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WISH Review

This is the one you guys decided to have it out with, huh? The completely inoffensive, abundantly charming homage to Disney Animation Studios’ one-hundred-year history that also means to continue to push the boundaries of what constitutes a Disney princess further? I'm convinced there is a small (yet loud) and clearly influential sect of the internet whose entire purpose is to get as ahead of the narrative as possible and establish whatever direction they'd like to sway public opinion toward just to see if it sticks. For some reason, Wish was immediately dubbed lazy and unoriginal by hordes of people on TikTok (a format for micro shorts and ads) who picked apart the first clips of songs released from the film for no other reason than to say they supposedly weren't as good as songs from two years ago made for movies with different tones and objectives than this one.  

So, first, in the context of the film each and every song here works as intended which is to say, really well, with "Knowing What I Know Now" being a certified banger in the vein of classics such as "I'll Make a Man Out of You" and "I've Got a Dream". Further, the titular track of "This Wish" would be a standard Disney classic circa any other time in history. It, along with the whole of the story that doesn't stray far from your standard fairy tale pillars (young girl experiences longing and/or ambition and, in a manner of speaking, absolves the kingdom in which she lives from an evil sorcerer), are majestically rendered through a combination of the animation style and the style of that aforementioned music. The animation is in and of itself a combination of 2D watercolor background paintings (a homage to classic films dating all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and cutting-edge CG that emphasizes the hand drawn look that ultimately creates both a very modern and very retro aesthetic simultaneously.


There is something very 2004 about Ridley Scott's Napoleon in that it is first and foremost a large historical epic that one might have expected Scott to cash in his Gladiator chips on (it's also he and Joaquin Phoenix's first collaboration since), but more so because it shows no obvious signs of CGI saturation (aside from a few extras in a single battle sequence and a horse carcass) and when combined with Scott's wiggle room to get a little weird here and there it felt at times as if I were back in high school seeing a movie my dad would have been excited for on Thanksgiving break rather than the Apple Studios produced, long in gestation project it became that at times seemed unattainable and unfortunately sometimes still feels as much throughout its execution. The context with which one views Napoleon might be more critical to its reception (as is true with most expectations) than in most cases; the point in this instance being that there are multiple options for which to go into this. Knowing a little or a lot are always available, but knowing Scott has already discussed a lengthier version of the film immediately implies this is something of a CliffsNotes version of what he intended to make. Granted, the life of Napoleon Bonaparte is something one either takes at wholesale or investigates individually given the breadth of history the man was directly involved in and responsible for shaping, but Scott tries to have his cake and eat it too resulting in what is currently a nearly three-hour experience that still feels abbreviated.


As someone born in the late eighties and raised as a pure product of the nineties, I didn’t expect a seventies throwback piece to hit me as hard as Alexander Payne’s latest. What’s interesting is, as a millennial and someone who relates more to the first two decades above and who hasn’t seen enough “New American Cinema” born of the seventies to really recognize the qualifiers, it’s hard to know whether or not The Holdovers is in fact a movie akin to those made in the seventies or if it is simply a homage to what we now think of when we say “a seventies movie”. Payne, who is now sixty-two, has made films in the vein of seventies movies before - movies that center on multi-faceted characters with relatively small and always personal problems - but he’s never seemingly made a movie so overtly mimicking so much of what he clearly draws inspiration from. 

I say all of this as something of a qualifier in and of itself for, while I understand The Holdovers might be more provoking of the look and feel than invoking of the actual spirit of seventies cinema, as someone of my age and viewing history it left me feeling as if it had done both. Furthermore, I understand why those who might have a deeper pool of knowledge and sense of connection to movies of the seventies and their unshaven realism might find The Holdovers more of a copy of what once was rather than the authentic journey I experienced while watching the film, but the fact of the matter is: I found this far more enjoyable than expected given my aforementioned disposition, but more than that - I found this deeply affecting and honest. While it might be aping certain seventies visual cues very intently, it also manages a perfect balance of melancholy and comedy that elicits heavy truths while equally highlighting the gleefully effervescent moments of life (and how they weave our days and time together).


It’s been at least three years since Nia DaCosta (Little Woods, Candyman) was announced as the director of The Marvels and as a writer/director that means she has been thinking about this story for at least that long as well. I say this 1) because I doubt what is portrayed on screen here is all she had in mind (more on that later) and 2) because it’s important to remember the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into which films are released is not often the same context in which they were written or shot. DaCosta came on in the immediate aftermath of Endgame - prior to the release of either WandaVision or Ms. Marvel and most importantly - prior to COVID, likely eager to continue the story of this newly minted Avenger and the prospect of the first ever MCU lady league. Taking that into consideration, The Marvels obviously arrives at a very different point in the MCU trajectory than DaCosta likely expected as steam has been lost and arguably a fair amount of quality as well. I hate to be a doomsdayer, but the one-two punch of COVID’s impact on the release schedule and the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman threw a wrench into the MCU’s plans and as a result the whole operation into recovery mode in more ways than one. Prior to Endgame, The Marvels would have nestled snuggly between Homecoming and Ant-Man in terms of quality and stakes and no one would have batted an eye as it is both a smaller scale team-up movie and a fun comic caper, but when the fate of the MCU is riding on something more equivalent to Ant-Man and the Wasp than Civil War, folks will both be disappointed and continue to declare the end of this once bulletproof franchise.


Counting Priscilla, I've seen five of Sofia Coppola's eight narrative feature films (Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and Somewhere are my blind spots) and the trapped, isolated, lonely woman is an obvious recurring theme in her work. This is no doubt what attracted the writer/director to Priscilla Presley's 1985 memoir Elvis and Me on which Priscilla is based. Telling the story of Priscilla's courtship with Elvis, beginning in 1959 when she was only fourteen and Elvis was twenty-four, Coppola's film very much feels like a collection of very specific instances and memories Presley recalls during the thirteen years their lives crossed paths. These moments clearly left an indelible mark on what was otherwise a smitten teenager, but that would seemingly shape Presley into the woman she became; in many ways showing her a life she didn't necessarily want to lead. What makes Coppola's film so engaging are the conflicted feelings Presley experiences throughout her relationship with Elvis while the lack of any real momentum combined with a general knowledge of the events and timeline the film covers lend the film no real urgency regardless of the importance of this perspective. 

In last year's Baz Luhrman-directed, Austin Butler-starring Elvis, the scene in which Elvis meets Priscilla for the first time occurs just over an hour into the film after which it manages to distill this courtship down into a five minute scene making Priscilla much more brash in the process which is notable given Cailee Spaeny's portrayal is far more reserved. Priscilla herself seemed thrilled with Luhrman's biopic, but is also an executive producer on this film making the gray area all the more fuzzy. I wouldn't say Priscilla necessarily paints Elvis in a bad light as much as it does very much a man of his own time who handled his fame in the only way that seemed reasonable given the circumstances. Coppola's interpretation certainly makes it clear Elvis could be controlling (telling his young bride what to wear and how to style her hair), quick to lose his temper at the slightest sense of resistence, and would straight-up flirt with other women right in front of Priscilla's face, but the adapted screenplay also recognizes she is this man's safe haven and as much as she desired to do things for herself, she desired to serve that purpose for him as well. Now, I know what you're thinking, and it's a strong, "Hell no!" which is completely understandable and as a parent of a nine year-old girl who couldn't stop considering how fourteen is only five years off at several points during this viewing experience, I wholeheartedly agree. That said, and as previously stated, this is the crux of the arc we're meant to invest in and in that regard, the film does its job. 


Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist, Divergent) is a reliable set of hands to place your stock adaptation of a popular airport thriller in and if nothing else, The Marsh King’s Daughter demonstrates just how dependable Burger is at executing on if not elevating what could easily be dismissed as a Lifetime movie. Ironically, this is the kind of psychological drama audiences would flock to theaters to see in decades past when such material was placed in the hands of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Alan Pakula. Though it's highly doubtful this adaptation of Karen Dionne's 2017 bestseller will shape any future box office trends it is nice to see something like The Marsh King’s Daughter - a movie with good bones, a strong premise, and something of a movie star in Daisy Ridley's roundabout franchise way - getting a wide release as any option for a sequel or opportunity to franchise are seemingly completely off the table. 

As refreshing as all this might feel in our current cinematic landscape, there is unfortunately still something rather rote about the experience of The Marsh King’s Daughter for, while those bones are solid, Burger's film doesn't really stand to support much depth or a stand-out performance that takes it beyond the genre stratosphere. There is potential for such, whether that be in exploring the current state of Ridley's Helena Pelletier who is in a constant state of trying to convince herself that the life she's leading is the right one after finding out the one person she believed in the most was really a monster; the movie naturally taking place when this person, this father figure, comes back into her life after twenty years. Or, one of these actors might have taken the opportunity to really infuse the material with some electricity (ahem, Mendelsohn), but instead things are played fairly safe and straightforward leaving the movie feeling predictable and uninspired.