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Jagged Little Pill
Lyrics by Alanis Morissette; music by Alanis Morissette & Glen Ballard; book by Diablo Cody
Directed by Diane Paulus
Opened December 5, 2019
The Healy family (Celia Gooding, Derek Klena, Elizabeth Stanley and Sean Allan Krill) in Jagged Little Pill (photo: Matthew Murphy)
With her 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, 21-year-old Canadian singer Alanis Morissette was catapulted into the stratosphere. However cringeworthy many of her lyrics were, the songs were raw and angry, instantly memorable and singular, so it’s no surprise that she never approached that level of creativity or success again.
But making a dozen impassioned tunes of post-teen angst the basis of a musical would appear to be foolhardy—and after seeing Jagged Little Pill on Broadway, I realized that my fears were confirmed. It might not have been dramatic enough to put onstage a young woman trying to make sense of relationships; but that might have been more honest than what we get: Diablo Cody’s book concerns a superficially “perfect” middle-class Connecticut family surrounded by seemingly every conceivable social issue in the news recently.
We’re introduced to the Healy (for “healing”—get it?) family: there’s smiling mom Mary Jane, who’s hooked on painkillers and nearly dies from an OD. There’s Frankie, the smart high school daughter who’s adopted, bisexual and black, the progressive trifecta. There’s older brother Nick, the favorite, who witnesses a date rape at a drunken party and doesn’t do the right thing. And there’s dad Steve, who watches porn at work and is generally oblivious to what’s really going on under his roof.
The problem isn’t that Jagged Little Pill tackles heavy-duty issues, it’s that it does so without delving even semi-deeply into them; after bringing up one, it moves quickly onto the next. This creates a jagged little tonal problem for the show, most obviously when Morissette’s still-powerful smash hit “You Oughta Know”—turned into a brilliant showstopper by Lauren Patten as Jo, Frankie’s former girlfriend who discovered that Frankie slept with a male classmate—brings down the house, immediately followed by a harrowing account of the school-party date rape, a moment as awkward as Morissette’s teen-diary lyrics. Putting a teen’s anger over her girlfriend cheating on the same level as date rape is false equivalence of the highest order.
The bright spot of Cody’s book is “Ironic,” with its infamously ill-chosen lyrics about events that actually aren’t ironic. One day in class, Frankie reads from her own short story, which comprises the song’s lyrics. As she sings, other students—and the teacher—pipe in exasperatedly about the unironic nature of her passages. But that amusing self-reference only undermines the rest of the musical’s surface-level exploration.
Jagged Little Pill has been brashly directed by Diane Paulus, whose visual tour de force is a clever rewinding of the action during the song “Smiling,” one of Morissette and Glen Ballard’s two new songs, showing Mary Jane’s desperately buying her pills from a dealer after she can’t get a new prescription. Paulus has been immeasurably helped by marvelously suggestive sets by Riccardo Hernandez and insinuatingly evocative lighting by Justin Townsend.
Songs old and new are well-handled by a cast that’s otherwise unable to create real characters out of ciphers. Along with Patten’s formidable Jo, the show’s standouts are Celia Rose Gooding’s Frankie and Elizabeth Stanley’s Mary Jane, all of whom at least nod toward complexity in an otherwise mainly cartoonish 2-1/2 hours.
Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44th Street, New York, NY
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Jean-Luc Godard made his second film immediately after his breakthrough debut, 1959’s Breathless, but the incendiary material—the director scaldingly indicts both the French and the Algerians’ use of torture in the then-current Algerian War—caused its ban in France and it was not shown elsewhere until 1963.
Its elliptical narrative is typically Godardian, but Godard’s political urgency, the sharp B&W Raoul Coutard photography, and the first appearance of his then-muse, Anna Karina, make Soldat pointed and still relevant. Criterion has provided its usual superb hi-def transfer; the interesting if skimpy extras comprise two Godard interviews—a 1961 audio one and a 1965 video one—and a 1963 interview with actor Michel Subor.
London Kills—Series 2
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By now, Doc Martin is as comfortable as an old shoe, but series 9 throws a curve ball: the good doc is being hounded by officials unpersuaded by his unorthodox methods, even though it’s been good enough for the locals for years. Both series feature tremendous acting to go along with the fine writing. There are first-rate hi-def transfers; extras include interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Even by the standards of recent Nicolas Cage fare, this is a doozy: he plays a big-game hunter whose treasured catch, a white panther, is cargo on a ship heading back from Africa to America. Also on board is a dangerous prisoner who, of course, gets loose and causes trouble, especially when he frees the panther and other dangerous animals of Cage’s including—of course—deadly snakes.
The claustrophobic ship setting isn’t really given a thorough workout by director Nick Powell, but it remains mindless (and relatively brief) entertainment. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
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Marrying insightful writing and precise directing with exemplary performances—particularly from that sorely underused actress Elodie Bouchez as the expectant mom and Sandrine Kilberlin as the lead agency rep—Henry’s drama is a memorable soap opera.
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The great composers of French song include Fauré, Chausson, Poulenc, Duparc—and Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947), whose own mastery of the French art song, the mélodie, was wide-ranging and impressive through several decades and dozens of songs.
This four-disc set collects everything that Hahn composed, from the early “Rêverie” and “Si mes vers avaient des ailes”—written at age 14 to words by Victor Hugo—to the posthumously published Neuf Mélodies retrouvées. All 107 songs—for which the lavish and illustrated booklet includes the French texts and English translations—are expressively sung by Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis, who is beautifully accompanied by American pianist Jeff Cohen.
4K of the Week
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The ultra hi-def transfer looks fantastic; extras—same as previous releases—include an informative commentary by Kubrick biographer John Baxter and Steadicam inventor/operator Garrett Brown, daughter Vivian Kubrick’s playful yet insightful The Making of ‘The Shining’ documentary (with her own commentary) and two puffy retrospective featurettes.
Blu-rays of the Week
Krypton—Complete Final Season
(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of this Blu-ray. The opinions I share are my own.)
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The second season is fleeter, less self-serious than the first, and it goes without saying that it’s far more entertaining to watch. There’s a superior hi-def transfer; extras are two featurettes.
Director-writer Robert Eggers made his name with the clever if not totally original The Witch, but he comes a cropper with his latest, a claustrophobic but quickly enervating two-hander about two men slowly going insane while manning a lighthouse on an isolated island.
Willem Dafoe chews the scenery mercilessly while Tom Pattinson is stoically one-dimensional; neither actor can overcome Eggers’ increasingly bizarre excursions into cabin fever-induced nightmares that culminate in risible lunacy. Even Jarin Blaschke’s exquisite B&W photography doesn’t help. There’s a sparkling hi-def transfer; extras comprise Eggers’ commentary, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Veep—Complete Final Season
HBO’s political comedy jumped the shark a couple of seasons ago, despite what some have said: it was the same tired material regurgitated, and the performers, talented as they were, simply treaded water playing these caricatures.
Nothing much has changed in the final, abbreviated (seven-episode) season, even if there are still sparks of the old back-and-forth, especially among Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Anna Chlumsky and Timothy Simons. There’s a first-rate hi-def transfer; extras are brief featurettes and cast interviews.
DVDs of the Week
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Notwithstanding its clever setup, director Eric Notarnicola’s film makes it much too obvious that the egomaniacal Heidecker is tRump Jr. by another name as his campaign sputters before flaming out altogether. There are moments of potent satire, but too much of the running time is unfortunately given over to Heidecker’s clichéd arrogant jerk.
CD of the Week
Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks—whose synthesizer sounds were one of the reasons why the band was a progressive-rock supergroup for decades, even when Phil Collins’ pop sensibilities took over for the band’s final years—tries his hand at symphonic music with these five works.
Unfortunately, there’s little variation to be heard as 5 mainly comprises washes of sound with nods to Philip Glass-like block chords; calling it unimaginative is putting it nicely. Nick Ingman’s orchestrations and arrangements do little to distinguish these five works from one another, and Ingman and his Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Choir forces follows suit.
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And Robert DeNiro’s phoned-in appearance only makes Phillips look worse in Scorsese’s shadow. The movie’s most interesting aspect is the haunting violin score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, which belongs in another, worthier movie. Gotham City looks convincingly desaturated on Blu; extras are four making-of featurettes.
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Dolph Lundgren plays the seeming bad guy—who isn’t entirely whom he seems, of course—but unfortunately directors Michael Merino (who also wrote the script) and Daniel Zirilli don’t bother to do anything novel with what amounts to an intriguingly twisty plot, instead contenting themselves with a bunch of routine chases, fights and shootouts. The film looks attractive on Blu.
Rupert Goold’s standard-issue biopic looks at Judy Garland in decline as she takes on several London “comeback” concerts that end up showing just how far gone she is in her physical and emotional downfall, interspersed with the usual flashbacks to earlier in her career as a young but bullied sensation.
Renée Zellweger gives it her all as Judy, and her singing and onstage demeanor are impressively focused, but for the rest she cannot overcome her lack of looking or sounding like the real Garland—that squeaky Zellweger voice too often intrudes. The Blu-ray looks quite good; lone extra is a making-of featurette.
The Kill Team
Dan Krauss, who made the documentary The Kill Team about a group of American soldiers taking matters into their own hands in Afghanistan, returns to direct a feature based his own doc: the tension and claustrophobia of war’s close quarters are shown with consummate skill.
As the bloodthirsty squad leader, Alexander Skarsgård is scarily unnerving, while Nat Wolff makes a fine ordinary Joe caught up in nastiness he wishes he weren’t part of. There’s an excellent hi-def transfer; extras are Krauss’ commentary, deleted scenes, and a making-of.
Lucas Debargue—To Music
French pianist Lucas Debargue, then 27 years old, makes a memorable subject in Martin Mirabel’s informative and entertaining 2017 documentary portrait that displays his artistry, restlessness and—unsurprisingly for a great performer—moments of self-doubt.
In addition to revealing interviews, there are glimpses of Debargue playing concertos and solo music, even working on a trio he composed for his own ensemble. Debargue is not the only fascinating artist onscreen: his Russian teacher, Rena Shereshevskaya, is also a character (in both senses) in her own right. The hi-def video and audio are exemplary; extras include excerpts of Debargue performing Beethoven and Scriabin.
Passport to Pimlico
The Titfield Thunderbolt
(Film Movement Classics)
Film Movement Classics’ first releases from London’s classic Ealing Studios—1949’s Passport to Pimlico, about a London neighborhood that decides it’s part of France, and 1953’s Titfield Thunderbolt, about a small town that decides to resurrect a defunct rail line—might not be up to the level of Ealing’s best comedies, like The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit, but they are quite diverting and cleverly done in their own right.
Both films have been restored brilliantly, bringing out the details of Lionel Banes’ B&W Passport photography and the exquisiteness of Douglas Slocombe’s color Titfield cinematography. Extras include interviews, location featurettes and other ephemera.
Young Italian director-writer Laura Luchetti’s drama about the unlikely relationship between a mute teenage girl and a headstrong African migrant sympathizes with its protagonists without ever approaching maudlin.
The difficulties and occasionally deadly dealings in this shadowy underworld are strongly detailed by Luchetti, and the subtle performances of non-actors Anastasiya Bogach and Kallil Kone give the film its bite and lasting flavor. Lone extra is a wryly comic short, Cerdita, by Spanish director Carlota Pereda.
Wrinkles the Clown
It seems like a story made up for the faux-documentary set: a clown, parading himself as a child’s nightmare, has made it to mythic status in southwest Florida—where else?—as parents with unruly kids threaten to hire him to scare them, while curious kids, teens and adults of all ages contact him for a cheap thrill.
But Michael Beach Nichols’ documentary about this phenomenon is all too real (even if the unseen person parading around as Wrinkles’ alter ego is just an actor hired by the real “Wrinkles”) but at a scant 75 minutes, the intriguing psychological and sociological threads it brings up are rarely delved into at any length. Extras are deleted scenes.
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