Daily Archives: November 19, 1996


Directed by Scott Hicks from a script by Jan Sardi, this hyperbolic but undeniably effective 1996 Australian feature recounts the unorthodox career of classical pianist David Helfgotta gifted musician driven so fanatically to succeed by his ambitious Polish-Jewish emigre father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) that he wound up insane. (It’s a story that sometimes recalls Fear Strikes Out, the 1956 biopic about baseball star Jim Piersall.) Even if the film’s closing act seems too hasty to be fully believable (a common failing in biopics about living people), the high-powered drive of both the storytelling and the music is riveting. Helfgott is played at separate ages by Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, and Alex Rafalowicz; others in the cast include Lynn Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Googie Withers. Among the highlighted composers are Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff, whose works are performed offscreen by Helfgott himself. (JR) Read more


A dry, jaundiced, and quirky 1996 look at the court of Louis XVI, seen from the vantage point of an engineer (Charles Berling) hoping to persuade the king to allow him to dam a river and thereby control a malaria epidemic in his home province. Directed by Patrice Leconte (Monsieur Hire), from a thoughtful if less than profound script by Remi Waterhouse, Michel Fessler, and Eric Vicaut, this holds one’s interest, at least as an alternative to the greeting-card idealism of most period art movies. (Judith Godreche is a particular standout as the daughter of a physician, played by Jean Rochefort, who takes the engineer under his wing.) With Bernard Giraudeau and Fanny Ardant. 102 min. (JR) Read more

Jingle All The Way

I expected to hate it, but by the end I was provisionally won over to this frenetic Arnold Schwarzenegger sitcom holiday special (1996)soggy caricatures, tatty special effects, and all. As the title suggests, this has something to do with the greed, hypocrisy, and overall hysteria accompanying Christmas; it concentrates on the comic efforts of a businessman (Schwarzenegger) and a postman (Sinbad) to land a popular but scarce media tie-in toy for their respective sons at the last moment. For all the strident obviousness of Brian Levant’s directorial style, Randy Kornfield’s script manages to ring almost as many satirical changes on the theme as Stan Freberg’s indignant 50s record Green Christmas, though with the emphasis this time on customers rather than merchants. The suggestive climax involves a battle between a middle-class white man and a working-class black man. All things considered, a pretty good run for one’s money, and only 88 minutes long. With Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, and James Belushi (as the most disreputable Santa I’ve seen). PG. (JR) Read more

101 Dalmatians

If the Disney animated original (1961)adapted from Dodie Smith’s noveltried to approximate live action, this 1996 Disney live-action remake often tries to evoke cartoon. Coproducer and screenwriter John Hughes pilfers from his own Home Alone comedies as well as from Babe, doling out plenty of physical punishment to his working-class villains (Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams) and loads of humiliation to his upper-class villainess (Glenn Close, as Cruella DeVil, reprising her Fatal Attraction harpy in more ways than one). Meanwhile, the canine cast conjures up dog-size emotions, and the coordination of the animal kingdom, often smacking of Babe, raises the issue of just how clear the distinction is nowadays between live action and animation. Stephen Herek directs the way a cop directs traffic. (JR) Read more