Actor/Doctor Rico Simonini Unveils Latest Executive Produced Film “Frank and Ava” via an Evening of Entertainment and Education!

Photo by RA Enterprises, Courtesy of 8th House Entertainment

Medicine and Movies,
Doctoring and Drama,
Cardiology and Catharsis,
Acting and Allopathy,
Theatre and…The Thorax! (Okay…okay…that last one was admittedly kinda lame, but any excuse to use the word “thorax” in a sentence, let alone an entire article, is always a good one.):

What do the above things have to do with all the other above five things…? Well, a lot more than you might think, particularly when the executive producer, star, and adaptive screenwriter to the premiering film you are about to see also doubles as a heart doctor to boot!

Dr. Rico Simonini, a Cedars Sinai cardiologist since 2004, knows whereof he speaks and parallels both chosen professions as an aperitif to the main course that is the movie we have all come to behold: Frank and Ava. The latest rendition in an unforgettable exploration of the life, times, and love between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, this film in conjunction with the evening in question, is as heartfelt, and humorous as it is heartrending.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Oblowitz

Opening with a presentation by the good doctor in Cedars Sinai’s Harvey Morse Theatre, both the lobby and the auditorium itself are overflowing with associate cast members, fellow physicians, devoted patients and a bunch of other random individuals who seem to think he is pretty damned cool: And in witnessing his pre-cinematic presentation, it is fairly evident as to the why of the aforementioned opiniondom:

“There are a lot of Italians in here. God forbid the FBI should find out,” he commences before getting into the heart of the matter. (Wordplay surprisingly not intentional when originally written.)

Charts and graphs are examined, observations are made, thoughts are provoked, laughter is experienced. Slides are shown commencing with Simonini’s primary point of inspiration: Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp encompassing a throng of doctors nearly all clad in black (as if in droll and direct counterpoint to contemporary white jackets and pastel scrubs) tentatively-to-pensively looking on as a head doctor appears to be impaling the inner workings of some poor patient’s (or corpse most probably’s) forearm in a manner that waxes gratuitously torturous rather than anything that would ever assist in fomenting any kind of effervescent health; up to and including the most abysmal case of carpal tunnel syndrome the world over–Gol-ly!

“I was told as a student, ‘Half of what we teach you today is wrong, we just don’t know which half,’” he muses in tongue in cheek fashion. (Or is it? GULP!)

Collectively we commence to another painting entitled The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery depicting a physician holding a white cloth over an ostensibly unconscious patient’s nasal and oral cavity leaving only the eyes to imagine what they’ve seen but not to the observer’s imagination. But Dr. Simonini ventures a guess utilizing his own colorful conceptions pertaining to the scenario at hand: “First anesthesia? Or first way of dealing with a patient who can’t pay…? Or the Trump Affordable Care Act?”

Without a formal vote, the audience selects the latter–unanimously. You simply can tell!

Photo Courtesy of Michael Oblowitz

Meantime, did you know that your odds of becoming a working actor are .01%? Moreover, your chances of attaining and retaining a practice as a working cardiologist are roughly .007%! How ‘bout them prospects?!? (And God knows what the probability is of retaining a position at Cedars Sinai—Prestigious a place as it is.)

After studying said stats, Simonini can only confide, “I wasn’t satisfied with one long shot. I had to go for two long shots.”

To further illustrate that said two careers’ parallel and simultaneous existences are not completely implausible, Dr. Simonini subsequently brings up three other so-called “rare birds” in his field whom he terms “Doctors as Dramatists” in the form of Arthur Conan Doyle, Anton Chekhov, and Somerset Maugham.

“How can you be involved in both [medicine and the performing arts?],” he continues. “Medicine is a form of art. Doctors and actors bring their own life into the room and draw from their own existence. The empathy that a doctor feels is similar to what an actor feels: seeing the world through the patient’s/audience’s eyes… You’ve got to be real as an actor and a doctor and [if you are not] actively listening, you’re going to fail…”

In closing, Dr. Simonini can only juxtapose stats vs. the humanity in the future of patient care as he declares: “We treat illness [today] rather than people and different people react differently to different diagnoses depending on how they feel about themselves and what’s going on. Through the arts, we enhance our perceptions of illness. It’s not just…high tech or algorithms. [For that] you don’t need a doctor, just an app.”

Frank and Ava springs to life in a somewhat sandy slow-mo montage of swooning saddle-shoe-clad teenage girls as if gently reawakening and reassembling the legend before the first fall of Frank Sinatra. From hazed-over etheric dust of the past, to palpable, vibrant physicality, the film originates as if in a nostalgic whisper only to end in an echo of distant, almost surreal applause concluding in somewhat jarring and reality-invoking police inquiries symbolic of not only bringing ol’ Frank back to the real world, but the audience in kind.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Oblowitz

Highlighting the years between the compromise of Sinatra’s vocal chords, his strained separation and eventual–but damned-near-impossible–divorce from Nancy, and his sexually charged, but suspicion-filled marriage to Ava Gardner, said cinematic expedition explores a side of Sinatra’s (or any celebrity’s) life and career we rarely get to see: The downturn.

The sole ray of hope throughout, concerning Sinatra’s artistic occupation, and anything remotely salvageable, is his almost sacred infatuation aimed at attaining the role of Private Angelo Maggio in Columbia Picture’s latest not-yet-(fully) cast From Here to Eternity. An acknowledged long shot (by pretty much everyone in Hollywood) due to his questionable acting chops and heretofore bombs at the box office, Sinatra has to damn near beg for the role to none other than studio president Harry Cohn!  With a little help from Ava and her ostensible uh… “feminine wiles” and quite possibly even the mob, Sinatra is granted the freedom to move about eternity-and -beyond via the role that will extricate him from his professional slump via the film’s ultimate success, to speak nothing of his legendary Oscar win.  Attainment is bittersweet however as he celebrates his triumph alone and intoxicated, only half recognized by a pair of street cops, following his inevitable divorce from Ava.

From beginning to end, the film encompasses a rather dreamlike quality that is both elegant and edgy. From billowing vintage fabrics, to Louella Parson’s hot red lips smacking in scorn at the latest scandal, to sultry swirling cigarette smoke enveloping Sinatra’s microphone like a most sinuous snake, to the heightened flicker rate at certain key and pivotal cinematic points the likes of which I’ve never seen, a steel line of sex and tension is palpable throughout the entire two hour tableau.

For the next two hours we will overlook everything we ever knew about the comparatively benign Bennifer and/or Brangelina and reacquaint ourselves with that of the badass Frank and Ava: Frava?

From Frank and Ava’s gun slung exodus to Indio (gangstar-style as perceived and emerging villain-tines), to Frank’s overwrought throat doctor visits to furrowed browed effect, to Ava’s inferred and admitted infidelities, to Hedda and Louella alike playing them both off each other in the papers, to Frank’s actualized unfaithfulness right before Ava’s eyes, to Ava’s abortion, and Frank’s inevitable slit wrists, the picture is both beautiful and painful to behold, oftentimes simultaneously.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Oblowitz

The entire film is like a love poem essentially honoring one of the most harrowing and heart stirring romances in Hollywood History or at the very least the song Sinatra never quite recorded: “You’re nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You (and everyone else you’ve ever loved)…?

Rico Simonini as Frank Sinatra is both smoldering and long-suffering evincing a subtle flicker of silent likeability even through his not-so-endearing moments, of which there are many (something he excels in pertaining to his acting). Emily Elicia Low’s portrayal of Ava Gardner is as slinky, cool and voluptuous as all Ava’s production trips to Europe and Africa are/were long. Eric Roberts as Harry Cohn is deliciously inappropriate in all the right and wrong places alike! (I’m also pretty sure he doesn’t age, aside from his stunningly salt n’ peppered hair.) Lukas Haas as Officer Josenhans is refreshingly endearing in all his wide-eyed splendor. Jonathan Silverman as Mannie Sacks is steadfast and gung ho as they come! Harry Dean Stanton’s Sheriff Lloyd is superbly earthy and salty.  Robert Miano as Hank Sanicola is as smooth and strong arming as usual.  Joanna Sanchez and Joanne Baron as Louella and Hedda respectively are the perfect Hall to each other’s Oates (if they were really gossipy and wore lipstick exceedingly well and wrote articles instead of sang and played). But one thing is certain: Back in the day, they were probably (and I’m not exactly sure of all the nuances) something of what might be termed man eaters!

It is also interesting to note that Rico Simonini penned the screenplay off the Willard Manus stage play. To top it all off, his Executive Producing–via his production company 8th House Entertainment–was a feat-and-a-half encompassing full-on financing, the assembling of everyone involved, and travel arrangements up to and including Rome itself!  Emily Elicia Low (aka Ava), fascinatingly enough, designed the costumes with help from Olga Michalowska: stylist–for which the fabric and color schemes were aesthetically and authentically exquisite! The rug that ties the room together would have to abide by the direction at the hands of Michael Oblowitz.

As far as the film’s future, the doctor/Exec Producer simply discloses:  “We are trying to get the film into festivals and/or distributed and see if we can get any Indy Spirit award buzz going!”

And with the entire vibe of the story and ensemble alike, I suspect this will not take very long…

In summation: a visually stunning, storied montage evincing most impeccable acting!

Jennifer K. Hugus

About Jennifer K. Hugus

Jennifer K. Hugus was born at a very young age. At an even earlier age, she just knew she would one day write for the LA Beat! Having grown up in Massachusetts, France, and Denmark, she is a noted fan of Asian Cuisine. She studied ballet at the Royal Danish Ballet Theatre and acting at U.S.C. in their prestigious BFA drama program. She also makes her own jewelry out of paints and canvas when she isn’t working on writing absurdist plays and comparatively mainstream screenplays. Jennifer would like to be a KID when she grows up!
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6 Responses to Actor/Doctor Rico Simonini Unveils Latest Executive Produced Film “Frank and Ava” via an Evening of Entertainment and Education!

  1. Edward Lozzi says:

    Terrific article–terrific film….



  3. Eric Parkinson says:

    Well written analysis of the film and the notable event hosted by Simonini! Kudos!

  4. Christy says:

    Fantastic article! The Q & A was a treat, the film was beautiful and the screening overall was world class.

  5. joantekula says:

    Very sorry I missed the event. Rico is a dear friend from college. He always excelled at everything he did. I am anticipating his success in the performing arts as well.

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