Saturday, December 2, 2023

'Napoleon' in IMAX!

Napoleon (2023) at 109 Cinemas in Futako-tamagawa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last night (Saturday, December 2), I went to 109 Cinemas in Futako-tamagawa to catch an IMAX screening of Ridley Scott's Napoleon (2023), the filmmaker's latest epic. The decision to cast Joaquin Phoenix in the title role was a big draw for me, as Phoenix's Oscar-winning role as Arthur Fleck in Joker (2019) is one of my favorite performances of all time.

So how was the movie? Well, I'm still a bit undecided. There were things that worked very well. The battle scenes were top-notch. I can't speak for their historical accuracy, but they surpassed my expectations and at least gave the impression of realism (by Hollywood standards, anyway). I felt what I was watching could have happened that way, whether or not it actually did. 

The political scenes were likewise entertaining. I wish we had more of them. I understand the criticism of not really understanding why all these battles were taking place, and I have to say that I agree with it. (Considering what I know about French history could fill a thimble, any additional context would have been appreciated.) That said, I don't think the lack of context was a fatal flaw for the movie.

But what was kind of fatal was the relationship between Napoleon and his wife Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). Even though the movie tells us (over and over again) how much Napoleon is in love with her, that level of passion just never comes across to the audience. The story falls flat during their scenes together, which is what ultimately brings the film down for me. 

I also have to confess that I feel Joaquin Phoenix was miscast as Napoleon. I felt he was about as convincing as an old-timey French officer as Jack Nicholson was in Roger Corman's The Terror (1963). Phoenix just seemed out of place the whole time, and I never bought him as Napoleon. (This article might explain why that is.)

Curly Joe encounters his favorite general in an episode of The New 3 Stooges (1965-66).

In one of the live-action wraparounds for the cartoon show The New 3 Stooges (1965-66), Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe are hired to clean up a spooky old house for the new tenants who've just bought the place. Curly Joe stumbles upon a bust of Napoleon, about whom he gushes that he's read everything there is to know.

Curly Joe starts sprucing up the dusty old bust of his personal hero before noticing a dirty spot on the nose of the general. After Curly Joe attempts to blow the grime away with his breath, the bust of Napoleon turns the tables on Curly Joe by blowing his face full of soot. 

A stunned Curly Joe scolds "Nappy" for his lack of proper manners and reminds the bust that he "used to be" Curly Joe's favorite general before walking away. The audience is left to assume that Curly Joe will have to find a new world leader to study.

I bring all this up because I would rather have seen the film explore the relationship between Napoleon and Curly Joe than that of the general and Josephine. But maybe that's just me.

All seriousness aside, I enjoyed Napoleon more than I typically enjoy more recent movies, but it's hard for me to give it a full-throated recommendation. I do think the action scenes are far superior to those in the overpraised Godzilla Minus One (2023), so, if it's spectacle you seek, this is certainly the superior option. It just doesn't quite make it as an overall film, however. 

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