Review: Tracks (2018) – An Uproarious Backpack Through Europe [Raindance Film Festival 2018]

What is the history of Europe if not a constant cycle of relationship breakdowns followed by conflict? While I doubt British indie filmmaker Jamie Patterson had this in mind when bringing Tracks to the silver screen, there are certain echoes between the relationship battles we see onscreen, and the political fighting we see play out on the news. Fortunately though, and unlike Teresa May’s ABBA-inspired dance moves, Patterson’s film mines most of its comedy from a great script and dedicated performances from the leading duo.

The proceedings kick-off with Chris (Chris Willoughby) and Lucy (April Pearson) preparing to spend a few weeks interrailing between Europe’s grandest cities in the hope that their fractured relationship can be repaired. While they take in the sights and sounds, it soon becomes clear that the two of them had very different expectations for the trip. As the tension between the pair starts to build, accompanied by some hilarious fails, it seems that this European trip might not bring them closer together, but instead tear them apart.

At first it’s easy to assume that Tracks is just a low-budget British version of 2004’s Eurotrip. And to be fair there are similarities. But whereas Eurotrip’s comedy came from “normal” Americans clashing with increasingly ludicrous portrayals of Europeans, Tracks has a little more respect for our brethren across the channel. Not once are stereotypes invoked, either for the Europeans or the visiting British duo.

True be told, Tracks has far more in common with the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon The Trip Trilogy (or at least the latter two parts.) Comedic yes, but fundamentally a more down-to-earth exploration of a human relationship. And that’s really down to the amazing script by Finn Bruce and Jamie Patterson, as well as some moments of (assumed) improv as the film’s two leads are also credited co-writers.

That’s not to say Tracks doesn’t wear its silliness on its sleeve, with the character of Chris ending up as the nucleus to a multitude of farcical situations. (Hell, if there’s one thing I took away from this film, it’s that Willoughby has absolutely no problem getting his kit off for ANY situation!) Add in Pearson as the constantly put-upon Lucy, and you have a relationship in the vein of Frank and Betty Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

That relationship acts as the second leg in Tracks’ tripod of excellence. It’s already quite amazing how much comedy is extracted from what should be mundane couple’s conversations; but nothing would work without the convincing chemistry between the leading duo. While it’s true that Willoughby has the more overt comical significance, without the interaction with Pearson’s “straight man”, Tracks would have no passion to its very British tale of jocular woe.

Along with the writing and the leads, the third leg of the tripod would have to be Tracks’ cinematography. Make no mistake, this film is incredibly small scale, with multiple handheld shots by the two leads and Pearson even doubling up as the film’s only make-up artist. Therefore it’s a credit to cinematographer Edouard Fousset that, with such limited resources, he’s managed to create a love letter to Europe. Whether it be the more intimate indoor scenes or the expansive canvas of Europe’s national attractions, there’s a dedication that (along with David Fricker’s editing) makes Tracks a breezy and memorable journey through the heart and soul of both Europe and a human relationship. 

Overall Score:

four-stars

A Visit To The 2nd London Porn Film Festival (2018) – A Fun And Informative Night

Author’s Note: My 200th Post! Thanks for reading!


Did you know that there are somewhere between 8-10 new films released in UK cinemas every week? On top of that there are usually special screenings, events and festivals every weekend. It’s almost impossible for a film lover to see everything and tough decisions sometimes need to be made. Because of that there usually needs to be something special or unique to get my attention.

In this case it turned out to be porn!

Inspired by the Berlin Porn Film Festival, the people behind the London Porn Film Festival are firm defenders of the twin freedoms of digital rights and sexual freedom between consenting adults. In their own words:

We value porn as an art form that is able to question and challenge the power structures that limit our sexual expression. Radical queer porn has not settled as an art form – it straddles the borders of visual art, performance art, erotica, political activism and many other genres – making it a unique vehicle for presenting new and radical ideas of sexuality.

Just have a read of their article on Open Democracy to get a more detailed idea of their goals.

But there was one question that immediately came to mind when I decided to visit the LPFF… Am I the right sort of person to review porn?

This question didn’t arise in an inane attempt to preserve some modicum of innocence. Rather it comes down to an issue of experience. The nature of reviewing mainstream movies is that an opinion is created by comparing the film to previous cinematic outings. Which is why having a somewhat broad knowledge of world (or at least national) cinema is essential to creating a worthy review.

For example, if you knew a person whose only experience of cinema were the five live-action Transformers movies, their opinion isn’t necessarily one you would be listening to when trying to work out how to spend your Friday night.

So when it comes to reviewing porn, surely I am the equivalent of that stunted Transformers lover? Despite what my internet history might say, when it comes down to it my experience and knowledge of porn history, culture and its people is extremely limited. Perhaps it’s impossible for me to truly write a credible review?

But in spite of the “vanilla-ness” of my personal life, I’ve always made it my mission to seek out new cinematic flavours. In this case, a selection of short films by UK filmmakers collected together in a programme titled “Local Heroes”.

So… Lets sit down in a room full of complete strangers and watch some porn!


Gloaming

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Brought to the screen by Vex Ashley (@VexTape), Gloaming was a great start to the night as it head on addressed the issue of how black male bodies are sexualised. For the most part, black bodies tend to be stereotyped as hyper-masculine, always ignoring more emotional aspects such as love or general intimacy. But in Gloaming, Ashley prefers to show tenderness and passion through black eyes; rather than the rough, almost dominating, sexual activity usually seen in mainstream movies and porn.


She Groped Me In The Groceries

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With direction from Lidia Ravviso (@LidiaRavviso), SGMITG was easily one of my two favourites of the night (the other being Sixty-Nine Club.) It would be unseemly of me not to admit that such favouritism partly comes down to its adherence to traditional storytelling. In this case, a clear protagonist going about his business before being set upon and ravished by a hot Italian woman. (I didn’t say it was the most realistic of stories though!)

While Ravviso also does a great job in mining the comedy from the situation, especially when it comes to its Brexit-inspired epilogue, a special mention must be made for the cinematography, which manages to capture the unfiltered passion in a room that had to be the size of an especially minuscule clown car.


Afterparty

Afterparty

Produced by the Sluts4Sluts Collective (@Sluts4slutscol), and staring Mahx Capacity, Leo Leander and Dion De Rossi; Afterparty is (as you might expect) an experience set after the closing moments of a party. Alas, almost the entire film was shot in close-up, leading to a little difficulty in trying to work out who was doing what to whom. Just one or two wide or establishing shots would have helped a great deal.

Despite that, one of the most powerful aspects of the film was the constant communications between the three for permission. Rather than bringing a halt to the proceedings, it was a great example of how consent can be integrated into an ongoing process. When compared to how mainstream movies/porn traditionally present this aspect, Afterparty ends up being vastly superior.


Green Man Date

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Directed and starring erotic author Charlie J Forrest (@CJForrestauthor), Green Man Date was probably the biggest surprise of the night because I was not expecting something that comes pretty close to being a straight up musical!

In a bright idyllic wood, Forrest (playing a weary Viking solider), is content to sleep away when he is set upon by a strange green creature. I’m sure you can take a wild guess as to what happens next. Though it gets a little weird, there’s something to be said for porn that fully embraces the fantastical (or… you know… MORE fantastical than the usual)


Hysteria

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Now this is something a little different. A film created by Sarah Hardcastle while she was at the London College of Fashion, Hysteria comes across as more of a music video. Being more fashion conscious, there’s a lot less emphasis on sexuality compared to the other shorts. But even without a story, the artistry is more than apparent, with a shout out needed for the excellent sound design by BSP.


Sixty Nine Club

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The second of my two favourites ends up being a documentary where director Rob Eagle (@Rob_Eagle_) takes his camera into Europe’s oldest social group for gay leathermen, the Sixty-Nine Club.

Flashing back and forth between the men of the 70s / 80s to the now aged men of the modern day, Sixty-Nine Club ends upon being very much about camaraderie in the face of social expulsion. It’s both a revealing and sad look at what the people of generations past had to endure to keep their minds and souls alive. Honestly, this should be a full length feature film.


Unbridled

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Adapted from the play Black Beauty in Irons, Unbridled continues the submissive desires of pony play and continues into an arena that could not be shown upon the stage. Co-directed by Simon Moore and Marcus Quillan (the latter also starring alongside Amy Rose); the film is just as minimalist at its theatrical sister, but with added sexuality. While the short spends much of its first few minutes worshiping at the altar of tease; it soon gives way to unbridled passion from both Quillan and Rose, both literally and figuratively!


Overall, I have to say visiting the 2nd London Porn Film Festival was a surprisingly large amount of fun, with plenty of laughs and good humour throughout. I look forward to attending again in 2019.

Sundance, Here We Come!

For those of you that have only been following my blog for a few months, you may not be aware that I actually started this endeavour in order to promote my screenwriting work. A place where people who were interested could easily find my projects.

But my last post on the topic was all the way back in December 2016. Obviously I pivoted a little and instead pursued a more pop culture approach, reviewing movies, TV and theatre. But I didn’t give up on my screenwriting career.

So for those of you not keeping track, we shot my first short script (titled The Right Choice) just before Christmas in 2016. The original plan was to have all the editing done by the end of January. After all, it was only a 10 minute short!

Alas, days turned into weeks and weeks into months. We finally locked down our final cut in May, nearly 4 months after our original deadline.

But then came the visual effects…

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For those of you who have never had to supervise the creation of visual effects, it is honestly an art unto itself. And an expensive one too. Safe to say the original amount I had allocated for visual effects was woefully inadequate. (Fortunately our VFX Artist, Heinrich Maas, was an utter godsend.)

That’s the thing about filmmaking. There are always these little things that go wrong; and end up adding a tiny amount to the budget. As a first time producer I made sooooo many mistakes. Sometimes quite costly mistakes. But you live and learn I suppose.

Anyway, after begging, borrowing and doing the unspeakable, we finally managed to scrape together enough to see us through to the end. And in September 2017 we FINALLY finished.

Directed by Tomisin Adepeju and written/produced by yours truly; below is the trailer for The Right Choice!

It’s hard to describe the weight that lifts off your shoulders when you complete a film. I suppose it’s kind of like giving birth. You struggle for months to get the project off the ground (so to speak!); a small bit of time spent actually doing the dirty deed; and then an intense couple of months until your film finally drops.

Well, I entered the film into about 30 festivals before getting to sit back and relax. We would end up being rejected from three of them before that one fateful day finally came.

November 20th. It was four in the afternoon and I was sat in bed, stuffing my face with chocolate fingers while watching Let’s Play videos of Star Wars Battlefront II (Calm down, ladies!) My mobile phone rang and at the other end was a nice young lady by the name of Kate Metcalfe.

She asked if it was Vijay she was talking to. I confirmed and then she proceeded to inform me that The Right Choice was selected to be screened at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival!

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Sundance! The biggest and most famous film festival in the world! HOW?!?!?!?

I informed the director first. He refused to believe me. I spent a good five minutes trying to convince him! But he eventually came around. It was even his birthday the next day and he said it was the best birthday present he could have imagined!

And as the remainder of the cast and crew were informed, their reactions were all too similar. Shock, amazement, disbelief, crying and incredulity.

That last one, incredulity, was completely understandable. Deep down, I think most of us thought we had failed. Pre-production was tough, with a failed Kickstarter and crew members dropping out left, right and centre. The production itself over-ran, and we were still unable to get several shots that we wanted. And as post-production dragged on for months, it was hard not to lose faith. From Jan to Nov 2017, I honestly felt I had sunk £11k of my own money into an utterly pointless endeavour.

But getting accepted into Sundance was a validation. Someone important (or at least a group of people) were telling us: “No. You didn’t waste your time. You didn’t waste your money. You made something worth watching.”

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Of course, getting accepted into Sundance comes with its own challenges. Numerous pieces of paperwork and legal documents to fill in; as well as other financial obstacles (It cost me SIXTY-FIVE POUNDS to mail eight posters to Utah! What the hell, FedEx?!?!?)

But in the end, it seems my 22 month journey was worth it. All those sleepless nights, half a dozen times I fell sick with worry, and the constant delays led to something. I now stand on the cusp of my debut film having its world premiere at the most famous film festival in the world.

What a ride 😀 😀 😀

A Visit to the 8th Underwire Film Festival (2017) – Female Filmmaking At Its Finest

Having worked and lived in London since 2007, I’m not entirely sure how the Underwire Film Festival (UFF) escaped my notice before now. I’m always looking for new places to watch movies!

Nonetheless there’s no doubt that the UFF, now on its eighth iteration, has achieved much in the last few years. Having become a BAFTA-recognised festival only five or so years after its inception is an incredible achievement; and one that speaks to the high quality work that the people behind UFF perform year on year.

Founded in 2010, the UFF is the UK’s only film festival celebrating female filmmaking talent. Not only do they show 50-70 amazing female-led short films every year, but they also help aspiring female filmmakers by awarding them both training and mentoring opportunities.

At this year’s festival I was unfortunetly only able to attend one screening, it being titled “Rebel Girls“; which they describe as “tales of sweet first crushes, coming out and teenage rebellion.”


Crush

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Originally premiering at the BFI Flare Festival, Crush is the debut short film from director Rosie Westhoff. Focusing on 13-year old Ella (Madeline Holliday) as she waits at a train station, we witness the beginnings of a burgeoning infatuation as she sees another girl (Zara Mirabelle Cooper) on the opposite platform.

Almost dialogue-free, full props must be given to Holliday’s performance. With no words to fall back on, her entire character arc is done through the lightest of glances and the smallest of movements. An impressive performance for such a young lady.


I Am Raja

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Set entirely in the Sahara desert, I Am Raja tells the tale of a 12 year old girl on her way to fetch some water. Though simple in story, the filmmaking could not be further from such simplicity. Specifically when it comes to the work done by the cinematographer. The vast desert-scapes of North Africa are captured in all their beauty, while the excellent sound work injects even more life into this picturesque short film.

Director Avatâra Ayuso mentioned that this was going to be the first in a trilogy of films about women in extreme climates. Based on her brilliant work here, I look forward to the second installment, which apparently will follow an Eskimo woman in her 60s living in the icy wastelands of the north.


Bubblegum

Bubblegum

Opening with a young lady kneeling in front of a flickering CRT TV, director Rose Hendry knows how to open with an arresting image.

That said I must confess that Bubblegum went slightly over my head. Until I read the synopsis on the UFF website after the fact, I wasn’t 100% sure what the film was actually about, especially with such a short running time.

Fortunately the lack of story can be overlook by the breathtaking images delivered by cinematographer Ian Forbes and colourist Eva Pomposo.


Stevie

Stevie

In her directorial debut McKenna Fernandez tells the touching story of Stevie, a little girl who, after undergoing cataracts surgery, must adapt to her new outlook on life.

It’s always difficult to adequately show how differently a blind individual experiences the world; but in one scene set in a cathedral, this experience is brilliantly portrayed through the use of excellent sound design and sound mixing. Unfortunately I was unable to find out the names behind such fine work.


Seventeen

Seventeen

Seventeen is a heartfelt look at those on the verge of adulthood. Focusing specifically on the young people of Scarborough, director Mollie Mills chooses not to merely interview a parade of talking heads, but instead takes the camera into their world. As such we get to see hopes, dreams, fears and ponderings as the teenagers of Scarborough take their first steps into an adult world.


Trigga

Trigga

The only film in this section to deal directly with childhood bullying, Trigga follows Mae (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu) as she struggles with the constant abuse from a trio of classmates.

Brought to the screen by experienced filmmaker Meloni Poole, Trigga ends up shining a much needed light onto the issue of bullying, especially by and upon girls. In addition it quite eloquently shows us how the escape into fantasy can sometimes be the only coping mechanism in an otherwise uncaring world.


Silly Girl

Silly Girl

I loved this one, partly because of its time travel / fantasy aspect. Co-written by Ellie Kendrick (of Game of Thrones fame) and directed by Hope Dickson Leach (The Levelling); Silly Girl shows the interaction between an older tran-man (Jason Barker) and his younger teenage girl-self (Ciara Baxendale).

With witty dialogue to boot, it’s a wonderful and unique approach to the exploration of self-identity and romantic connections.


Pillow Talk

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Flashback to the 90s! Writer/director Louise Marie Cooke takes us back in time nearly 25 years to show us the friendship of Cara (Ashleigh Cordery) and Lucy (Miranda Horn); two BFF’s having a sleepover. But Lucy has a sneaky suspision that Cara prefers girls over guys; and is willing to put their friendship at risk to get her to admit it.

Pillow Talk mostly ended up being a damn good reminder of my time during the 90s. True, I was a teenage boy, but I remember the coloured hairspray and Polaroid cameras! But I also remember how negatively being gay was perceived. Cooke’s film does an amazing job of showing us the true power of friendship in the face of societal judgement.


It was here that the screening seemed to end, but it was soon revealed that the final film had accidentally not been shown yet. God knows how you forget about an entire film! But thank god they showed it because that one film would have been worth the entire price of admission…

The Silent Child

The Silent Child

Talk about saving the best for last! Directed by Chris Overton, The Silent Child follows Libby (Maisie Sly) and her middle-class family. Libby is profoundly deaf and has become a shy and withdrawn little girl. It’s not until social worker Joanne (Rachel Shenton) comes into her life that Libby begins a slow transformation into a girl that can connect with the world.

It’s not often I get blown away by a short film, but The Silent Child goes above and beyond anything I have seen in years. Writer and star Rachel Shenton (who was at the screening) made it clear that this story was not only intensely personal, but a true reflection of the real-life struggles that many deaf children around the world must deal with.

Incredibly emotional and enormously moving, not only is The Silent Child the best short film I’ve seen in 2017, but it is also the sort of film that I could honestly see winning a BAFTA next year.

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A Visit To The Sixth Annual British Animation Film Festival

Being that I’m in the middle of post-production for my own short film, I’ve recently gained a new sense of appreciation as to how difficult actually finishing a film can be. And to those who choose to tell their stories through the field of animation, I can only weep with empathy and respect.

But in light of that appreciation, I was able to snap up a ticket to one of the screenings at this year’s British Animation Film Festival. With 22 films in total, it was a solid two hours of laughs, tears and everything in between.

While it wouldn’t be practical for me to review all 22, I did want to touch on a few that stood out in an already overachieving field.


If The Cuckoo Don’t Crow

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Directed by Steve Kirby / Runtime: 2 minutes

For those readers not lucky enough to have been raised in the British Isles, there are a few opinions and stories that every citizen is taught in childhood. For example:

  • Dick Van Dyke has a shitty cockney accent in Mary Poppins.
  • In football, the four nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island all hate each other. Unless one of us is playing the French.
  • And we all hate the French. Unless they’re playing the Germans.
  • The only reason we keep losing Eurovision is because all the Eastern European countries are mean and keeping ganging up on us!
  • And Michael Fish made a REALLY bad weather call in 1987.

It’s this last one that’s relevant as weatherman Michael Fish famously said on national TV:

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way; well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!

That night, one of the most violent hurricanes in British history hit the nation and the rest is history.

If The Cuckoo Don’t Crow is a hilarious exploration of who exactly that mysterious woman was and how she knew about this violent storm.

If The Cuckoo Don’t Crow is available to watch on Vimeo.


Quitting Time

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Directed by Robert Dollase / Runtime: 9 minutes

A good time travel film is always appreciated; and in Quitting Time we have a great animated comedy adventure about a rather stubborn professor.

With animation that could honestly rival some of the big studios, this film follows said professor as he travels back to the prehistoric dinosaur age. While at first all seems to be going well, he’s soon interrupted by something rather unexpected.


To Build A Fire

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Directed by Fx Goby / Runtime: 13 minutes

With well over 20 film festival acceptances, and several award wins under their belt; the team behind To Build A Fire have easily been one of the most successful films playing at the BAFF.

Based on the Jack London short story of the same name, To Build a Fire follows a trapper and his dog as they journey through the icy wastelands of the Yukon territory. While fairly simplistic in story, the entire journey is elevated by an astounding score from Mathieu Alvado; which also happens to have been performed by members of the London Symphony Orchestra! An absolute must see.


For Ray

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Directed by Heidi Stokes / Runtime: 4 minutes

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it was inspired by a real life meeting on a train.

For Ray tells us the story of a former solider, aboard a train begging for money from strangers. By some coincidence, he meets someone from the same regiment and a lengthy conversation endures.

Though the conversation is only touched upon (as you might expect from a film that runs 4 minutes); it nonetheless is an excellent depiction of how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a profound difference in a person’s life. Beauty at its finest.


First Snow

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Directed by Lenka Ivančíková / Runtime: 14 minutes

One of the more longer films at BAFF, First Snow follows a young hedgehog who wakes up from hibernation. Leaving his parents, he only intends to explore the outside world for a little while.

But heavy snowfall hides the entrance to his home and he soon becomes lost. Sad and alone, the hedgehog must endure many dangers in his attempt to find his way back.

First Snow is a breathtaking accomplishment of animation and storytelling. Heavily reminiscent of the stop-motion animation used in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the film is an excellent example of the fine cinematic work coming from the Czech Republic.


Ztripes

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Directed by Amalie Næsby / Runtime: 10 minutes

While the story of a zebra and its connection to its stripes has been done to death in cartoons and literature; Ztripes easily stands out from the crowd by introducing a musical aspect.

We follow a zebra called Ziggy, the coolest and most amazing dancer on the savannah. One day when Ziggy goes for a dip in the watering hole, he takes his stripes off (as you do!), and they end up being stolen. Will Ziggy still be accepted by his zebra friends?

Completely sung through from beginning to end, Ztripes is incredibly captivating in its musical beats; and provides a perfect accompaniment to its already awe-inspiring animation.


The Moon is Essentially Gray

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Directed by Hannah Roman / Runtime: 5 minutes

There are an abundance of difficult problems that children must endure in real life. And portraying these issues in live-action can sometimes be difficult due to the innocence of any potential child actor.

It’s for these issues that animation can really show us something that would otherwise be impossible. The Moon is Essentially Grey tackles this head on by exploring how children who experience neglect sometimes use escapism to try and bring meaning to their lives. A heart-breaking and moving piece of cinema.


Photo Credits: RacecarStash Media, UniFranceFilms, Heidi Stokes, Loutkar Online, FilmFestival.dk, DCA Award, Vimeo,