Erebus: Operation Overdue (aka Erebus: Into the Unknown, 2014)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Seen at Genesis, London, Tuesday 13 January 2015


© Java Films

This is a curious little film to get distribution over in the UK, half a world away from where it was made, as a New Zealand television documentary about an air crash that took place in Antarctica in 1979. Still, true-life stories of people operating in extremis are always fascinating, and this particular take is a well-mounted blend of talking head documentary testimony along with dramatic re-enactments which move the story along at a fair clip (the two directors attached to the film being responsible for the two different strands). The film’s chief setting is on the icy lower slopes of Mount Erebus in Antarctica, the site of what is still the deadliest disaster in the country’s aviation history, where a team of police detectives were dispatched to coordinate the body retrieval as “Operation Overdue”. This is the story the documentary is most interested in, this small group of guys, almost to a man entirely unfamiliar with mountaineering or icy conditions, required to do the grisly task of clean-up, and the dramatic recreations are keen to try and convey a sense of what this would have been like. The other story taking place in the background (one largely set in a series of glumly-decorated 1970s offices), is the inquiry into the reasons for the crash, which heavily implicated poor management within Air New Zealand, and led not just to management changes but also the colourful phrase “an orchestrated litany of lies” (which gained much traction in NZ popular culture thereafter). Still, whatever conspiratorial boardroom politics the film occasionally suggests, the focus remains squarely on the police officers and their own story. It’s a documentary that will interest those intrigued by stories of real-life tragedy, but it remains one probably best suited to the small screen.


CREDITS || Directors Charlotte Purdy and Peter Burger | Cinematographer DJ Stipsen | Length 68 minutes

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 26 November 2014 || My Rating 3 stars good


© Madman Entertainment

The ‘mockumentary’ is a canny choice of genre for a New Zealand film, as its documentary form hides some of the shortcomings that come from low-budget production. We’re relying on the charisma of the performers and their comic writing (already tested in such ensembles as actor/writer/director Jemaine Clement’s Flight of the Conchords, who had their own US TV series for a couple of seasons), rather than the quality of the sets and camerawork. And as a comedy take on the popular vampire legend — appropriating all the iconography and transposing it to a quotidian situation of three mates in New Zealand sharing a flat together — it certainly has its pleasing moments, with strong turns from its three leads, particularly Taika Waititi as the upbeat central vampire, Viago. It was also nice for me to see my adopted home city of Wellington on screen for a while, as a lot of it is shot on location in the streets. Yet despite there being some good laughs, it still feels like a bit of a throwback to the 80s and 90s when this kind of film was at the height of its popularity, and stylistically it’s particularly reminiscent of the Belgian film C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog, 1992), with its similarly deadpan mockumentary take on a serial killer — functionally, not a million miles removed from a vampire. As ever, a lot of the good gags are in the trailer, and the feature length doesn’t always make them more resonant (I gather that the film originated in an earlier short film by the same team). Still, I did laugh (quite a bit at times), so for those looking for some light relief and a bit of meta-humour at cinema’s expense, it’s a fine choice.


CREDITS || Directors/Writers Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement | Cinematographers Richard Bluck and D. J. Stipsen | Starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh | Length 85 minutes