Mother Russia Bleeds: A Wonderfully Dark Beat ‘Em Up

      “Mother Russia Bleeds” might be my favorite Beat ‘Em Up of all time. This is a game full of rich lore, fun gameplay and really brutal and beautiful design. What helped was playing it with my wife and one of my closest friends. Just the experience of us working together to figure out the pattern of the boss fights as we advanced through Russia really was such an amazingly fun experience. Before I get into details about the game itself and spoilers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of Beat ‘Em Up style games.

“Mother Russia Bleeds” is an indie game created by the France based studio Le Cartel Studio and was published by Devolver Digital. Frédéric Coispeau designed the game with Alexandre Muttoni being the artist and director. The game itself was released in 2016.

The premise of the game is that you are four Roma who are used in street fights to make money in the slums. After your friend betrays you to the government you find yourself experimented on. After escaping the lab, you seek revenge against all those who wronged you.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics – This is a beautiful 8-bit game. The game is dark and gritty while at the same time giving color where it is appropriate. Whenever you are fighting mafia or are in club, the colors stand out. The game becomes progressively more colorful until you get to the end where red and black are the main contrasts. This is a beautifully brutal game and I love the artistic choices the artists made when designing bosses (military generals, butchers, mad scientists) as you advance through the game as you unravel the conspiracy.

Difficulty – This was a difficult game. I’m glad that I didn’t play this alone. There are a few boss battles and fight sequences where having more than one person helps you figure out and learn the patterns. The greatest example of this is the helicopter attacking through a window as you fight oncoming goons. It is stressful and that was one point where the three of us took a break. Same went for the final boss too. He had 3 phases and each phase was harder than the last. This is a game where the build up in difficulty is progressive and challenging. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it. A game should make you better at it, and that can only come through challenge.

The Gameplay – Beat ‘Em Ups are a fun style of game. In this case it is also a side scroller too, so you can’t go back to where you were before. This provides a good challenge as when you knock enemies off screen you can’t attack them again until they’ve returned to the window of the fight. I really enjoyed the gameplay. You have Nekro which lets you heal up but also powers you up for a super move as well. There are also isn’t healing everywhere and you can only get Nekro from certain enemies you’ve killed at a certain time. This keeps the tension up as you advance through the levels. There is also a great enemy variety. You fight gangsters, zombies, soldiers, mob bosses, masochists in pig masks and quite a few others. The enemies all have different attack styles as well. This is a game that you have to learn. It isn’t easy and that makes all the more amazing. The final boss is another great example of this. The incarnation of Nekro is the punk rock skeleton who has three phases. One phase is fighting copies of yourself and a closing in wall that you throw syringes at, phase two are living syringes and muscle dropping down and the final phase is the boss itself in 2 forms. It is hard and so very rewarding.

The World and Story – The game takes place just before the Russian Revolution. You are Four Roma (Sergei, Ivan, Natasha and Boris) who are betrayed by your friend Mikhail and given to the government to be experimented on. You survive but become addicted to Nekro in the process. From here you are seeking revenge against your former friend and end up helping another friend as the revolution begins. It is a dark, violent and twisted world as you are the lowest rung in society and everyone wants you dead. You end up in some fascinating environments too on your quest for revenge. You fight in a sex club where you fight people in pig masks and battle against a giant butcher at the end, you fight on a train, against military officers and police and finally against a living embodiment of the drug itself. It is in the final fight where my wife and our friend ended up getting the bad ending. If you use the drug to defeat the final boss than you die of an overdose and are remembered by the revolution. If you succeed without using the drug than a statue is made to honor you in how you helped the revolution. We got the bad ending, which I honestly thought was more realistic to the world the story takes places in and was the better story.

As you can tell, I loved this game. This is a Beat ‘Em Up better than “X-Men” or the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” games. I enjoyed both of those games but this one built on the core fun base game they had. The fact that the story has a point gives even more power to it. It is a tragedy about addiction as well as just how costly revolutions are on the people, while also recognizing the importance of fighting corruption. Our protagonists are the lowest within society and them grabbing their own agency lends power to the narrative as they seek revenge against those who wronged them. This was a really fun game and I definitely plan to check out more games from this studio.

Final Score: 10 / 10 This is the perfect Beat ‘Em Up.

 

“Stranger Things” Season 2 – Growth in Character and Action

   If you enjoyed the first season of “Stranger Things,” chances are you will greatly enjoy the second. This is a season that builds on character development, expanding the world and action. It does everything a sequel akin to “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” did and succeeds because of it. If you haven’t watched this show yet and enjoy sci. fi. or 80’s films…check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers who truly have once again done it again.

The story picks up where we left off with a few months having passed. The new status quo is 11 is now living in hiding with Sheriff Hopper, Will’s trauma from the Upside Down is shown to be much more than anyone realizes and Max is a new girl in town who changes the Team’s dynamic while Nancy and Jonathan wrestle with their trauma and revealing the events of Season 1 to the world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Cinematography and Action – I’m putting these together this time because they are somewhat obvious and don’t contribute anything substantial to how characters grow or change. These are things that really work in the context of the narrative and are an improvement from Season 1 but aren’t what stand out the most. I loved how the film looks and the action scenes are amazing, especially the action shots of the Team. So these are both positive that I wanted to state up front.

The Expanding Upside Down and the Mind Flayer – One of the main arcs this season is the Mind Flayer and it’s expansion of the Upside Down. The Mind Flayer is the giant smoke creature that appears in a lot of the posters and is usually always behind a red cloud. In this the creature even possess Will, making him a spy and a way to outsmart the humans it knows it is trying to stop it. The Mind Flayer is a great enemy and a wonderful way of raising the stakes from the Demogorgon from the first film.

Fathers and Those Who Become Good Fathers – Another major theme is fatherhood from our adoptive fathers of Sean Astin as Bob who is dating Joyce and helps take care of Will and supports the Team in their fight. We also see it in Sheriff Hopper and his raising of 11 and him failing until he takes responsiblity for his anger and finally as a contrast Neil who is Billy’s and Max’s abusive father. Through the film this contrast drives how many of our characters are shaped. Sean Astin’s Bob is an amazing character and you will feel for the arc he goes through. I’m glad he’s a part of this season.

Mad Max and her arc – Max’s arc is finding family and standing up to her abusive brother Billy. We see this in how she stays away from the team but as they open up to her she begins to trust them and finally stands against them and defeats Billy who had been attempting to isolate her and abuse her through the show.

8 and her Team – This season we meet 8 who is another experiment who can make people see things that aren’t there with her mind. She is awesome and like Magneto she is out for revenge against the government agents with her band of punks. She’s not entirely an antagonist but she isn’t a protagonist either. This arc was good because she finds them after she finds her mother in a comatose state (that the government forced on her after stealing 11 from her) which makes 11 ready for revenge until she learns that she can’t kill out of rage, only out of love for another. 11 leaves her but we know she is still out there and I can’t wait to see her again and any other experiments who are free or exist.

Saving Will – Another arc that is handled really well is saving Will. Last season set up the Upside Down was still a part of him when he threw up a slug and in this we see the Mind Flayer possess him leading to him going through hell as the Team seeks to save him. It is tough and he isn’t rescued until the end and it is a fight to get to that point. The danger and visions give a good foreboding tone through the entire season.

11 and Hopper – I love this relationship. Hopper lost his daughter and 11 is his new daughter and Hopper is 11’s new dad. They’ve both been through trauma loss and it shapes how hard it is for them to trust one another. Hopper is extremely over protective at first and 11 is counting down the days she’s been stuck away from the world being protected. It is powerful and comes to a head when she runs away and Hopper calls her finally ending in them meeting up and her reunion with the Team and Mike. The resolution is powerful and we see that her standing together with her new family gives her the power to take on the expanding influence of the Mind Flayer.

The Team (old and new) – The Team is fantastic in this! You have Nancy and Jonathan revealing the government corruption, Steve and Dustin teaming up to find Dart (a baby Demogorgon), Lucas and Max and their budding relationship and Will and Mike dealing with the Mind Flayer with his mother and Sheriff Hopper as 11 joins them after she learns more about her backstory and finds 8 and her crew. I loved the new team dynamics and how all of them grew. None of these characters are the same after the events, they all grow and change and become stronger as they face their own trauma and loss.

The Cons: Slow Start – The one problem that stood out about this season was the slow start. It really picks up after episode 4 but before that it has a pretty slow build. I think this pays off later on but I also think more could have been done to give us more information on the Mind Flayer and it’s influence and just how pervasive the Upside Down had become. This was the only issue for me that kept it from being perfect.

This was one of the best seasons of television I’ve watched and much how “Defenders” season 1 fixes some of the problems in the first season of “Iron Fist” this does the same thing. This is a season of moving past nostalgia and dealing with consequences. This is a show that is more than 80’s movie and music references. This show faces trauma, loss and our characters grow and what they do matters. I’m not sure what is going to happen Season 3 as Season 2 ties things up rather nicely, but I I still can’t help but be fascinated by seeing how the characters grow further.

Final Score: 9. 8 / 10 Perfect length, great action and characters grow. The slow start is the only thing working against it.

“Dark Matter” Season 3 – Another Good Sci. Fi. Show Canceled Before Its Time

   “Dark Matter” Season 3 is the last season of “Dark Matter.” Syfy did not renew the show and now this show joins the other good sci. fi. shows who died early like “Caprica,” “Firefly,” “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” This show deserved to have its story completed on screen, the quality was that good and this season improved upon all other seasons before it. It is a shame it was canceled as this show’s flaws were built into the structure of adapting an ongoing comic to screen. This series did so much to develop characters, present unique ways to tell stories and provided some of the best action in any sci. fi. show.     

      The story picks up with where the cliffhanger of last season left off, with the crew of the Raza escaping from the EOS-7 space station that Ryo’s forces are blowing up. From here the crew must find each other and confront this betrayal and the loss of a crewman. 

There will be SPOILERS ahead.

This was the most action heavy of the seasons and it did a beautiful job potraying it. From Ryo fighting his Captain when she attempted to overthrow him, to all the space battles between the Corporations before the Black Ships finally arrive from beyond in the finale. For a limited budget the show really went all out, I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew Syfy was canceling them so wanted to make the most of it.

The series continues on from before and develops all the characters further. The Android sees the future and from it gains perspective as well as meeting her creator and from it finds a uniqueness in identity as separate from the Androids who want to rebel and wipe out humanity and the other side of serving humanity, Kal / Six gets to be the martyr and revolutionary, Two forgives Ryo and finds purpose beyond revenge and comes into her role as the leader the crew needs after the loss of Nix, Three / Titch comes to care about others and finds meaning beyond himself  with Five / Das staying the most unchanged beyond learning more about her past and finally finding a reason why she might leave the Raza and Ryo comes into his own as a leader as he atones for his mistakes after losing everything after all he gains this season falls from him. We even get to see the alternate  universe Raza crew who never got their mind wipe receive development as they are shown to be more than just mercenaries out for themselves.

This season had the greatest variety of storytelling too, not only did each main character get an episode exploring them as people (Six and his staying with some colonists who’d freed themselves from the Corporations and from that we get our revolutionary episode, we get a time travel episode where they crew has to pretend to be in modern day to get a jump drive to return to the present as theirs malfunctioning brought them to Earth’s past (our modern day), we get an awesome battle episode in the finale, a comedic time loop episode akin to “Groundhog’s Day” and a Lovecraftian horror where we learn more about the aliens that possessed him last season from Three. The unique storytelling this season is really what helped make it so amazing.

Once more the only flaw was that they could not end it. The format demanded more seasons and rather than trying to wrap everything up (and they wrapped up a lot of story threads) they ended it on the big universe changing battles, with the Lovecraftian horrors arriving in their ships after Six’s sacrifice was for naught and Two is found to have been possessed before Ryo stops her. I enjoyed the finale immensely but found myself let down after, much like how the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” ended, a story that ends with a cliffhanger, when it is a great show like this is sadder than “Firefly,” which at least got an ending in “Serenity,” even though it didn’t really need it, given the episodic day in the life nature of the show. This show was driven by arcs and the Cliffhanger hurt the story by opening up more questions like, “How will the remaining crew survive the Black Ships? Where is Portia (alternate Portia) taking Three? and what happened to Two? What was the promise she made Ryo make? These are all questions that will never be answered now unless Netflix saves the show, but all word so far is that this is the end of the series on television.

The themes of revolution and calling out corruption in class and power is still there, with the corporations being the primary antagonist until the aliens from beyond are shown to have been manipulating the most powerful ones the entire time. In this way this theme isn’t as well written as last season but it does more than just calling out corrupt government and business and also calls out the revolutionaries who turn and kill their own. The Raza is about seeking a clear morality and from that the crew takes on the corrupt wherever they are, including their own past and alternate selves.

If you haven’t watched “Dark Matter” yet, and are a fan of sci. fi., check this show out. This is a show with some of the best character development, universe exploration and unique storytelling I’ve seen in any show. This season really showed just how great it could be and in turn made it one of my favorite science fiction shows. Another show canceled before its time that deserved a finished story, and so much better than only 3 seasons and a cliffhanger leaving so many stories open. This is an amazing television show and if there is a way to save it, I hope someone does.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

 

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty – A Bit of Revolution and about Time

  “Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” was a game I’d been waiting for, for a long time. It was the original “Starcraft” series that got me into RTS games and also was a huge influence on my love of science fiction stories. I still remember playing through the game for the first time at my friend’s place in college on his computer as I saw just how awesome the campaign was, I’d been waiting for this game for a long time. Years later after a second playthrough, I still really enjoy this game, but the flaws are much more apparent as well as what it misses that “Brood War” and the original “Starcraft” brought to story. I’ll do an overall comparison after reviewing all the games of “Starcraft II.”

The story picks up with war beginning again as Raynor’s Raiders seek to overthrow Mengsk and stop Kerrigan’s Swarm. This involves putting news of Mengsk’s betrayal out to the world while taking on Zerg and Dominion forces and seeking Xel’Naga artifacts for the Mobius Foundation as they may be the key to taking out Kerrigan’s Swarm.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. There is a great variety of strategy to each of the campaigns and how you use your hero units and troops. You can outlast and go all out with a large fully upgraded force, or push forward with any level of balanced forces. It’s extremely enjoyable and there is a reason that even after years of not playing this game I couldn’t put it down once I started playing it again.

Mission Variety – There is a great amount of mission variety, from a prison breakout where you defend a giant Odin piloted by Jim’s friend Tychus, a choice to do a ground based hero mission on Char or Air Assault against Kerrigan’s Swarm and some racing against the clock where you save civilians before Kerrigan destroys you. You also have a huge Prophecy side quest with Zeratul discovering Kerrigan’s role and the what the oncoming destruction will be and how to stop it. These are small hero driven missions.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and captures the old west feel of the Terran as well as the tension of war, the threat of the Swarm of the mystery of the Protoss. It has a lot of salutes to the original soundtrack while still remaining to be it’s own thing.

The Universe – The Universe is the same wonderful one from past games except that it gives us more characters and reestablishes there has been some stability after the “Brood War” as the Dominion is now one of the core powers once more and the Swarm is a large threat while the Protoss as a power are scattered. I love this Universe and it was wonderful to jump into it agai as Jim Raynor, even if some of the characters really annoyed me and felt cheap compared to the characters of games past. You get flavors of the Universe in news reports from the Dominion Channel and witness one corrupt news anchor fall apart as another with integrity rises, mirroring Jim Raynor’s own journey through the campaign.

The Complex Rogues – The complex rogues are the best part of this game…whether it is Zeratul as the Dark Wizard seeking to keep back the end, even if it means saving Kerrigan, the woman has meant nothing but destruction for his people, Tychus as the Merc who believes in Jim but also wants to be free so will kill Kerrigan if given the chance and of course Gabriel Tosh, the rogue spectre seeking to overthrow Mengsk who also helps you through Zeratul’s visions. These are easily the best characters in the game with Jim as the rogue trying to do the right thing in the difficult situations he is put in. Hell Valerian Mengsk (Emperor Mengsk’s son) is even complex in his own way as he wants to find a way to fix infestation and in doing so be a better savior to his humanity than his father ever was. These characters drove the story and made me click them for conversations when you are the Battle Cruiser “Hyperion.”

Okay: Prophecy and Destiny – I don’t really like the idea of prophecy and destiny as all powerful beings like the Xel’Naga would have been destroyed if they could have seen the future. It also ends up giving plot armor to all of Kerrigan’s actions in “Brood War” and this game does not deal with the monster she currently is, instead we get mopey lovesick Raynor, which really hurt the storytelling as he gets a love interest out of it and it hurts Kerrigan’s agency in her actions.

The Cons: The One-Dimensional Characters – There are a few of these, with the worst offenders being the nerd stereotype Egon and the love interest scientist Ariel Hanson. They only function as plot devices to tell Raynor things and I never saw them as complete characters. Matt Horner is also this to some degree as he is the noble revolutionary, and we never get why. This was the disadvantage that comes with a large cast and so many characters really should have been developed that weren’t. This is the weakest of the the “Starcraft II” games because of this.

“Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty” and is a great game I’d recommend. The gameplay and mission variety are absolutely wonderful and the complex rogues are a lot of fun to follow, even though I hate how prophecy turns some of them into some a certain level of plot device. If you haven’t played this game already and are a fan of RTS games, I highly recommend it. As a fan of the Starcraft Franchise, they would have had to really mess this up for me to hate it, but even as someone who was away from the game for years it is still a solidly great game worth time. It took long enough to make and if you have, it’s about damn time to play.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

The Dark Knight Rises

     “The Dark Knight Rises” is the most controversial of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is both because of how people see the villain and some of the story choices that were made in regards to the timeline leading up to the film and some story choices during the film. This is a movie that you’ll enjoy more if you fill in the blanks and take it from the logic of the past films. For this reason for me it is a favorite, though I understand why people hate it, while for me…I enjoy it more than “Batman Begins” as I found the structure for this a lot better and the emotional payoff much more rewarding. This is an ending and a great ending is hard to pull off and I believe this film does it, and I’m also biased in that I loved Bane as a villain…which I know many people did not. This film is about bringing some of the character arcs we have followed the last 2 films to a close and first and foremost it does that, and it does it well, even with all the flaws.

      The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and produced it. Jonathan Nolan was one of the co-writers and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

     The story takes place 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and organized crime has been taken down by Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the Police Department through the Dent Act, formed after Harvey Dent’s death. A lie hides over the city though as the truth behind what Harvey became is hidden by retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham to destroy it forcing Batman out of hiding as he must deal with this new threat and others.

The Pros: Cinematography – Wally Pfister is once again great in casting shots. From the fights with Bane that contrast his strength and power, to the shadows that Batman fights from and Gotham Occupied with the snow showing us a dead city devoid of hope and embracing despair.

The Soundtrack – Zimmer once again creates an amazing score! From the chants of Bane’s theme to the beautiful piano piece for Catwoman that shows the mystery of the character. His score has always succeeded in elevating the story and this is no different as we see Bruce Wayne go from his lowest point of despair to rising beyond the identity of Batman.

Narrative and Pacing – Narrative and pacing are the best they have ever been in the Trilogy. The story never drags and there is a clear ending rather than a bunch of climaxes. The clear beginning, middle and end compliment the story and characters and create a fantastic resolution to the story.

The World – The World is fantastic! This is a world where I don’t believe Batman ever really fully retired…as long as organized crime was around he was fighting and he had to give something for the police to chase at the end of “The Dark Knight.” Just like the League of Shadows will never ever fully go away, neither will Batman as a character or identity others can adopt. Both of these things are ideas and this movie fully captures that. Any person can adopt ideas greater than themselves and use it for good (John Blake taking up the mantel of the Bat) or Bad (Talia and Bane seeking to destroy Gotham to end it’s corruption).

The Characters – The characters continue to be one of the richest parts of the series and what will keep me coming back and even finding inspiration in them for my own writing.

Daggett and Stryver – These two were meant to show the corrupt Business world and that even without organized crime that is with the black market and drugs, Gotham is still just as corrupt…it has just become White Collar. They are fun and they clearly had fun being bad guys and in these roles who were presented as mini-bosses but were just Bane’s patsies as he was the one with the real power all along. They were the ones rules by fear and money.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Crane is back and when Gotham breaks everyone out of Gotham and Arkham he becomes one of the judges in the Kangaroo Court. This guy is awesome and there is even the chance he escaped in the end. This character is a survivor who embraces the madness in himself and around him.

Lucius Fox – Freeman continues to own this role and is there to help Bruce Wayne heal, from his coming back as Batman to helping Batman save Gotham and giving him hints he survived at the end. Lucius is the stalwart ally who is always there and is the only person not to betray Bruce’s trust.

Alfred – Alfred loses Bruce and learns how important it is to face the truth. He shouldn’t have burned Rachel’s letter about her marrying Harvey Dent as it hit Bruce in the worst place, leading to his being asked to leave…only to return believing Bruce Wayne to be dead. Luckily he finds that Bruce does grow beyond his role as Batman which is what he always wanted. Michael Caine does a great job once again.

Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul – Marion Collitard does a good job as Talia. Bane is the great villain (Talia is just good) and I think this is largely because she is too much of the classic League of Shadows. She uses a clean energy generator as a weapon which has bringing people back to their base nature and back to nature…calling back to the eco-terrorist roots of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League. She breaks Batman’s heart too and we learn that she could have truly been a friend and lover and been changed had they met much before this movie. It is the death of her father and his rejection of Bane that inspire her quest and identity as Bane and her had been shown the worst of humanity and saw that in Gotham. It was the pit that needed to be cleaned.

James Gordon – Gordon like Alfred deals with the consequences of the lie in “The Dark Knight.” He loses the trust of his only ally on the police force (Blake) when it is revealed and we see that. He became corrupt and the consequence was Bane faced no resistance from the populace and the populace embraced his revolution to take Gotham apart. He finds resolution though when he learns that he inspired Bruce to become Batman and helped Bruce to heal when he needed it most. We also see him becoming a healer again at the end as he is one of the few leaders left in a city torn apart by war. Gary Oldman truly inhabited this role.

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Hathaway is fantastic and is my favorite Catwoman! She is a character who does what she wants but also seeks to become more as she wants freedom which we see she never had due to her financial state and being trapped where she lived and in how she dealt with it by becoming  a thief. She shows virtue though as she comes back to save Gotham and saves Batman from Bane before Bane kills Batman. It is partially thanks to her that Gotham is saved. She becomes a hero and in it finds freedom.

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

Bane – Tom Hardy is awesome in this role! Bane is one of my favorite villains in this series along with Two-Face, the Joker and Scarecrow. He is threatening in both body and how he carries himself and psychologically. His arc is showing his ideals are true, that humanity will destroy itself and to fulfill the League’s quest to destroy Gotham. He gets this perspective from his time in prison and the price that was taken on him for saving Talia from the mob who killed her mother. He loses everything and is stronger for it as all he has to live for is Talia and the ideals of power. It takes Catwoman shooting him with the Batpod. I wanted to spend more time with this character. There is so much depth and threat to this guy and so much unknown, even with all we learn. Like the Joker there is mystery there…and it lends power to the character.

John Blake / Robin – John Blake is my favorite Robin (Robin is actually in his full birth name) he is the orphan who discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman when Bruce visits his orphanage as a kid. This inspires him to become a cop and we see that he is the one with Gordon fighting against the occupation by Bane and having the most success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome in this role and if more films had been made of him in the role as Batman or Nightwing working with Batman I’d have been there, or read them had they made comics about it. This character has depth and isn’t a punk but an idealist who loses the idealism and goes his own way, becoming the new Batman.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s arc is moving on from the loss of his parents and Rachel as the truth of both when he loses everything (his company, identity as Batman and being unstoppable, Alfred and Gotham) and after losing everything he finds Bruce again and is able to transcend the Batman identity and grow. Bane breaks him and it is in the breaking that he can heal from the scars he never addressed. The Pit is as much in his mind as it is a physical Pit and it is only in rising from both that he manages to save Gotham and himself. This is Christian Bale at his best as we see his full range of anger, despair, hope and content. This film is the much deserved resolution Bruce has been seeking since he lost his parents so long ago. Now he can be Batman and Bruce Wayne. The world is his and whatever he chooses to do it will no doubt be to help others as before but as a truly healed person, not the broken vigilante he was before.

The Breaking of Batman – This scene is powerful as Bane shows that he inhabits the idea of the League of Shadows and Batman better than Batman. He is the manipulator from the shadows who fights psychologically and physically. He breaks Batman totally and leaves him to suffer while Gotham is destroyed. It is powerful scene as he knows how small Bruce Wayne is in his identity in the end.

Climbing the Pit – The Pit is there to remind Bruce Wayne that he is more than Batman. He had gotten beyond fear and in doing so had nothing to live. In becoming an ideal he had trapped himself inside the ideal. It is only when he leaves room for fear to fail that he rises about it and finds Bruce Wayne again, which is the identity he lost the moment his parents were shot. Climbing the pit is healing both physically and mentally and becoming more than he ever was before.

What Desperation Can Breed / Revolution – Gotham is separated between the extreme rich and extreme poor. This leads to the revolution that Bane incites that leads to the easy occupation of the city and letting the city eat itself before it’s inevitable destruction.

The Cost of Batman’s Victory in “The Dark Knight” – The cost of victory is the occupation and death of Gotham. The mayor and all areas of authority get destroyed over the course of the war. Even though the city is saved from the bomb, the scars Bane left on the city will probably never be healed…which I think is something both Blake, Bruce and Selina realize, which is why they’ll be around to help. They have left the city, but everyone returns to Gotham.

Importance of Truth – Bane is able to so thoroughly break Batman and the city by revealing the truth of Harvey Dent which riles up the city against the rich and authority. There is only a small resistance and the mob turns on itself showing that the lie to save Gotham did nothing as eventually the city did turn on itself. The city’s base self was laid bare.

The Ending / The Power of Ideas and Growing Beyond Self – I felt this was done beautifully. Gordon realizes the child he comforted whose parents were shot (Bruce Wayne) became Batman, his friend and ally. Blake becomes the new Batman as he realizes the structures of Gotham are ones he can’t work with and he sees the corruption that Gordon saw but chose to work within to change and Selina and Bruce transcend their past identities becoming fully free…off the radar and the map and free to be whatever they want to be. Batman becomes Bruce Wayne which can hold both identities and more. Alfred get’s his happy ending finding that Bruce found happiness too.

Okay: The Writing – There are awkward dialogue moments and some extremes that shouldn’t have been in here (Batman having no cartilage in his legs, and his “retirement”), but the strengths of the characters and other moments like any moment with Alfred or the fight with Bane elevate it. So I’m putting it as okay.

The Cons: Talia’s Death – This wasn’t done well. She didn’t have to say anything…we knew her father’s dream was done if the bomb went off.

Dialogue Moments – There are some awkward dialogue moments in this…for example in the finale fight as Batman and Bane stare awkwardly at each other. It is stilted, but once they get fighting it is fine. There are other moments of wooden dialogue too, luckily they are only moments and not consistent.

   This is a film that ends the Trilogy really well. Batman moves on and at the very least becomes International. This film captures the idea behind “Batman Inc.” in many ways as we see him abroad but setting things up for Blake to inherent the mantel of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is both Batman (fixing the Bat Light) and Bruce Wayne (his living openly abroad). This is something he never had in any of the past films. Bruce Wayne was only Batman in the past films as he was unable to live beyond his obsession. It is only in realizing that Gotham will always have problems and need protecting but that can happen and he can live too. He takes Alfred’s advice and stays true to himself. In that way Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne who inhabits both identities can rise and there is something beautiful in that. I get why people hate it, but our heroes shouldn’t stay static. Let Bruce Wayne grow as all characters should so he can be more than just the traumatized child lost in fear. Bruce Wayne deserves better than that and this Trilogy is his story, his growth, his rising.

Final Score: 9.9 / 10

Brick Mansions (2014): A Decent Action Film Remake That Calls for Revolution

Brick Mansions poster

  “Brick Mansions” is a film that manages to beat the film it’s based on (“District 13”) in some ways, while failing in others. It manages to bring the feel and call for revolution that I never got in the original and it also humanizes one of the antagonists, and it is handled, fairly well. This was one of Paul Walker’s last films too, before his tragic death. It also stars David Belle, who was one of the main protagonists in the original French film.

    The film was directed by Camille Delamarre and written by Luc Besson while being produced by Claude Leger and Jonathan Vanger.

    The film takes place in Dystopian Detroit where Brick Mansions is a walled off zone from the city. When a bomb is captured by the Kingpin Tremain (Rza) it is up to undercover cop Damien (Paul Walker) to stop him. He must depend on ex-convict Leno (David Belle) to help him though as Leno knows the city and is trying to save his girlfriend from the Kingpin.

The Pros: Dystopian Detroit – Dystopian Detroit was a great location to choose, especially how the city is growing to that point now with so many industries having moved out and no new ones coming in. The location feels real for this reason.

Tremaine – This Kingpin does a lot of things the original does (kidnap Lola who is Leno’s gf and has the bomb). The difference in this one is he figures out he was being used and realizes that shooting the city isn’t going to solve anything, it will just make the city hate them. He ends up winning and in the end is able to run for Mayor of Detroit after the corrupt one is revealed for trying to destroy Brick Mansions. Rza is awesome.

Leno – Leno is great, just like in “District 13.” He’s a character who is smart on his feet and quick and is evenly matched with Damien as well as being a man trying to make up for the career in crime he lead before. i wish we’d gotten more but David Belle gives him good characterization at least.

Damien – Paul Walker is a good actor is what this film showed me. He has charisma and can play the tough guy as well as someone who can show sensitivity and awareness. Seeing him in action as Damien the cop was great as well his turnaround when he realizes the Kingpin and Leno are right and he is being used by the mayor.

Call for Revolution – The call for revolution is powerful as the film calls out recognition of those who have nothing as the people from Brick Mansions raid City Hall and reveal the Mayor as a fraud, it’s powerful with Tremaine running for mayor showing that change and revolution can happen.

Calling Attention to Social Ills – District 13 and Brick Mansions (the locations) call locations to racism and classism and how certain groups (usually of African Descent) are put into areas where there is no education that is granted

The Cons: The Mayor – He’s a weasel who gets zero development. What was his motivation beyond racism and classism?

Tremain’s Second – She’s the one who takes on a lot of the creepyness the Kingpin does in “District 13” as she is the one tries to rape Lola and imprisons her to the rocket and is her constant abuser. She ever turns against Tremaine at one point. She is antagonistic and has no depth beyond that. I wish her motivations had been explored.

Lola – Lola is a cipher, which is a shame as her character was pretty awesome in “District 13” as she fought everyone around her. Here she fights Tremaine’s second but isn’t given much to do beyond that. We never get her motivations anywhere or why she was with Leno, which was a shame and showed the major lack of character development on the writer’s part.

  This was a solidly good film but not great, much like the original French Film “District 13” there are inklings of greatness there but due to underdevloped villains and characters, the story never quite reaches that final point of great. It is still worth checking out, and as someone who has watched none of the “Fast and Furious” films I appreciate Paul Walker’s acting from this. I’d also like to see Rza and David Belle in other films as well. There is talent in this film it just was never fully utilized.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 5, Episodes 2-6 – “Revolution on Onderon Arc” – The Process of Rebellion

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  The “Revolution on Onderon Arc” is a pretty good arc. I am pretty annoyed at the character of Lux at this point as I never understood the romantic tension he had between himself and Ahsoka, it felt tacked on, which is a shame as if his character could develop more outside of that he isn’t that bad. The side characters in this are great though!

  “A War on Two Fronts” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Chris Collins who wrote for all the episodes in the arc. “Front Runners” was directed by Steward Lee, “”The Soft War” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and “Tipping Points” was directed by Bosco Ng.

    The story involves the Jedi Council sending Jedi advisers to Onderon to train the rebels of Onderon who are fighting against their corrupt King who joined the Separatists in order to reinstate the old King. From here they must train the Rebels in the art of fighting while staying out of the conflict itself.

The Pros: The Politics – The fact that the Republic is involved via the Jedi but in a manipulative way is really interesting and shows that even they are playing with the definition of neutrality (though Anakin is for more overt involvement though he toes the line later). It’s fascinating as well as the rise of the rebellion in popularity and how they go about doing that, the military’s relationship to the people and the past versus the current King.

The Kings – Ramsis supports the will of the people but not a violent uprising until he sees that the Separatists will go to any ends under the once idealistic King Sanjay who usurped him. They have an interesting relationship as they are nobility so they respect each other.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka must be an observer though she nearly gets involved when the Rebels are about to be executed. In this she is torn for her feelings for Lux and friendship with the group and her role as an observer Jedi. It isn’t dealt with fully but for what they did with it was decent.

Obi-Wan and Anakin – These two are two perspectives. Obi-Wan for as little involvement while Anakin wanted full action initially. This leads to them getting weapons to the Rebels via Hondo when Anakin’s perspective wins out. He also warns Ahsoka about personal feelings as he probably realizes how much his relationship to Padme has cost him in regards to being a Jedi too.

Hondo – Delivers weapons to the rebellion in a really cool way, the fact that Obi-Wan and Anakin want him to keep it on the down low makes it even more entertaining and you can tell how much Hondo loves having a favor over the Jedi.

The Rebels – The rebels are decent (Lux) to great (Saw and Steela) I will go into them individually below. The leader of the military joins the revolution too when the Separatists kill King Ramsis too.

Saw – Saw is angry and the assumed leader of the group and has a major indepedent streak. He is brother to Steela who becomes leader and we see that he believes so strongly in the revolution he turns the General serving King Sanjay.

Steela – Steela is the revolutionary who defeats Sanjay’s and the Separatist forces, though she dies in the process. She goes from a sniper, to the rebel leader to finally the head general of the rebellion. She’s a great character and is the calmest who can see the long game. Only issue was her jealous of Ahsoka in regards to Lux and her relationship.

Rebellion process – First was being able to fight back and building a base, next was attacking a major target to rally the populace and finally fighting with the populace against the oppressive force. I really liked how they did it these episodes.

Okay: Lux – Lux is there primarily as a relationship foil for Ahoska and Steela and for being inept and being the political one, in the end he decides that Onderon should join the Republic, which wasn’t a surprise given he does tend to go with what profits most in the end.

I really enjoyed this arc and liked that it had stakes, Steela’s death actually meant something and in the end things aren’t clear as Lux’s initial assessment about the Republic and the Separatists both being corrupt was spot on. Onderon may not survive the coming Empire.;

Final Score: 9 / 10

Battleship Potemkin (1925): The Russian Revolution Idealized

Battleship Potemkin

 

“The Battleship Potemkin” is a silent propaganda film about the Russian Revolution against the Tsar. It is based around the events of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 on the ship but is turned into a metaphor to represent the underclass versus the privileged class of the revolution. It is great? I don’t think so, but it isn’t bad either. I’ll explain what I mean when we get down into the assessment.

The film was directed by S.M. Eisenstein, written by N.F. Agadzhanova-Shutko, Sergei Einstein, Nikolai Aseyev and Sergei Tretyakov and produced by Jacob Bliokh.

The premise is the people are angry about the corrupt Tsarist regime and the sailors on the Potemkin are feeling the same way. After the Admiral’s doctor says the meat does not have worms in it (when it clearly does) it sparks a mutiny which sets things in motion against the Tsar and his regime.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The music for “The Battleship Potemkin” is stunning. It is classical and is good at capturing the emotions behind certain events, such as the Massacre at Odessa or the mourning of the rebel leader Vakulinchuk. It was the music that kept me watching more than anything else. Edmund Meisel and Vladimir Heifetz did a wonderful job.

Cinematography – The cinematography is really good, especially for the time period. The Massacre at Odessa is shot using a long shot and truly captures the loss of life and the tragedy of the event.

Massacre at Odessa – In Odessa the Tsar arrives with his troops and begins slaughtering the people, who at this time have killed some of the Jews (the fact that the film doesn’t show this as wrong is a major point against it, screw Anti-Semitism). Ending with a mother holding her child that was slaughtered by the troops who is slaughtered in turn. The old women begging for the fighting to stop are also slaughtered by the troops leading the Battleship Potemkin to fire on the palace.

One Against All – This is a great scene. In a silent film without any color, the flag on the ship still shows itself red symbolizing the struggle and cost to be free. There is a showdown between the Potemkin and the Tsars fleet but due to the sailors on the other vessels the ships change sides ending the standoff (which has great building tension) with victory.

The Message – If those without power stand together, you will be victorious. There will also be much sacrifice for it to happen in the first place, but one person’s sacrifice can lead thousands to action (the death of the Revolutionary). These were the major themes which capture the idea of revolution and we how we as a society idealize it, really well.

Okay: The Mutiny – The mutiny is chaotic and there is some setup at least. From the Doctor saying the wormy meat is good to eat, from the Admiral calling for those who did not eat the meat to be killed and of course the fight itself. The problem is we don’t really know any of the characters. Everyone is ideas, which in my opinion doesn’t make good propaganda. Shouldn’t I care about the characters? If I don’t know them as people it is kind of hard too. I see their struggles but I have no idea what they care about since what they want in regards to revolution is always defined in the most general and vague sense. Still good action keeps it from being a con, but the events on the ship are some of the weakest parts.

The Cons: Mourning the Martyr – This scene dragged on for a really long time and I had no idea why so many random people cared about him. We never saw him interact with them so there was no reason for it. He had a nice mustache I guess? When the mutiny occurred on the ship there were a few people doing action. It never appeared that he was all that in charge. Which maybe is a point too, you become greater than your role as people turn you into more than you were…the Science of Martyrdom.

Anti-Semitism – One of the first things that happens is the villagers turn on the Jews. This is hateful, makes no sense and the one Jewish character we see is presented as a suited, arrogant businessman. What the hell? If this scene had been presented as the mob being imperfect and the act being wrong (hell even a sign of things to come with the Revolution’s success) it’d have a point beyond just anti-semitism…but it doesn’t and it really hurts the film. It’s like black-face in the old Hollywood films. Sometimes peoples hatred and ignorance is just disgusting.

This is very clearly a propaganda film, which hurts the quality of the film since the characters are just ideas and not people, the anti-semitism really brings the film down since it shows from the beginning how stupid the mob and can be and since this is propaganda, the mob is in the right…and no matter how good the soundtrack, Massacre at Odessa and and cinematography are, it is not enough to save this film.

Final Score: 6 / 10. It’s a piece of history with some good visuals and music, but not much else beyond the idea of what Revolution is, not the reality.

First Revolution Week

liberty

This week we’re going to change themes and cover revolution. Revolution is a radical change that happens within a state, culture, nation or society and more often than not involve great sacrifice.

Revolution also, is not always good, though is almost always based in an idealism of wanting to change things for the better. This is one thing all revolutions have in common – they are answering some lack of power a group feels and doing something about it. Doing something about it, most often means violence but that is not always the case. Many revolutions come from a place of civil disobedience and peaceful protests that through the virtue the act reveal the vice and corruption of their enemies or the idea they are fighting against.

For this week, starting today, we are going to cover the films “Battleship Potemkin,” “Brazil,” “Doctor Zhivago.” and “To Live.” In future Revolution Weeks we’ll be covering other films and other types of revolutions.

So without further ado, to to life, liberty and art!

Persepolis (2007): A Masterpiece on Revolution, Family and Identity

Persepolis Poster

“Persepolis” is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. It captures Marjane Satrapi’s experiences of the Revolution in Iran and growing up abroad so powerfully while at the same time remaining a powerful story. The film is not as good as the graphic novel, which might have been due to time constraints, but it does captures the essence and the major arcs really well, as well as the important characters who were a part of Marjane’s life. Suffice to say, I really liked this film and will explain in more detail further down. The film itself is a French-Iranian animated film that takes inspiration and story from the Graphic Novel of the same name.

“Persepolis” was directed by Marjane Satrapi who also co-wrote the screenplay and of course the original novel. The other director was Vincent Parannaud who also co-wrote the screenplay. The producers were Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antione Robert and Kathleen Kennedy.

The story begins with an older Marjane waiting at the airport and remembering her childhood in Iran.  From here we have a flashback and see young Marjane’s childhood as the Revolution is occurring in Iran to overthrow the Shah. From here the story unfolds as her family is filled with hope and promise that soon turns to fear when the religious take over and begin instituting harsh laws. The story follows the rebellious Marjane and her story in Iran and her reasons for leaving and later returning. r

The Pros: The Premise – Marjane’s story is fascinating at it covers a country in transition (Iran during the Shah and after under the Ayatollah) and it’s from the perspective of a little girl all the way to adulthood. From this we get the experience of a new view of the west from her time in Austria and also of Iran after she returns as an adult. There is so much here that is amazing, just like the graphic novel and most of it exists in the premise, her story and autobiography.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is minimalist and is all the stronger for it as emotions are conveyed in perfect timing as the music matches up with the animation. Olivier Bernet is fantastic!

The Animation – The animation is all hand drawn and is some of the best animation I have ever seen. It looks like the graphic novel while still holding a unique style all it’s own. Even if the story wasn’t as great as it is, I would recommend this movie for the soundtrack and art alone.  Je Suis Bein Content, Pumpkin 3D and what they created in Perseprod Studio, who was behind the animation.

Revolution – We see prisoners freed at the fall of the Shah and the hope for a new tomorrow, and also the rise of the Ayatollah and how the revolution is lost in how a new oppressive regime arises. It’s powerfully executed through Marjane and her family’s eyes.

The Iran-Iraq War – We see the cost of war in this as Marjane returns to her old home and sees a hand of a person crushed beneath and building, the building her parents could have been in. The human cost is a constant reminder in this, from a childhood friend who lost the use of his arm and leg, to the fear of trying to change the current regime because the country is tired of war and fighting. War breaks people and nations. We also see the corruption of the Western nations who funded both sides in the conflict.

The Characters – Most of the named characters, especially Marjane’s family members have fascinating back-stories and characterizations. I’ll get into the reasons why next.

God – The best minor character who isn’t a family member is God who is portrayed as a great bearded man who talks to Marjane as Marjane is his prophet. He is a very Deistic God as he points out that the sufferings that were caused were humanity and not him. In that way he is there to comfort but never to do anything, beyond sending Marjane back from depression to face the world.

Uncle Anouche – Uncle Anouche is the communist who was arrested by the Shah when he tried to return to see his family again after hiding in the Soviet Union. He was in prison and tortured for 9 years and after being freed connects with Marjane and gives her hope of the world that could be. He’s the idealist which makes the rise of the Ayatollah and loss of an actual Republic all the sadder as he tries to justify it as “The common folk need religion, they’ll come around, this regime won’t be corrupt.” Only to find himself executed later. He represents the loss of freedom best as he was the one who was always struggling for it. Iggy Pop played him in the English version of the film and did a good job in the role. In the story he is the reminder of the work still to be done and the willingness to stand up to tyranny for liberty and freedom, which Marjane does on a few occasions.

Father – Sean Penn voices the Father, who at the core is the man also hoping for a brighter future, but also aware of the past and how his ancestor was executed for being a rival to the Shah before the British put the Shah in power. The Father is aware of both his own nation’s corruption and how the west has been a part of it…whether providing weapons to Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War or hoisting up the Shah. It is thanks to him that Marjane has skepticism in Europe, which is healthy. One of the themes is to always doubt and question.

Mother – Mother is voiced by Catherine Deneuve and is the voice of practicality. For her there isn’t’ time to resist oppression. The most a person can do is put their head down and get out if they can and have a chance to live elsewhere. She doesn’t like the status quo but feels powerless to stop it as she has lost family to both the Shah and the Ayatollah. This keeps her with so much sadness and why at the end she asks Marjane to leave Iran and never return until they are free. Her story is one of tragedy that she never truly gets to be with her daughter for any extended period of time, thanks to the oppression that she experiences.

Grandmother – Grandmother is one of the best characters in the film. She’s been divorced and remarried and expresses her perspective no matter who it may turn others off. She calls out Marjane for throwing a stranger under the bus so the police wouldn’t do anything to her, she reminds Marjane to stay true to herself and to live with integrity and she supports Marjane’s childhood dream of being a Prophet of God. She is one of the most revolutionary characters because she lost her husband to the Shah and about as far from Fundamentalist Muslim as you can get. She drinks, she has fun and she speaks truth to power. I completely get why Marjane idealizes her and I think she is a character worthy of that. The film ends with her death, again showing the tragedy and how oppression kept her from her hero and that in Grandmother’s lifetime she was never able to live in a free country. Gena Rowlands is fantastic!

Marjane – This is Marjane’s story and it is powerful as it explores all of her struggles. From her experiencing the Iran-Iraq War and the fall of the Shah, to the rise of the Ayatollah’s fundamentalist religious regime and all the religious laws that were brought about to her experience in Europe where she lost her homes because of how she resisted and because of how lost she was in trying to find her identity as an Iranian and also as someone who had spent so much time growing up outside of Iran without her parents. “Persepolis” is her answer to that and in it we see first hand her finding and accepting all the different parts of her identity and in turn becoming whole even after losing her home (Iran), family and husband in a divorce. She is able to accept herself and grow and the film shows this beautifully. Chiara Mastroianni does a wonderful job as grown up Marjane while Amethyste Frezignac does a great job as her childhood self.

The Messages – The Messages are powerful in this film, just like the Graphic novel, with the strongest being “Be true to yourself.” There are also the themes of “Remember where you came from,” and that oppression everywhere is unjust.

Marjane leaves Iran again because Iran is not free and her parents are still trapped there at the end, but want her to go after everyone she has lost to the oppressive regime. This sadness is a call for reform…the ending has a broken people waiting for change who are tired of the fighting after the Iran-Iraq war and all the political dissidents the Ayatollah’s Regime has killed. No excuses are made for tyranny ever…whether it’s the Shah or the Ayatollah, the forms of oppression as witnessed through Marjane’s eyes are obvious and stark. Another theme is to always doubt and questions which Uncle Anouche died doing until the end.

This ties into the theme of resistance which we see Marjane do on multiple occasions…from the Hijab being a double standard since guys can where whatever they want, to the nuns who got on her case for eating alone or her European classmates gossiping about her behind her back and her calling them out. Resistance is a huge theme of this film.

Okay: The Punks – They are all nihilists and we don’t get to know them like we do in the graphic novel. One of them was also from the Middle East and she never made an appearance leaving only the Western Punks who just hang around and are there to show that apathy is pointless since that is all they are.

The Boyfriends and Husband – The boyfriends and husbands don’t really get explored. They are moments pretty much but we mostly see her reaction to things not working, we don’t get to know them as characters like in the novel.

The Cons: Things Left Out and New Additions – Biggest issue was how some character stories were left out and some reactions to breakups went on a little long.

The animation style is beautiful and dreamlike and the soundtrack contributes to that. I completely get why it was nominated for an Academy Award. This is a film that is timeless and shows such a rich perspective on identity, integrity, justice, war, oppression and family. All these are a part of Marjane and her experiences and she tells her story so beautifully here, even if it isn’t done as well as the Graphic Novel, which you should read by the way. Also, see this film too. Chances are you will learn so much watching this and experience a beautiful story with some of the best music and animation in any film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. Not perfect but a favorite by far.