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.

 

Doctor Zhivago (1965): The Price and Fallout of Revolution

Doctor Zhivago

 

This was a pretty amazing film, that made me very interested in reading the Novel of the same name that inspired it. We continue Revolution Week with “Doctor Zhivago” which covers era of the fall of the Tsar and the Russian Revolution and the purgings that happened after, as well as the cost of all of this on the common person.

“Doctor Zhivago” was directed by David Lean, written by Robert Bolt, produced by Carlo Ponti and based off the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak.

The story begins with Lieutenant General Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness) who is looking for the daughter of his half-brother Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) whose poetry has no become famous in the Soviet Union. Tonya (Rita Tushingham) does not believe she is the daughter of him since she never knew her father leading Yevgraf to retrace Yuri and her mother Lara’s (Julie Christie) story in the leadup to the Revolution and all that happened after.

The Pros: The Setting – The backdrop of World War 1 and the Russian Revolution is a fascinating time, especially since this film goes in depth into how no one was really safe after the Revolution and the cost of change and what it did to families.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography is gorgeous. There are lots of long shots, very reminscent of films like “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus” it also gets personal too in small spaces and does some fascinating shots where it will be in the room and then go full shot through the open space in a foggy window. It truly is masterful.

The Soundtrack – Maurice Jarr did an amazing job on this soundtrack! Classic instruments like the Balalaika are incorporated in and it can big and epic as well as sad and personal. It feels large and captures the scale of the story really well.

The Characters – The characters in this are all rich, no one is static and everyone is changing as the nation changes from the Revolution. The one constant is suffering and how it shapes the characters and their relationships to one another.

Victor – Victor represents a lot of what is wrong with people, but especially among priveledged men. In the first scene we see him in he is creepily hitting on Lara and later rapes her on the way back. From here their relationship is one of her being afraid to tell her fiance and after a failed suicide attempt in which Yuri saves her life she decides she will use the gone Pavel gave her from a rally to kill Victor. The killing is not successful and we don’t see him for some time. When he returns he is in the Russian Government and offers to give Yuri and Lara a way to escape. They finally take him up on it but at this point Lara is no longer his slave and all attempts he has to act as if he owns her are shot down. Her trying to kill him was freeing herself of his toxic control. I hated this character and wish the gunshot had been successful in murdering him. Rod Steiger does a great job playing this unlikable man who only sees people in how they will benefit him and has no ideals beyond his own desires.

Pavel – Pavel is the idealist who becomes a “Hero” of the revolution after he gets a scar on the front in World War 1. He becomes a cold man and leaves Lara behind since he never forgave her for the affair with Victor (which shows that coldness that always existed from the beginning, she was raped multiple times by Victor). He meets Yuri at one point when Yuri and his wife Tonya are making their escape with their son and Alexander. They talk and he lets them go and we see how paranoid he has become and that his idealism has turned into tyranny. “The Russian cannot afford a private life. That era is over.” He is all about duty and the party and nothing else. The hero has now become the villain.

Alexander -Alexander is Yuri’s adopted father and a good man. He is there for Tonya the most as Yuri is very soon obsessed with the injustice around him and Lara who he served with at the front. He is a good man and has the most difficulty adapting to living poorly as he was once a very rich man before the Revolution. As Yuri becomes more involved with Lara it is really Alexander who is there to take care of Yuri and Tonya’s family and shows that he is a good guardian and Grandfather. Ralph Richardson is wonderful in the grandfather like role.

Tonya – Tonya is a very passive character who has great moments of power. For example, we learn she saved power in the shared apartment by turning it on only when Yuri was home because she knew how much he liked it. We also see it in how she tries reaching out to him, even ifs he gets nothing in turn. She is a good mother and even respects Lara, who she learns was Yuri’s mistress. She never sees Yuri again as her, Alexander and Yuri’s son escape to France. Geraldine Chapline is fantastic.

Lara – Lara is the tragic character for much of this story. Whether it’s her husband leaving her after finding out about the affair and never returning back as he becomes the “Hero” of the revolution and even that coming back to bite her when the Party turns against him and her association with him being dangerous…her rapist still being alive and still having power even until the end, though at that point she had boundaries he could not cross thankfully and of course losing Yuri after he is picked up by some Red Guards to hunt for Whites and rebels in the country. She is able to care for their daughter though and is one of the strongest characters in the film…from living alone, to trying to kill Victor and living in exile raising their daughter. She is extremely well rounded and has a good heart as seen by her devotion to the wounded when her and Yuri were serving at the front as Doctor and Nurse. Julie Christie gives a lot of depth to this role.

Yuri Zhivago – Yuri is the Doctor Zhivago of the title and is a very flawed but overall good person. He was raised by Alexander as he lost his family and saves Lara’s life when she attempts suicide. He isn’t the idealist, he just wants to live and this causes conflict as he still wants to be treated with dignity. This leads to trouble when he returns from the front and the party begins noting his attitude as a problem. His brother Yevgraf convinces him to run away which builds his relationship with Alexander and Tonya as well as their son, but once he reconnects with Lara that stops as his second life takes control until he is kidnapped and conscripted to be a doctor the Reds. He eventually escapes and meets Lara again and after helping her escape decides to stay in Russia. He eventually dies when he thinks he sees her as his heart was weak after all it had been through. He has a legacy though as people turn up from all over to honor him as his poetry had grown famous. Omar Sharif does a wonderful job.

Yevgraf Zhivago – Alec Guinness is a truly amazing actor. In this he plays a Bolshevik who is sent to the front to ferment Revolution. He succeeds and is a Secret Policeman and later a General. In each of these roles he knows he does wrong things that hurt others but his connection to his brother leads to him doing good. We see this when he helps Yuri and his family escape from Moscow and later when he finds Lara and Yuri’s daughter. He is at his core a good man and is uncomfortable about things he’s done and that his brother’s work was outlawed for a time…as he sympathized with the poetry and how personal it was.

The Revolution – We see the hope of revolution and the turning point for some characters. When Pavel is beaten he decides that peaceful revolutions will be no more…Sadly this is taken to the fullest degree as his government becomes so oppressive that in the end he becomes a refugee in them. This captures how the ideals of revolution can get lost when new power structures are formed and how those can be abused by any group.

The Message – There are a few messages in this film. The strongest is that Revolution may not always have a good end. Of course things weren’t great under the Tsar, that is obvious, but things aren’t great under the party either. This film captures the loss and price of it and how selfish powerful men like Victor are the ones most likely to live no matter how things change. In counter to that though, good people can change others…as Yuri changed his brother and made him a better person, and it’s implied his poetry changed the nation in small ways making it more open.

Okay: Length – This film is a bit long at times. I think the length was needed but I still felt the length of the production and story.

What Happens in the Present? – What is going on in the present isn’t fully known. All we know is Yuri’s poetry can now be read by all Russians and that the government is more open than it was before…but we only hear about it. We never see it fully but we know because we see it that the trials of the present are much easier than the trials of the past.

This was a great movie and one I would consider a classic. It gives the Russian Revolution justice because it shows us flawed characters who are fully explored in a nation that goes through radical changes. We see people at their most desperate but also moments of tenderness and love. I really want to read the novel now as I was very impressed by this film. If you are looking for a great drama, romance based in history…take a look at this film. I sincerely doubt you will be disappointed. Just know that it is around 3 1/2 hours long, so be prepared. There is a reason that the film has an intermission during it.

Final Score: 9.7 / 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!