(In French, On Cable TV, October 2018) Even considering that I’m not a country music fan, it took me far longer than I care to admit to realize that Coal Miner’s Daughter wasn’t just a musical drama, but a biopic about major country music star Loretta Lynn. (To be fair, I did start to suspect something once Pasty Cline started playing a role in the film.) So, speaking about a perspective as ignorant as it’s possible to be, I must say that the film works well. It spends a lot of time detailing Lynn’s upbringing in a desperately poor Kentucky community, the first few years of her marriage (including a bit of domestic abuse too quickly glossed over) and only then her ascension to the top of the country charts. The struggles of an up-and-coming musical are convincingly rendered, and so are the other kinds of challenges that come with success and fame. The inclusion of a tragic subplot featuring Cline does add a bit of complications not usually found in most music biopics. Sissy Spacek is compelling in the title role as she transforms herself from a poor teenage bride to a country music superstar; Tommy Lee Jones has an early (and not entirely glorious) role as her husband. While I’m not a natural audience for that kind of film and even if the musical biopic subgenre has a history of repeating itself, Coal Miner’s Daughter remains a well-executed example of the form, with its 1980s patina further enhancing its look at 1960s country music.
(On TV, October 2016) The original Carrie has become a pop-culture reference, but watching the film nowadays is a reminder of both how good Brian de Palma could in his prime, but also how far more fast-paced movies are nowadays. Especially teen thrillers. (The remake, which I saw immediately after this original, clocks in at half an hour shorter despite keeping most plot pieces intact.) I’ve read the Stephen King novel too long ago to faithfully evaluate whether the film is faithful to the novel (I think so), but the main draw here is the way de Palma injects some movie magic in even the simplistic framework of a teen horror movie. Witness the long shots, the split screen, the editing…. It all comes together during the infamous prom sequence. Sissy Spacek is very good as the titular Carrie, sympathetic despite ending the film as a homicidal maniac. John Travolta shows up in an early role. Otherwise, it’s a fair period piece, often far too long for its own good, and overly dramatic in portraying its central mother/daughter conflict—culminating in an overlong climax. Carrie still works thanks to great direction, and the seventies atmosphere is good for a few nostalgic throwbacks.