Surviving Me: The 9 Circles of Sophie


A little less-than-enthusiastic nuzzling.

A little less-than-enthusiastic nuzzling.

(2015) Coming of Age Drama (Self-Released) Christine Ryndak, Mira Furlan, Fredric Lehne, Vincent Piazza, Leah Yananton, Dennis Hill, Joshua Zirger, Kevin Murray, Mikayla Park, Patrick Welsh, Rusty Clauss, Marycarmen Wila, Joanna Becker, Stefan Stratton, Matt Cannon, Ellana Barksdale, Marjo-Riikka Makela. Directed by Leah Yananton

Finding ourselves is no easy task. At 20 years old, we are expected to know what we want to do with the rest of our lives and who we want to be. The truth of the matter is this; at 20 we don’t have the experience to really know ourselves, and how can you figure out who you want to be if you don’t know who you are to begin with?

Sophie Hofkind (Ryndak) is entering her junior year in college. She is a poet of some talent, having been taken under the wing of her English lit teacher Professor Slateman (Lehne). Her free-spirited BFF Keira (Yananton) seems to have a moral compass that points directly at her own crotch; she pretty much bangs anything that moves and has quite a sexual attraction to Sophie, even if Sophie chooses to ignore it – most of the time. Once in awhile, Sophie isn’t above leading Keira on.

Sophie also has Jimmy (Piazza), who wants very much to be her boyfriend. Each gave their virginity away to the other; while Jimmy is hopelessly in love with Sophie, Sophie keeps a bit of a distance with Jimmy. Oh sure, she has sex with him, but it wouldn’t exactly be called making love, at least not for her.

Sophie is in a good spot. She has mostly paid for her tuition through private funds, refusing to utilize her mom as help – the two have been estranged essentially since Sophie left for school. However, the thing about life is it rarely stays in the same place for long. Sophie develops more than a crush for Professor Slateman and the professor’s enigmatic wife Jacqueline (Furlan), which begins to take its toll on all of Sophie’s relationships. Also, she has begun to run out of money for her schooling, which means she’ll have to work and given that she has an 18 credit workload means that she’s going to have little time for socializing and sleep.

Still, Sophie is making a go of it, but she runs smack into some life-altering decisions that will change her life forever but also the lives of everyone around her. These are the kinds of things that give us a road map to “finding ourselves.”

If you ever wondered what being a young co-ed in the 21st century is like, the movie gives the old college try at showing you. Not being a young 21st century co-ed I can’t really vouch for the accuracy here, but I have to admit that the dialogue doesn’t always ring true here. While college students of both sexes have a tendency to mistake literary quotes and highfalutin’ language as depth, most discussions that take place between college students has little to do with the meaning of poetry. Rather, like most young people, college students spend more time discussing social activities than they do literature and philosophy.

Fortunately, the two leading ladies – Ryndak and Yananton – are both charming, smart, pretty and sexy. While Ryndak’s character isn’t always likable in that she is capable of great self-absorption, she has a light about her that makes the audience want her to do the right thing and end up happy. Yananton, who has to portray a girl whom the judgmental among us might call a slut – although I have issues with labeling a woman who happens to enjoy sex – makes the character the sort of girl you want to hang around with, even if you have zero chance of sleeping with her.

The supporting cast is pretty good as well, but delivering an exceptional performance is Mira Furlan. Most remember her from Babylon 5 and J.J. Abrams’ Lost but she is a superb actress who has never really connected with American audiences to the degree I thought she would. She doesn’t have a huge role here but it is a memorable one and Furlan fills it with personality and emotion. Her scenes with Ryndak in the cabin late in the film are really superb.

The problems that Sophie encounters are for the most part very realistic. Young women enter an environment where their sexuality is both encouraged and discouraged at once; it can be very confusing to navigate the treacherous waters of human relationships at any age, let alone so young. Sophie makes some poor choices here but she also makes a few good ones. Whether or not she has truly learned from them is an enigma; how often do we truly learn from our mistakes? Not always. Some less often than others, but all things considered I have high hopes for Sophie.

This isn’t a movie for everyone. It occasionally falls into pretentiousness but of the kind that might come with characters who have more intelligence than experience. Particularly near the end of the film, Yananton sets up some beautiful shots and utilizes some artwork throughout that’s very feminine to the point of being yonic (the “9” in the opening titles looks decidedly ovarian). In fact, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to label this a bit of a woman’s film, although that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) preclude men from enjoying it, but it certainly is aimed at young women with a young woman’s point of view. Using the structure of Dante’s Inferno to structure the movie is fairly interesting for the most part, but some of the segments feel like the subject matter was shoehorned in a little bit. An ambitious idea but one that I think ended up inhibiting the filmmaker somewhat.

Summing up, not all of this works but that’s okay – enough of it does that I can give it a reasonably solid thumbs up. The film is just beginning to hit the festival circuit, so keep an eye out for it at your local film fest. Don’t be surprised if it turns up at one near you.

REASONS TO GO: Interesting artwork with a decidedly feminine bent. Mira Furlan is a criminally underrated actress. Some really nicely set up shots.
REASONS TO STAY: The lead character’s behavior can be frustrating. Occasionally pretentious. Some of the dialogue doesn’t sound like 20-year-old girls talking.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of sex and some nudity, adult and sexual content, some foul language and drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere last weekend at the Hollywood Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Mistress America
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Key

Jersey Boys


Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

(2014) Musical (Warner Brothers) Vincent Piazza, John Lloyd Young, Steve Schirripa, Christopher Walken, Johnny Cannizzaro, Michael Lomenda, Lacey Hannan, Joseph Russo, Erich Bergen, Mike Doyle, Donnie Kehr, Freya Tingley, Erica Piccininni, Kathrine Narducci, Lou Volpe, Michael Patrick McGill, Annika Noelle, Renee Marino, Allison Wilhelm. Directed by Clint Eastwood

There are those that say that legends are born, not made. There are those who insist that it’s the other way around. The truth is when it comes to music, it’s a bit of both.

In Belleville, a mostly Italian enclave in Jersey in the early 50s, young Tommy DeVito (Piazza) works as a driver and general go-fer for mobster Gyp De Carlo (Walken) by day and a budding musician with a doo-wop band by night.  He’s also friends with Frankie Castelluccio (Young), who would later come to be known as Frankie Valli. Castelluccio is a young man with an angelic voice who De Carlo sees stardom written all over. DeVito insists that Frankie do his vocal exercises and take singing lessons. He also has Frankie act as a lookout man on a botched robbery for which DeVito takes the fall.

After getting back from jail, DeVito – now with Frankie a full-fledged member of the band – along with Nick Massi (Lomenda) – seems content to play pizza parlors and bowling alleys in Jersey, although he knows as well as De Carlo that Frankie could very well be his ticket to the big time. They just need the right songs. Cue Joe Pesci (Russo) – yes, that Joe Pesci – who is friends with DeVito and happens to know a great songwriter named Bob Gaudio (Bergen) who wrote the novelty hit “Short Shorts” for the Royal Teens back when he was 15. Now out of that group, he’s looking for the right fit for his musical future. Introductions are made and the band, then called the Four Lovers, take the name the Four Seasons after a bowling alley where they unsuccessfully auditioned to play.

DeVito also introduces Frankie to Mary (Marino), a loud, brash woman who has no trouble figuring out that the talented Frankie is her way out of Belleville. The two eventually get married. In the meanwhile, Frankie and Gaudio head to the Brill Building trying to find a producer. They run into Bob Crewe (Doyle) who also hails from Jersey and knows Gaudio somewhat, but has met with some success as a producer. He’s flamboyantly gay (in an era when Liberace was considered “dramatic”) but he gives the four kids a break. Before long they’re singing back-up on an array of forgotten songs.

This doesn’t sit well with the group who were promised a demo of their own. Crewe is willing to produce it but he needs $1500 in order to do it and a radio-friendly song to promote. DeVito provides the cash – borrowing from loan shock Norm Waxman (Kehr) – and Gaudio provides the song – a little ditty called “Sherry.”

The song explodes and is the first of three number one hits in a row for the group. They become one of the most popular groups in the country with appearances on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. However, everything isn’t cake and roses; the constant touring has estranged Frankie from his children and his wife, who has become an alcoholic. Tommy has been gambling heavily and is in debt to Waxman for a lot more than $1500 – nearly ten times that amount, as well as having been embezzling funds from the band. Tommy is also incensed at the growing closeness between Frankie and Gaudio, who have formed a separate partnership outside of the band. Things will have to come to a head sooner or later.

This is based on the Tony award-winning smash hit Broadway musical and features Lloyd who originated the role of Valli on Broadway and won a Tony for it. Several other actors in the cast were in either the Broadway or touring company of the show. Eastwood, who would seem on the surface to be an odd choice to do a musical (although his biopic of jazz legend Charlie Parker, Bird, remains one of those unheralded classics) wanted stage actors familiar with the material more than he did Hollywood name actors (although he did cast Walken as the genial mobster De Carlo).

There’s a stagey quality here which isn’t entirely due to the acting. While the actors frequently break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience – part of the original show’s conceit is that it was divided into four parts with each band member “narrating” from his own point of view – that doesn’t harm the movie much. In fact, I found it to be one of the elements that worked best.

Part of the problem is there’s a surprising lack of energy for a musical; that’s because most of the music is not performed in staged numbers. For the most part, they are depicted in the recording studio or on TV programs. It leads to a bit of frustration on the part of the audience who is expecting more music from a musical. Only the last number, essentially a medley of hits that starts off from the original band’s final performance together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1990 (Massi passed away from cancer in 2000) has that energy and performance that one expects from a musical.

So we have here a cross between a 50’s set goombah period piece and a screen version of a Broadway musical with elements of both filling the screen. I’m not sure which one works best but I think that both could have used a kick in the pants. I left the theater feeling curiously unfulfilled although Da Queen was enthusiastic for her love for the movie.

The music itself is good and Lloyd does an amazing job of creating Valli’s iconic falsetto, one of the most recognizable voices in the history of pop music. It must also be said that I have a sense that those who have seen the musical either on Broadway or in one of the touring productions will more than likely be disappointed by this effort as I was, even though I haven’t seen the musical as of yet.

This isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination; I just had higher hopes for it that weren’t met. The production values are spot on and although there are a few anachronisms (Valli is depicted singing his hit “My Eyes Adored You” to his daughter as a lullaby fully ten years before the song was actually written) they capture the period and place nicely. There is a bit of Italian-American stereotyping but not as much as you might think. For the most part, it’s entertaining; it just isn’t the kind of film you’ll want to see over and over again – at least not for me.

REASONS TO GO: Some great music. Young captures Valli’s voice nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks energy. Looks stagey. Occasionally anachronistic.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of salty language, or what they call in Jersey “tawkeen.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At the conclusion of the film, Tommy DeVito says that he’s working for Joe Pesci these days. Pesci played a character named Tommy DeVito in GoodFellas based on a mob associate of Henry Hill, but not named after the ex-Four Season. The Pesci character during this film says “Funny how?” at one point, a reference to the same line Pesci utters in GoodFellas.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/6/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: That Thing You Do

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Life Itself

New Releases for the Week of June 20, 2014


Jersey BoysJERSEY BOYS

(Warner Brothers) John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken, Steve Schirripa, John Griffin, Lou Volpe. Directed by Clint Eastwood

The Four Seasons were not just pop stars from a bygone era. They were four Jersey boys who went from the mean streets of the Garden State to the highest of heights. With the signature voice of Frankie Valli, they were one of the major pop forces of the 60s all the way through the 70s. A Tony Award-winning musical about their lives and music took Broadway by storm and at last hits the big screen, directed by none other than Clint Eastwood himself.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: R  (for language throughout)

Cold in July

(IFC) Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw.On a hot summer night in Texas in 1989, a man investigates noises in his living room and surprises a burglar. A split second decision sees the man pull the trigger and become a local hero. Not everyone appreciates his actions; the criminal’s ex-con father is coming to town and he has nothing but bloody revenge on his mind.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

The Grand Seduction

(eOne) Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Liane Balaban, Gordon Pinsent. A small Canadian town desperately needs a new petrochemical plant in order to survive. The company will not locate a plant there unless they have a resident doctor which is one thing they don’t have. When a doctor passes through, they realize that they have to convince him that this town is the paradise he’s been looking for.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material and drug references)

Humshakals

(Fox Star) Saif Ali Khan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Ram Kapoor, Bipasha BasuAshok and Kumar are best friends who unbeknownst to them have two lookalikes, also named Ashok and Kumar who are also best friends. Unbeknownst to both of these pairs of friends is another pair of lookalikes, also named Ashok and Kumar, also the best of friends. Add to this a man named Mamaji who also has a lookalike who in turn has a look alike of his own (you guessed it – all named Mamaji) and you have chaos waiting to happen.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Rover

(A24) Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, Susan Prior. In a future ten years following the collapse of society, a loner in the Australian outback has his car stolen by a gang of thieves. However, they leave one of their members behind in the ensuing chaos and the loner uses him (quite unwillingly) to track his former mates so that he can retrieve the only thing that really matters to him. The latest film from the director of Animal Kingdom.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: R (for language and some bloody violence)

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

(Radius)  Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas.In the annals of managers both in the film and music industries, the name of Shep Gordon looms among the pantheon of the best. One of the few in the business who is beloved by both clients and corporate alike, he has created a storied life that would make a Hollywood movie – if it weren’t true. Now, close friend Mike Myers aims to tell the story of the man who redefined the word mensch .

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for language, some sexual references, nudity and drug use)

Think Like a Man Too

(Screen Gems) Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson. This sequel to the surprise hit of 2012 finds the same couples still hanging in there after a couple of years but now they are headed to Las Vegas to celebrate the wedding of one of their own. They find themselves unable to keep themselves from getting into hot water and forget one of the most basic rules of Hollywood – what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy (opens Thursday)

Rating: PG-13 (for crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, language and drug material)