Add this to a list of long movies this year. Following in the wake of Killers of the Flower Moon at 3 hours, 26 minutes, and Oppenheimer at an even 3 hours, this 2 hour, 38-minute romp through the battlefields of early nineteenth-century Europe doesn’t even make your butt sore.

If you’ve seen 2000’s Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott, you know what to expect with NapoleonGladiatorwas also directed by Scott and also featured Joaquin Phoenix, though not in the lead role. Locations, costuming, and immersive cinematic violence are his strengths. The role of Commodus, which Phoenix played with creepy intensity in Gladiator is more or less reprised here in the person of Napoleon Bonaparte, history’s “short guy,” who set out to conquer the world. In both cases, he looks convincing in a Roman-style laurel leaf crown.

Don’t look for much about his stature. Only a couple of times was he seen standing on a box or needing assistance to mount a horse. As a side note, the actor is two inches taller than the subject at 5 foot 8 inches. And the “hand in the vest” thing is entirely absent.

The film begins with Marie Antoinette’s trip to the guillotine in 1793 France. Young General Bonaparte returns from the field and begins a string of military victories that eventually claim the lives of three million soldiers. From an initial triumph at Toulon to his eventual undoing at Waterloo, the parade of battles is on display in the film in graphic detail, though not with a total emphasis on gore. War is ugly, cold, hot, and lengthy. From Egypt to Moscow, the poor souls under Bonaparte’s command suffered from exposure to the elements, disease, and starvation while lofting him to Emperor of France. He would not settle for simply being king.

Royalty throughout Europe is displayed during Napoleon’s ascension and eventual quest for an heir to the throne. His volatile relationship with Josephine suffers from the conflict between two equally dynamic and acerbic personalities. Josephine is well-played by Vanessa Kirby.

Phoenix pulls off the portrayal of a man who may have been a highly functioning autistic savant. (It wouldn’t be surprising if Phoenix is as well.) But his ingenious military tactics were eventually no match for equally brilliant, and adaptable, generals like Britain’s Wellington. Some artistic liberty is taken in the scene between the two leaders, which is fictitious.

Depictions of infantry and cavalry charges, a military staple until technology changed warfare in World War I, are gut-wrenching to watch. The term “cannon fodder” is gruesomely illustrated. You’ll do yourself a favor if you read (or watch) “A Tale of Two Cities” by Dickens, or “Les Misérables” by Hugo to get a feel for the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. At least look up some of the historical characters presented in the film, like Alexander, Talleyrand, Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and Von Blucher. Significant events and dates are labeled with subtitles, but people are not always identified.

Napoleon was never boring, but left me feeling that perhaps a four-hour version would be appropriate (ninety minutes of additional footage in a Director’s Cut is promised.) And as engaging, visually stunning, and well-acted as it is, I didn’t leave saying “Wow!” More like, “Yeah, that was good.” I might recommend watching at home if you have a really large, high-quality system, otherwise, viewing in a theater is recommended.

Napoleon (2023) runs 2 hours, 38 minutes, and is rated R.

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If you’re looking for some light Christmas entertainment, Richard Curtis, the writer of Love Actually and Notting Hill has something for you. Partnering with relatively inexperienced Director Sam Boyd over a heavily spiked cup of hot cocoa while binge-watching Elf, I imagine them saying, “If we could just get Melissa McCarthy to play the genie!”

And they did. And I like anything with McCarthy in the lead role, but this bordered on embarrassing, so let’s revisit the notion of “light Christmas entertainment.”


Where do you find a movie rated PG these days other than Disney? That rating pretty much guarantees that you won’t have to explain things to the kids or be offended by gratuitous sex, violence, or vomit. And we’re all busy at this time of year, so ninety-three minutes of mindless fun feels just about right.


The story is worn out on two levels. First, a mysterious object, when rubbed, brings forth a genie in a flurry of second-rate visual effects with an unlimited supply of wishes to be granted. Wait, unlimited? Aren’t genies supposed to grant three wishes? Yes, that’s explained. All of the usual “I wish for,” regret and hijinks ensue.


Second, the underlying theme of a father so caught up in his work that he misses a series of his daughter’s important events has been overdone for a long time. Here we begin to get glimpses of Walter Hobbs, though a much nicer portrayal in the hands of Paapa Essiedu as Bernard, than James Caan’s mean dad in Elf. Bernard’s entitled wife is quick to kick him to the curb, and really not very forgiving when he devotes himself to making things right (with plenty of magic.)


The Elf comparisons are numerous, mostly because McCarthy seems to be channeling Will Ferrell’s character to keep things silly. There are lots of visual gags for a magical being to use after an absence of two thousand years, and several verbal ones as well. “You knew Jesus, the son of God?” says Bernard. “I thought he was kidding!” replies the genie. She then proceeds to wash her hair in the toilet. 


I’m not giving away anything that isn’t in the trailer. So, grab some egg nog and cookies, don’t bother hitting pause if you have to go to the bathroom, and light up the Christmas tree. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, just not always for movies.


Genie (2023) runs 1 hour, 33 minutes and is rated PG.

If you like fiction and you're in the mood for over 50 short stories, please consider buying "Natural Selections," at Click on the image below.

Or if you'd prefer seventy non-fiction stories inspired by a town in Illinois, please consider buying Park Ridge Memories also on Amazon. Click on the image below.


The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

This is one of those films with a difficult title to remember. Even the ticket taker at Regal stumbled over it as he confirmed our purchase....