When EVIL Isn’t That Black & White. “Choir Girl” reviewed! (Nexus Production Group / Digital Screener)

Eugene lives a lonely, pitiable existence.  Residing with his ailing father in a slum neighborhood, his photography background captures the crime and the desolation that surrounds him, snapping pictures without ever interceding with his crime-riddled subjects, in an attempt to hold an exhibition or sell his work to a high profile magazine, Slipstream, as his ticket out of the despair that engulfs him.  When Eugene stumbles upon young teenage girls being drugged and held for prostitution, he becomes fixated on Josephine when a low-level editor, seeing her as a professional stepping stone, prods him for more pictures that evoke hope out of her situation, but when he finally intervenes, helping her escape, Eugene falls into a world of a massive prostitution ring with doctors, cops, and major organizations on the payroll and a kingpin named Daddy at the helm.  The deeper the debt placed upon him for showing compassion to Josephine, the more the lines blur on whether he’s become his muse’s lone savior or just his meal ticket out his current life.

How far will your moral principles take you to save a teenage girl when you’re locked into a no-win situation?  That’s the theme explored to a shocking sexual assault conclusion in John Fraser’s 2019 unscrupulous Australian thriller, “Choir Girl.”  Introducing Fraser’s first credited written and directed full length feature film, shot entirely in black and white, the Melbourne arthouse and a goose egg-fairytale version of “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes toward the perceived illegality of immigration, the horrors of sex-trade, and the touch-and-go balance act between doing what’s right and self-serving opportunities with a 15-year old girl’s fate dangling at the end of a line.  “Choir Girl” is produced by Ivan Malekin under his Melbourne based label, Nexus Production Group, along with Lucinda Bruce serving as co-producer.

To carry “Choir Girl” through the muck of it all, a strong performance must arduously burden the gravity of the content and Peter Flaherty astounds with an ingloriously flawed and unlikely hero, Eugene.  “The Butcher Possessions” and “KIllervision” actor masts a greasily haggard with bordering neurodevelopment issues, disheveled in his attire, and walks with a noticeable limp, made intentionally noticeable when as he walks away from characters and situations.  Though Eugene seems meek, the shutterbug aches to improve himself by seemingly exploiting others as a freelance photographer and being persistent in that pursuit until becoming engrossed into a 15-year-old prostitute’s life struggle blossoming before our eyes a rather unsettling grown man and teenage girl relationship that assumes a pedophilia ideology of adoring the child to the extent of protection, but also falls in to grooming and sexual exploitation.  The film introduces audiences to Sarah Timm, playing Eugene’s muse, Josephine, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who literally has nothing left that is her own, this including her body, when forced into sex slavery so when Eugene and other characters call her diminutively by Jo, she immediately corrects them to call her Josephine in order to keep the one thing left that is still hers, her name.  In her first feature role, and a mightily demanding role it is with the amount of discomfiture of playing essentially an abused child, the German native will have audiences overlooking the fact that she’s portraying a teenager in the sordid sultriness of sex-trafficking with crafting Josephine’s war-torn history and pre-adolescent childhood stories as always the girl in the background, the unpretty forgotten girl that blended in and no one noticed, until she’s a part of a much larger, more ferocious, uncompromising system that Daddy (Jack Campbell) dictates with CCTV live feeds of every sleazy, scummy hotel bedroom in his syndicated footprint.  The cruelty that Jack Campbell reins savors every facet of Daddy’s being on screen with an intent to be a immovable roadblock in Eugene’s advanced for progress and for John Fraser’s “Choir Girl,” the character development and personalities find justification from the cast with the exception of one, the low on the totem pole and self-absorbed Slipstream magazine editor, Polly.  Krista Vendy imposes on Polly’s rabid  narcissism with an incredibility that becomes the underbelly amongst a bloc of solid performances.  Andy McPhee (“Wolf Creek”), Lee Mason (“The Caretaker”), Jillian Murray (“Body Melt”), and Kym Valentine fill out supporting roles. 

I love the juxtaposition opening of Eugene in his dark room in the middle of photographic processing his oblivious subjects, including a drug abusing child with a hypodermic heroine needle sticking out of his arm, a blowjob being serviced between a wall and bushes, or the aftermath of man being beaten with his assailants walking away from his leveled body, and then the title fades in from black and the next scene is of a framed magazine cover with the cover title “It’s All Back and White.”  The sequence sets up perfectly the entire premise driving “Choir Girl’s” gray area circumstances that nothing substantial, meaningful, or controversial can be black and white. Plus, the entire film is shot in black and white furthering the contrivance of the theme. The gray area challenging Eugene is a tightrope walk when squeezed for payment for snatching Josephine by the amoral organization claiming property theft, making him submit to the idiom of pulling his strings like a marionette or shooting at his feet to make him dance for insatiable perverse satisfaction. Eugene rarely displays remorse in his demeanor, face, or actions for the things he does and doesn’t do when faced with adversity in a slither of sociopathic idiosyncrasy, but when outright criticized for his inaction, he’s able to right wrongs with deplorable methods like a toddler trying to mop up a grape juice spill with mother’s expensive, white dress. There’s a bit of innocence or naivety in Eugene’s mind as you can almost see the gears slowly spinning when confronted but in the defense of the man who no really gave the time of day, those gyrating mice wheels of delicate thought snuck past every contingency against Eugene surviving Daddy’s deadly game, leading to an unsavory solution that puts the viewer in an awkward spot to either avert the eyes or remained captivated to see it through.

 

I, for one, remained seated, steadfast to the end, hypnotized by audacity of John Fraser in his feature film directorial, “Choir Girl,” that has arrived onto Apple’s iTunes. The unrated film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of a widescreen format and will have an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound availability. Though derided as kitschy at times, the black and white veneer works here inside “Choir Girl’s” vascular system of catch-22s and director of photography, Mark Kenfield, rides a consistent straighten arrow style with steady cam shots, decent framing, and some tracking shots without pushing the envelope in regards to angles or oscillation. There were no bonus content or additional scenes during or after the credits. “Choir Girl” sings no praises of hallelujah. Offers no solace in time of hardship. If you’re looking for a movie that touches you, then you’re in for a rude awakening as “Choir Girl” obliterates the moral standards, leaving faith outside, with a severe penance in abetting the Devil’s work, selling their soul to do what’s right.

One Tough Cop Takes Out the Failing System’s Trash! “Vengeance: A Love Story” review!


Fourth of July. A holiday that celebrates the birth of the United States of America becomes the physical and psychological dismantling of a widowed mother named Teena who is viciously attacked while taking a woodsy shortcut home with her young daughter, Bethie. Beaten nearly to the end of her life and dragged to a vacant boathouse, Teena is gang raped by each of her four assailants and while Bethie managed to free herself from her attackers, the child is helpless as she witnesses her mother’s near-death assault. Bethie’s testimony and positive ID of the rapist is a seemingly slam dunk win for prosecutors that will hopeful open a slither of recovering hope for Teena, but when the accused parents hire an expensively sharp attorney that spins and attacks Teena’s character that night, the case quivers on the edge that leans more toward a non-guilty verdict. Detective John Dromoor, who found Teena unresponsive after the assault, had previously met with Teen and was familiar as a humble, energetic, and friendly acquaintance, but now seeing the single mother struggling to cope not only from her rape, but through a justice system that’s feasibly flawed, the Desert Storm, Purple Heart veteran embarks onto a covert, vigilante path to rid the world of justice elusive scum.

“Vengeance: A Love Story,” inspired by the novel with an edgier, yet more shocking title, “Rape: A Love Story,” written by Joyce Carol Oates, provides the foundational narrative for the Nicholas Cage produced and Johnny Martin directed 2017 dramatic thriller that’s quintessentially an alternate model of rape-revenge of inherent brutality and toxic judicial bureaucracy challenged by moral renegades defending the decency with lethal force. Penned by John Mankiewicz as his only non-TV related project, “Vengeance: A Love Story” is not like “Live Free or Die Hard” or an “Independence Day” in the sense that’s not a 4th of July type film, granted those two aforementioned films are plump with large scale action and though Johnny Martin is a stunt man turned director, his third feature film, set in upstate New York near the Niagara Falls, doesn’t regale tales from his previous trade that includes stunt work in “Zombieland” to “Se7en” and many, many more.

The introduction of detective John Dromoor staked out in his undercover squad car with a partner whose planning to pop the question to his girlfriend with a diamond ring. As his partner proudly displays the marital finger token, Dromoor is all business; in fact, Dromoor is all business, all the time. Reserved like Catholic deacon and deadly with firearms, Dromoor doesn’t have time to crack a smile and shows little emotion even when being a proxy of vigilante justice for an friendly acquaintance. “Mandy” star Nicholas Cage doesn’t rightly fit this role. The charismatic and eccentric actor runs through John Dromoor sedated with horse tranquilizer symptoms of stultified sluggishness, but when the moment strikes, like a rattlesnake latching on in a blank of an eye, the killer charisma of rugged resilience comes to the forefront, a quality Cage portrays well, and with vengeance in the title, should have reared up and lasted more often to let the very fervid fiber of the word sink in. When Dromoor meets Teena for the first time in the bar, prior to attack, romance seemed to beguile them between Dromoors lack of personality and Teena’s giddy, if not superfluous flirty radiance as she provides him her call me digits, but there was no romance, or at least no more romance provided, afterwards. Straying not so far from her cheerleader pepped character in “The Cabin in the Woods,” Anna Hutchison douses herself in a familiar upbeat tempo that quickly burns out when her character becomes the victim of gang rape scene. The wake of that scene challenges Hutchison to be more than just a pretty face, but an emotionally and physically battered woman suffering from traumatic stress and slut shaming. Hutchison’s goes through the various stages of trauma and the powerful relevancy has more staying power than the whole Dromoor vengeance byproduct, sending Nicholas Cage’s retribution into more of a subplot gray area. The remaining cast includes Talitha Eliana Batemen (“Annabelle: Creation”), Deborah Kara Unger (“Silent Hill”), Joshua Mikel (“Last Shift”), Rocco Nugent (“Dracula: The Impaler”), Joe Ochterbeck, Carter Burch, and “Miami Vice’s” very own Don Johnson as the hot shot prick lawyer, Jay Kirkpatrick.

Having coursed through the film’s various themes of rape, shaming, and the malfunctioning legal system, one more important theme inherently stands out with real pertinent clout issues. While two suspects, who are brothers, are arrested by Dromoor and his public servant colleagues, their venomous mother pursues hellfire guidance from a priest of the Catholic faith and as the father offers his spiritual insights, which is harmlessly conventional within the priest’s parameters, he also provides contact information for an expensive lawyer who represents the ill repute. Layers upon layers of thick symbolize can be extracted from the brief allegory, like an onion being unraveled toward a rotten core, unveiling the lengths and means of religious impurities. The fact that this priest knows of and has contact information for a powerful defensive attorney really speaks to Joyce Carol Oates’ deep-seated opinions rolled up in a single brilliant scene, but that’s where the momentum unfortunately ceases. There’s a schlepped through court hearing that’s entertaining enough and Dromoor’s barbaric rogue undertaking of the law that dishes out cold-hearted kills, but aspiration to convey more substance loses steam, the editing is systematically chunky, and Dromoor has this weird dynamic with Teena and her daughter that feels unintentionally stalker-ish and predatory. Yes, Dromoor protects and serves with unauthorized capital punishment, but without providing a deeper context of his purpose to what really motivates him to do what he’s doing, the act of retribution impressions another pressed upon imposition toward a mother and daughter’s prolonged anguish and feels more gross than justified.

FilmRise and MVDVisual distributes “Vengeance: A Love Story” on a full HD, 1080p Blu-ray presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the digitally shot video remains untarnished by nature or, lack of, age. No compression issues with the image quality and colors are super vibrant with a wide range of hues to take absorb. Skin tones, night scenes, and even the minimal visual effects address pinpoint consistency throughout. The English DTS-HD 5.1 surround audio track favors a strong, upfront dialogue track leveled with score and ambiance. The surround sound quality, when suitable, explodes through the channels with evidently solid range and depth. Runtime is 100 minutes and there are no other bonus features other than the film’s trailer, which has been consistent with FilmRise distributed releases. Nicholas Cage’s usual droll is riding the pine in “Vengeance: A Love Story” as if the Academy Award Winner wasn’t being paid enough to speak or act madly so he mentally sat this vendetta thriller out; however, the story has meaningful aspirations and the violence, though fleeting, is spiteful and merciless, framed around with tactless pacing, gratuitous macho shots, and circumstantial, at best, motivational retribution.

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When You Hear Evil, Do You Get Involved? “The Neighbor” review!


Mike, a mild mannered, middle-aged man, notices a young couple moving into the vacant house next door. His mundane marriage roots out a curiosity infatuation with Jenna, a young and beautiful woman, next moving in. Jenna and her husband Scott, a fast talking exotic car salesman, have recently only have been married for the short time of four months and Mike feels something isn’t quite normal with Scott when he witnesses and overhears violent behavior from his new neighbor toward his wife. Concerned for her wellbeing, Mike, at first, attempts to interject the best way he can without over stepping his bounds by offering to assist with Jenna’s work-in- progress garden or just chatting over the yard dividing wall when Scott isn’t around, but when he assumes things become physically abusive between them, Mike is forced to do more than just mind his own business at the request of his wife and friends. Is Mike willing to risk everything, such as his long term marriage, in order to help a complete and total stranger he barely knows?

“The Neighbor” is a dramatic thriller from the 2011 crime drama “Catch .44” writer-director Aaron Harvey co-written with first time writer, long time editor, Richard Byard. Harvey and Byard attempt to explore the very common situation of what do you do when you’re exposed to marital violence and how much involvement one should put themselves into assisting the battered party. In short, you’re morally obliged to dial call 9-1-1 and report spousal abuse, but to ensure entertainment value for us viewers, the filmmakers pen Mike as something far worse – a concerned spectator. Instead, Mike wallows about by attending to his garden, working on his technical writing from home, or slicing tomatoes in the kitchen all the while being a part of the problem of the domestic violence next door and it’s not as if the violence is even in question as Jenna flat out tells Mike that Scott has a behavior problem whenever he drinks too much. Right then and there, Mike should be ringing the police the next moment a flare up occurs. Mike is the epitomized reason audiences would be vacuumed into the story as each and every one of us could potentially be a passive Mike in a similar situation.

One of the more underrated actors in the industry today, William Fichtner, steps into the comfy slippers of the garden trowel wielding Mike. The “Armageddon” and “Drive Angry” Fichtner’s chiseled and unique facial features typically casts him as hard nose characters – military types, villains, etc., – but “The Neighbor” offers Fichnter a chance to play normalcy. However, Fichtner’s approach to a house husband bears an uncanny resemblance to Michael Myers from John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” With stiff, straight arms by his sides, soulless eyes, and an absent personality, Mike has the gait and the expressions of the William Shatner masked psychopath that’s churns out an awkward performance that blurs the character’s intentions between either being righteous and obsessed. The good looking couple next door are played by Australian born Jessica McNamme and Michael Rosenbaum, also of “Catch .44.” Rosenbaum plays an impeccable dick so well there’s a surefire chance that his character, the fast talking exotic car salesman, will be disliked and as a stark contrast, Namee’s channels a sweet disposition that surfaces the question, why these two are even together? Yet, the Jenna wish-washy stance with Scott makes her frustrating which Mike takes with an astonishing grain of salt. Jean Louisa Kelly, Colin Woodell, and Erich Anderson “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” costar.

With a solid cast with a few quirks, “The Neighbor,” under the directorial eye of Aaron Harvey, should have shaped up to be an apprehensive, nail-biting thriller. Instead, some aspects of the Harvey’s film didn’t feel right. For instance, Lisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Mike’s marriage was never rocky; the union might have been stagnant from just the day-in-day-out repetitiveness and the longevity of knowing someone from an extended period of time, but there’s a scene when Lisa abruptly decides to throw Mike out of their house. The moment is so random and so unexpected the momentum and the weight of the story changes, pivoting too acutely to compute why Lisa would doghouse Mike over his justifiable concerns over Jenna’s safety without prior marital complexities between them. The entire film almost feels like it’s from Mike’s perspective as everyone, from his friends to his wife and son, seem to unacknowledged his presence whereas Jenna brightens, smiles, and welcomes him in conversation, advice, and even a little intimacy, but that may or may not have transpired.

The Michael Bruce Pictures and Blood Moon Creative produced “The Neighbor” is currently in select theaters from Vertical Entertainment. With a runtime of 105 minutes, “The Neighbor” will drag out under an engaging plot that ultimately goes sluggish at the tail end and even though brilliant and colorful in his prior work, Fichtner is a complete shell of his former characters as a expressionless zombie softly hellbent on saving a train wreck of a young woman from her volatile husband. Overall, “The Neighbor” falls flat to technically write how to right a situation without being caught in the middle of the situation.