William Samuel's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

Land of Mine (Under Sandet)
1 day ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Land of Mine is an eye opening dramatization of one of the least known chapters of World War Two, in which German POWs, many still in their teens, were forced to clear millions of landmines from the Danish coast immediately after the war's end. Befitting its subject it's a well-crafted suspense drama, but more than that it's a masterful and deeply engaging work of emotional and moral nuance. It's not every war movie that can make viewers sympathize with the Germans.

Looking back, we like to think of WWII as a good war, a triumph of good over evil. And not without reason. The Allied Powers saved Europe from the genocidal Nazi regime and Asia from the brutality of Imperial Japan. But no war is won without morally questionable acts. And forcing these men to clear millions of landmines was even more questionable because the war had already been won. Using the enemy to clear the mines their comrades had laid may have seemed an expedient solution, yet it smacks of vindictiveness and one can't shake the feeling that what we're seeing amount to a war crime.

It's the deep ethical questions and personal drama that give the film its depth, but it's the suspense that holds the viewers' attention. We know that at any moment the slightest mistake could end one of these boys' lives. And of course it does, more than once. We dread the moment when the next boy will die, and it' absolutely devastating when it happens. Yet the movie never becomes too mournful, or lingers too long. Soon enough the tone is again tense, or hopeful, or occasionally even humorous.

Just as the film- and the boys'- mood has its ups and downs, so does their relationship with the Danish sergeant placed in command of them (Roland Møller). It's naturally antagonistic at first. These Germans were members of the Nazi army occupying his country, and he is their jailer as much as their commander. He tells them repeatedly that he does not care if they are miserable or if they die, as long as the mines are cleared. And he means it, mostly.

It's equally natural that his stance towards them will soften as he comes to see them as people rather than enemies. But this change is not inevitable or without stumbles. At one point he becomes so callous that one almost fears he will become the villain of his own story. It's fascinating watching his conflicting emotions, his struggle to balance his duty with his humanity.

The result is a deeply poignant, intimate, and earnest film that reminds us that even our enemies are human and even the most seemingly clear cut conflicts aren't always as black and white as we would like to think. There are no easy answers or sense of closure here, but then the men involved never received any either.

Atomic Blonde
Atomic Blonde (2017)
40 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Atomic Blonde is what you get when you mix James Bond and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, with fight choreography from John Wick. Like a Bond film it's stylish, action packed, and filled with gorgeous women, none more beautiful than the lead. And like the classic Cold War drama it's tense, cynical, and filled with twists and betrayals.

Charlize Theron is an absolute force of nature as agent Lorraine Broughton. Smart, beautiful, and intensely physical, she's as badass as they come. This is a woman who knows how to throw a punch. And an elbow, knee, head-butt, and every household object except the kitchen sink. What's even more impressive is that Theron appears to have done most of the fight scenes herself. And her aura of sheer awesomeness is matched by the sex appeal she exudes throughout. She is absolutely stunning and she knows it. Whether chatting up club patrons or cooling off in an ice water bath she is an utter treat for the eyes, and incredibly spicy- and explicit- scenes with her French counterpart rival those in Black Swan.

Yet she's not just a one dimensional male fantasy or feminist icon. She's a fully developed character who can be as vulnerable as she is strong. She doesn't have all the answers or know who she can trust. At times she's deeply scared; both for herself and allies. And as tough as she is she's far from invincible. Seeing her bloodied and bruised in the later scenes you can't help but feel for her.

James McAvoy also shines as eccentric MI6 station chief David Percival. He manages to come off as charming, witty, sleazy and slightly unhinged all at the same time, all without appearing to give a single damn. He clearly knows the lay of the land, and he's certainly not the drunken fop he pretends to be, but you're never quite sure what game he's playing, or who for.

In the tradition of the best spy thrillers, this is a very clever movie with plenty of twists that will keep you guessing until the end. But perhaps it's a bit too clever for its own good. Most of the time events aren't too hard to follow if you're paying close attention, and if something isn't clear that's because it's meant to be ambiguous. However towards the end the twists come too quickly and with practically no explanation, leaving you to wonder if you understood everything.

But what really makes the movie isn't the pot; it's the fight scenes. They're less stylized than the trailers would suggest, but even more brutal. Eastern Promises or The Raid level brutal. Some fights are fast paced and slickly choreographed, while others are knock-down, drag-out slugfests. But either way they are incredibly violent and extremely realistic by Hollywood standards. These aren't martial arts matches or superhero brawls; they actually look like real people desperately trying to kill each other with their bare hands or whatever objects are in reach. It's graphic, bloody, and so believable that you almost feel the blows.

Although Atomic Blonde isn't trying to be a hyper realistic portrayal of the espionage business, it's quite commendable in its accurate depiction of basic field craft and frequent reminders of the moral compromises inherent to the spy trade. And it so perfectly captures late Cold War Berlin. The drab, decaying apartment blocks and stacks of black market goods drive are a constant reminder that we're behind the Iron Curtain, while the gangs of pierced, spike hair punks gathering under the cover of darkness to skate and play rock music, the boisterous underground night clubs where drinks and drugs flow freely, and the news reports of marches and mass unrest drive home that this is a city on edge.

Atomic Blonde is not a movie for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It won't win any awards for coherent storytelling. In fact you'll probably walk out of the theatre somewhat confused. But if you want a heart pounding, atmospheric thriller, it delivers.