Oscar Review – 1917 (2019 Film): War is Bad, Film is Good, Cinematography is Great

A film tries to capture the grotesque sights and claustrophobia of the First World War.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

On April 6, 1917, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are ordered by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to take a message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. It seems that MacKenzie believes that the Germans are retreating from the current line and is trying to pursue them so that he can finish them off. Intelligence has revealed that the Germans were not running away, but instead retreating to the Hindenburg Line, an extremely fortified and heavily armed defensive position. If the Devonshire Regiment attacks, they’ll be massacred. Blake and Schofield are told to give a message directly from the General to MacKenzie calling off any attack, which would likely kill Blake’s brother (Richard Madden). Along the way, they meet a few other famous British actors (Mark Strong, Andrew Scott), because why not.

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We’re never more than 20 feet from one of them, I think.


Alfred Hitchcock, the famed British Director, once attempted to make a film that appeared to only have one cut, despite the fact that cameras could only hold 20 minutes of film at a time. That film was called Rope, and I can only imagine that director Sam Mendes was a big fan of it, since this film, similarly, only has one noticeable cut. I cannot fully convey in words the effect that has upon the reader, because we are so used to action films, and films in general, having rapid cuts for most scenes to refocus the scene or allow for more action shots with the actor’s face (except for Saint Keanu). To put this in perspective, this film appears to have two shots of roughly fifty-five minutes each whereas the average shot length of a US film is 2.5 seconds. Now, it’s true that these are not genuinely 55 minutes, but really several 5-10 minute takes cut together expertly, but even that is amazing in modern cinema. Having only one scene playing out also means that we aren’t really given the typical moments to reset and adjust that we’re used to during a narrative. Basically, once the film starts, we’re never given a respite.

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No respite for anyone.

While Hitchcock used the long-takes as a way to heighten the tension of whether or not a murder was going to be uncovered, this film uses it to accentuate the subjective filming of the movie. 1917 is not presented in the way that war films are usually shot, even particularly gritty ones, because in 1917 the camera is supposed to be part of the cast. The film, pretty much from the beginning, is shot in such a way that it treats the camera as if it is a third, silent, invisible party drifting behind them. 

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Sometimes you can almost feel them detecting its presence, but not in a bad way.

Because of this, the film doesn’t feel the need to do any of the normal things that emotionally invest us in the characters, because most of the moments that films use to get those require extended shots or reactions that don’t fit into a film that’s in real time. I’ve been reading a number of reviews that criticize the film for this, but I feel like that’s based on a rubric that just doesn’t apply to what Sam Mendes was going for in this film. We don’t have to project ourselves onto the characters that we’re watching in order to get emotionally attached, because we’re just supposed to be part of it. That makes all of the grit and grime and gore simultaneously more tolerable because we’re not as attached to the characters, but also more visceral because it happens closer to us. In the trenches, we are right next to the actors and suddenly surprised by other parties entering frame from behind, giving us a feel of exactly how closely packed these people were in these conditions. 

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We go through the doorway with them and it is tense.

Thematically, the movie takes a strong anti-war position that tries to avoid the usual issues present in anti-war movies. For example, First Blood, a movie that contains a story about how veterans were mistreated and filled with PTSD, was loved instead for Rambo kicking ass with a machine gun and given several sequels that focused more on that. Apocalypse Now is anti-war, but its most quoted line is “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” This movie tried to subvert that by having the central mission in the movie to prevent an attack. They also play up the grotesque nature of the battlefields through horrific images and show even the typically positive-associated parts of the movie, like killing Germans, to be taking a toll on the characters. Still, I’m sure someone out there was watching it going “war is kickass,” but probably fewer than most. 

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River of bloated corpses is pretty disgusting, unsurprisingly.

Overall, it’s a really well-shot movie and a pretty good movie in general, but I do imagine that it’s not going to be a lot of peoples’ cup of tea. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Amazon Prime Review – Modern Love: The Highs are Worth the Lows

Amazon gives us a series of interesting portraits of love in the modern world. 


It’s an anthology, people. I can’t summarize every episode without kind of ruining the surprise. Just know that each of the stories focuses on something about love between people. Mostly romantic, but not always.

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Such a cast. Much wow.

Eh, fine, here’s a 1 sentence summary of each episode:


A woman (Cristin Miloti) has a doorman (Laurentiu Possa) who’s a gatekeeper for more than just her building.


A woman (Catherine Keener) interviewing a tech billionaire (Dev Patel) about his lost love (Caitlin McGee) reveals her own (Andy Garcia).

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Journalism at its finest.


A bipolar (Anne Hathaway) woman tries to have a relationship with a guy (Gary Carr), despite her condition getting in the way.


A married couple (Tina Fey and John Slattery) start to realize that they might not be meant to last, but don’t want to quit. 


Two people on their second date (Sofia Boutella and John Gallagher, Jr.) get a crash course in each other after an injury derails their evening.


A young woman (Julia Garner) tries to replace her father with an older co-worker (Shea Wigham), but he misunderstands her attention.


A couple (Andrew Scott and Brandon Kyle Goodman) tries to adopt a baby from a homeless woman (Olivia Cooke).

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They’re so cute together.


A woman (Jane Alexander) who found a new love (James Saito) late in life takes a run around the rest of the series in his memory.


The upside of the show is that it’s an anthology, so if you don’t like an episode, you can still try the next one and it’ll be different. The downside is that it’s an anthology and if you really like the way an episode is done, the next one is probably going to go a different way. The episodes, though they all focus on love, are varied in style and also in their focal interpretation of love. Since love comes in all different colors, flavors, shapes, sizes, sexes, Tex-Mexes, and Shrekses (guess what I’m drinking? Hint: Whisky), that also means that a creator is pretty much allowed to justify whatever interpretation they want to put into their story. Apparently, each of these stories were taken from a column published in The New York Times every week, but I have to confess that I don’t think I ever read it, even when I read the paper. Not that I don’t enjoy a good love story, I just never did.

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The quality of the episodes also varies a lot, although, on balance, I thought the series was pretty good. I do admit the finale montage is weird to me. Since there were only eight episodes, it seems kind of unnecessary to spend a bunch of time recapping the series, particularly since the clips don’t really interact, so they don’t give us a ton more perspective on the characters. They could just as easily have added the post-credits epilogues to the actual episodes and maybe spent ten more minutes on the narrative of the last story.

So, since I don’t want to spoil the show too badly, I’m going to do a 1-2 sentence review of each episode, in ascending order of quality. 


This story is super creepy and includes a girl trying to force herself to sexually fantasize about her fake father figure, which is double creepy. Emmy Rossum directed this, and it’s only a slight step up from Dragonball Evolution

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Seriously, it’s awful.


Two good actors are absolutely ruined by stilted dialogue and pacing taken from a silent film. The ending feels forced, as do a lot of the moments of supposed clarity.


The story of finding a second love late in life is adorable, but too much is wasted on the series recap. Still, it was cute.


Tina Fey and John Slattery are great, but honestly it has a melancholy that never feels either closed or cemented as unending to me. 

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Also, how did these two meet? I mean, that’s a real story.


A cute story, but even with the epilogue, the story just doesn’t feel like it’s that significant. 


By far the most artistic episode, the representation of Bipolar may not be accurate, but it does make the condition more relatable. Also, Anne Hathaway’s breakdown is just damned heartbreaking.

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It’s a musical.


This one is the most complex story in terms of characterization and Andrew Scott’s performance is just damned perfect.


The person who requested I review this series said that if I don’t end my review of this episode with “I cried like a tiny child,” then I have no soul. Well, I may have no soul, but I definitely cried like a tiny child.

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Like. A. Tiny. Child.

I hope they keep this show going. Even though some of the episodes weren’t great, I think they’ve got a lot of stuff left that they could cover. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Amazon Prime Review – Fleabag: The Truth Hurts (Spoiler-Free)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall breaking comedy ends after two seasons of hilariously blunt social commentary.


Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a single woman living in London who is fond of drinking, sex, wisecracking her way out of her own misery, and being the subject of ridicule at the hands of others and, more commonly, herself. She runs a café that she opened with her deceased friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), fights with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), deals with the sh*tbag that Claire married, Martin (Brett Gelman), and tries to tolerate the relationship between her widower father (Bill Paterson) and her Godmother (Olivia FREAKING Colman). In the second season, she begins to have a crush on her family’s Catholic priest (Andrew Scott). 

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She wants to genuflect so badly.


I’ve mentioned before that horror and comedy are always related. They’re both our ways of dealing with the absurdity of reality, both are often based on showing us a deviation from expectation, and the primary difference is really whether we’re being cued to respond to the situation with revulsion or relief. This is why a comedy genius like Jordan Peele can be so good at horror or why John Carpenter can make a hilarious action-comedy like Big Trouble in Little China, because the genres are naturally separated only by the relief/revulsion response. This show frequently eschews that distinction and asks that we feel both. We should feel absolutely revolted at some of the things that are said and done to our lead in the show, as well as how often we’ve seen or heard them done to people in real life. The relief comes not just from the quip or hilarious face that Fleabag makes to the audience, assuring us that she’s fine, but also from the fact that someone is actually willing to say some of the stuff that this show is saying. I watched the entirety of this show with a woman and, to quote the Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch (and who did not get to select her pen name), the show is “the brutal comedy of everyday life.” I think that pretty much nails it, but more on that in a second.

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While Fleabag’s life and her family and the people she encounters are all absurd, the absurdity is closer to a type of hyperrealism. You know some people who are similar to ALL of the characters, because they’re all “that girl/guy” archetypes. It’s made even more pronounced by the fact that, aside from Claire, Martin, Claire’s extremely creepy stepson Jake (Angus Imrie), and Fleabag’s overly-emotional ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), none of the recurring characters in the series actually has a name. Appropriately, though, those characters are, if anything, even more familiar archetypes than the others: The uptight workaholic/woman who married an a**hole and doesn’t leave him, the a**hole who somehow is still married, the creepy kid, and the guy who thrives on making sure everyone knows that he’s in touch with his emotions. All of these characters are played completely honestly with almost no other defining attributes, but the solid performances and great writing keep them from feeling tired. It helps that they’re only used sparingly (aside from Claire) and that the show is only 12 episodes long. 

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Claire’s hair, however, is quite prominent.

One of the keys to the show is the device of allowing the main character to directly address the audience through the fourth wall, but I have rarely seen a show play with it so well. It’s particularly interesting to see her fourth wall breaks when she’s dealing with the Priest, because his belief in a comforting higher power (God) gives him an insight into Fleabag’s belief in a comforting lie (the Audience), to a shocking and unnerving degree. Rather than doing the traditional fourth wall breaks, which are derived from Shakespearean soliloquies and thus given time and weight, Fleabag’s fourth-wall breaks are quick and often in the middle of conversations or even sentences, acting as quick punctuations rather than explanations. It gives the show a unique feel and the dialogue a distinct style and pacing.

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Seriously, this is an amazing medium disruption.

Another big thing about the show is it is not hopeful nor is it crushing. It doesn’t make the world out to be a darker and more cruel place than it is, but it also doesn’t give us any of the comfort that we typically expect from our media. We’re not told, at any point, that things are going to be okay. We aren’t told that love conquers all. We aren’t told that you’re going to find fairness or happiness. We’re just shown the world of the show that so closely mirrors ours, with all the nerves exposed. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, one of the characters, Samuel Vimes, is described as “two drinks sober,” meaning that he was always so sober that he couldn’t even tell himself the harmless lies that people have developed as part of society in order to sleep at night. That’s what this show is for media: It’s two drinks sober. It’s a hair too real to give us the comfort we expect or the painful distancing we secretly crave. It isn’t the show we want, it’s the show we need.

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It asks the real questions.

Overall, I loved this series. I thought it was funny, exciting, and so novel that it deserves an audience. However, I do concede that I might not have gotten out if it the same things that other people might have, particularly The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch. So, in a first for this blog, I asked her to give me her perspective, rather than try to interpret hers through my own lens. She submitted this: 


As absurd as the show can get, it’s absurd in a very real, human way and it just doesn’t stray that far from the ordinary kind of ridiculous. It’s not only hilarious but extremely cathartic. When Claire tells Martin to leave her and Martin’s counter-argument includes “I vacuum” and “I made dessert at Easter” and “I pick up my son from bassoon lessons” I actually put my face in my hands and said “Oh my god that is literally men.” It’s just such a perfect sendup of the ways we pat men on the back for doing the bare minimum in domestic life and relationships. 

I’d been struggling to describe why this show feels different and refreshing compared to other shows that could also be described as both “brutal” and “funny,” but it’s best encapsulated by a speech in the show itself from a savvy businesswoman Fleabag has a martini with (Kristin Scott Thomas). “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on her own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” The show goes for honesty over melodrama, and there just isn’t the feeling of the writers trying to wring all the emotion out of you like there is in a lot of prestige TV. (Why it takes me forever to watch most of it.) And the comedy doesn’t feel like a bunch of writers in a room thinking about what the most offensive thing to say is. The show puts its trust in the writing and in the hearts and jagged edges of its characters and as a result it doesn’t have to try so fucking hard.

“I love you,” says Fleabag.

“It’ll pass,” says the Priest.

It’s brutal, without brute force.


If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.