FILM REVIEWS: from war and gore in Napoleon to Wish dreamworld

NAPOLEON (15 / 158 mins), verdict ****

Legendary British film director Sir Ridley Scott, famed for Gladiator, is 85 on 30 November. And after seeing his latest epic on the brilliant iSense screen at Odeon Luxe Broadway Plaza, I half expected to meet this cinema superman either at next door’s Rock Up climbing centre or in the nearby Nuffield Gym  in Gladiator 2 mode, ready for his sequel’s slated release in late 2024!

According to Scott’s admirably ambitious Napoleon film, with fabulous cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Crimson Tide), the military commander’s three-score battles killed three million people. Horses too, with animal lovers not spared the entrails of war. 

After a guillotine execution sharply divides French history, even Egypt’s pyramids suffer during one our visits to half-a-dozen different frontlines. Meanwhile, Napoleon is trying to father an heir via his obsession with Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), who is already a mother-of-two.

Written by David Scarpa (The Last Castle), the film’s timeline dates plod along at the expense of dramatic thrust. Revealing Napoleon’s birth date shows that the now 49-year-old Joaquin Phoenix is pushing Sir Ridley’s casting luck – Josephine was six years older than the emperor, but Vanessa Kirby is 14 years younger than Phoenix.

The overall impressively staged battle sequences are diluted by being interwoven with Napoleon’s military and romantic relationships, and vice versa.

The war scenes never outdo Steven Spielberg’s 25-year-old Saving Private Ryan (1998), Mel Gibson’s tribal Braveheart (1995) or Robert Eggers’ underrated thriller The Northman (2022).

The score by Martin Phipps (The Crown) is understandably ‘French’ at times, but cannot be hummed like John Barry’s Dances With Wolves theme (1990).

But after the song ‘War Pigs’ sent the film’s second trailer viral, you might ask: “Where’s Ozzys Brummie bite?”

After Nick Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ and composer Phipps both defined the first series of Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders, perhaps Ozzy Osbourne could have elevated Napoleon from good-but-predictable to something as unexpected as a Black Sabbath Ballet.

WISH (U, 95 mins) Verdict ***

Computer-generated animation meets old school water colour as Disney celebrates its centenary on decidedly safe ground with a traditional ‘once upon a time’ fairytale book of good versus evil.

Ariana DeBose voices 17-year-old Asha, whose late father taught her to create movement by flicking through drawn pages. The idealist has a special wish for King Magnifico (Chris Pine), who founded the Kingdom of Rosas on a Mediterranean island.

Alas! Sorcerer Magnifico protects his own position by erasing people’s memories of their wishes – and even notices Asha’s successful nod to the heavens. What then?

Co-directed by Frozen’s co-director Chris Buck and with its story artist Fawn Veerasunthorn now stepping up, Wish is all about the in vogue ‘be yourself’ resolve needed to keep dreams alive.

Shorter than average but, still longer than pioneering classics like Bambi (70 minutes) and even Pixar’s 81-minute Toy Story (1995), Wish will easily charm wide-eyed youngsters with little to compare it to. But parents might have hoped for livelier songs – the eternal challenge!

Looking to its second century, will Disney use AI to improve lip-syncing and to add emotion to the long-ignored eyes of animated characters?

TOP TIP: there are great deals offered at both of Westside’s giant multiplexes.

At Cineworld Broad Street, a family of four (max two adults) pay £27.96 all in, much cheaper than £6.99 per child and £10.99 per adult. Screenings of Wish in 3D in the 4DX moving seats theatre will cost £52.76 for a family of four. Online booking fees of 95p per ticket again apply.

At Odeon Luxe Broadway Plaza, the usual child’s price is £11.50 and it’s £18 per adult. A family child plus adult ticket is £23 instead (£11.50 x2, with the £2 booking fee included). Ask for family concessions deals, too.

ENDS

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