring the various LOTR film locations. In one of those locales, I would be quite unsurprised to run into an axe-wielding dwarf or a bearded wizard. Speaking of wizards, here are six reasons why Gandalf is a bit of a troll.
- Asterix et Obelix: A sublimely odd and quirky French film that I saw during Dunedin’s French Film Festival. I love watching foreign films and, although this one was a bit slow at times (granted, I think its slapstick humor is probably more targeted towards children), it featured the venerable Catherine Deneuve as well as some fearless Vikings who just want to fly.
- The Piano*: This film, from Kiwi director Jane Campion (Yay! Lady director! Way to represent), held my attention in way unlike any I’ve recently experienced. Watching it, I felt similar to how I feel when gazing at old photographs, as if I’m able to peer into a secret past – a mesmerizing experience. Over the course of the narrative, I even got used to well-defined and slicked-back middle-part hairdos. There was also some male nudity that made me extremely nervous (I’ll never able to look at National Treasure’s Peter Sadusky in the same way again. Ever.).
- Dead Alive*: This is one of most cringe-worthy things I’ve seen in a while and one of Peter Jackson’s first films. If you’re really into zombie films, I guess you’d probably like this one. I personally learned the value of a lawn mower in case of any zombie apocalypse emergency. There’s something gross in this movie for everyone (my gross-out tolerance abruptly died when some guy ate custard with pus *shiver*). The film also featured some serious mommy issues and a climactic re-wombing (I don’t know how else to put it) scene that any film student could enjoy (or not) studying from a Freudian/Oedipal perspective.
- The Water Horse: Oh, how I love enchanting children’s films. Especially children’s films about Scotland and sea monsters. Kids films: not just for kids anymore! I included this film because a) it was one of the first movies I watched in New Zealand and b) I watched it because the majority of it was filmed around Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu which doubled for the Scottish loch. This movie had the beautiful Scottish/New Zealandish landscape, charming friendship bits, irresistible Scottish accents, and lovely cinematography… but the best thing about it: the music. Ermagherd! James Newton Howard, you magician of music you, know the way to a girl’s heart. I’m a sucker for any sort of Celtic music. It’s possible I’m addicted. I just love the fiddle, the flute, the occasional bagpipe, the mystique, and how the melody traverses heart-aching winsomeness and life-loving brevity. I almost peed myself during the intro to Brave. Anyhoo, I love other composers – Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, etc. – but I LOVE James Newton Howard… his work has a certain, shall we ambiguously say, elan of the soul.
Television Shows –
- Rizzoli & Isles: My Forensic Biology class reminded me of one of my favorite procedural shows. Rizzoli and Isles are strong, nuanced female heroines with such a fantastic relationship. The writing is humorous and quippy, and the Opening is a standalone testament to the quality of the show (OK, of course I’m going to love the intro because of the Irish jig happenin’ in the background). I watch this show and I laugh, I cry, I eat an entire box of Tim Tams. Good times.
- Shortland Street* and Outrageous Fortune*: These two shows are basically New Zealand’s only New Zealand-made shows. Alright, not really – but they’re the only NZ shows anyone ever really mentions. Shortland Street is a hospital drama/soap opera that people either watch because they’re hopelessly addicted or because they like to make fun of how bad it is. I tried to watch an episode because I wanted to be in on the joke the next time someone mentioned Shortland Street and everyone else groaned. I could barely make it through 5 minutes. Outrageous Fortune is on the other end of the scale and is supposedly New Zealand’s “good” show. It’s about a crime family that attempts to leave their law-breaking ways behind them and the pilot episode is, indeed, pretty “good.”
- Pushing Daisies: New Zealand is… bright. And quirky. This show is bright and quirky. New Zealand is one of my favorite countries; Pushing Daisies is one of my favorite shows. Basically, at their core they’ve got a lot in common.
- Flight of the Conchords*: An HBO show that is, granted, not produced in New Zealand, but it gets an asterisk because the two guys – Brett and Jermaine – are Kiwis. Unfortunately, New Zealand apparently didn’t give the band much support or think too highly of them until they gained fame in the States. The show itself features the band’s songs (such as some of my favorites: “Albi the Racist Dragon” and “The Humans are Dead”), and is funny, off-beat, awkward, low-budget, and clever. Shows like this give me hope for my own filmmaking enterprises.
- Sherlock: BBC series. Possibly one of the best shows in the history of shows. I’m forcing my flatmates to watch it and we are going to be bonded for life because of it.
- Dinotopia: My flatmate and I watched this miniseries on Netflix during one of our mid-semester break days. I couldn’t decide if it was the best worst thing I’ve ever seen, or the worst best thing…. Whatever. It rocked. It was great in the style of the ’90s, of kindergarten lessons about dinosaurs, of nostalgia, of things that try so so hard to be great and complex…. One of the greatest things about watching Dinotopia was getting to see some contemporary well-known actors in, uh, different roles. Colin Salmon – the I-was-almost-the-first-black-Doctor-Who British actor – as sky captain Oonu (mmm, I like me a man in tight, maroon uniform. Oonu, you can take me on a magic pterodactyl ride and show me a whole new world anytime). And, well, if you’re a fan of Harry Potter or Downton Abbey, you might enjoy seeing a dodgy, one-legged Remus Lupin, or Carson dressed like this:
- The Tomorrow Series* by John Marsden: The series is set in Australia, but is still quite popular in New Zealand (I’ve heard it described as the New Zealand equivalent of Harry Potter). It’s about a group of teenagers who are in the Outback when their town is invaded by a foreign country, and who become guerrilla fighters on the run. Tomorrow When the War Began – the first book – is an intriguing and quick read that deserves to be popular (or, at least, heard of) in the US. So, I’m bringing it back with me!
- The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale: This book is one of my favorites – and I’ve read a LOT of books in my time. I haven’t actually reread The Goose Girl since I’ve been in New Zealand, but whenever I’m sitting in a cafe, sipping my artfully decorated coffee and basking in the quiet subtleties of life, I think the presence of this fairytale would add a whole other layer to the already wonderful ambiance.
- The Passage Series by Justin Cronin: Oh. Ma. Lordy. Cronin is an American author, but not one I’d ever heard of until I came to New Zealand. I kept seeing his second book, The Twelve, in bookstores and would always think, “Hmm, that looks pretty good/interesting. Too bad books here are so darned expensive.” Then, fortune smiled upon me and I found a set in a used bookstore. And I read them. And… SO AMAZING! They’re the kind of novels that immediately grab you and suck you in; you’re totally in lost in a new story, a different world, for hours that pass by in minutes. I found the first book, The Passage, to be reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand – an epic of epic proportions. The enthralling novel explores the nature of humanity and is packed with action, suspense, and an ensemble of incredibly complex characters. The narrative spans over 100 years and the genre is apocalyptic fiction, with a little bit of scientific, vampire sub-genre going on (which was interesting for me after my vampire summer school course). My new dream involves transforming the books into an intense television series (I’ll market it as “Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have a vampire baby.” Clearly, in the current market, it will be very popular). I’m actually about 98.9% positive that these books will be translated to the screen before I get the chance to have a go at them. I have accepted this. So, my more realistic dream now involves fetching donuts for the cast and crew. I will fetch the most delicious donuts they’ve ever tasted. And hopefully be rewarded with a bit part as a very hungry (or, more accurately, “thirsty.” Bloodthirsty) “drac” extra.
- Island of the Aunts and Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson: As a child, these books transported me to faraway and awe-inspiring lands; today, I do more of my traveling one planes, things with wheels, etc. Still, New Zealand instills in me the same sense of adventure and childlike wonder as Ibbotson’s books.