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Movie Review: Branded (2012)

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I would like to state that the writing of this review is done purely in the interests of science. Unfortunately a significant number of brain cells have perished in the collective brain of the film’s audience.  Said audience has probably also been left with fractured jaws and messed up hairdos from all the yawning and head banging. I suspect most of them ran to the closest fast food chain to sink their teeth in a juicy burger with lots of ketchup. (The soundtrack to this review is Alanis Morisette’s ‘Isn’t it Ironic?’).

If you didn’t know before, now you do: apparently our world is controlled by a cow-shaped constellation of stars that a) talks, b) moves, c) plants visionaries on this earth blessing them with bolts of good lightning, and d) strikes bad people with bolts of evil lighting when they get out of hand. The starry cow also narrates the most terrible movie of 2012,  Branded, in the most god-awful voiceover in cinema history, because without the added narration it would be completely impossible to sit through the kaleidoscope of inane scenes that the movie is.

The premise

People are idiots. Or zombies. Or mindless slaves. All they do is buy stuff. They buy stuff not because they need it but because the groaning brand monsters, looking like gaudy cheep balloons, brainwash them into buying the stuff. It’s scary. Very scary.

The plot

Misha (Ed Stoppard – why? Oh why?) is an advertising guru who the cow struck with the salubrious lighting rod on the head early in his life, preparing him for a high purpose. He starts working as an advertiser and spy (in the most unexplained plot line ever) for an evil American, Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor). Then Misha falls in love with Bob’s niece, Abby (Leelee Sobieski, sacking her agent right this moment), and they make a reality show called ‘Extreme Cosmetics’ where an overweight woman goes into a coma for beauty purposes (she was supposed to have come out looking like Gisele).  The whole show is actuallya conspiracy of fast food evil people orchestrated by an evil marketer on an island in Polynesia (Max von Sydow, what was he thinking?) to make ‘fat’ the standard of ‘beautiful.’

Poor Misha gets so depressed and self-hating that he flees into the Russian countryside for a simple life of a simple shepherd, part of which is slashing a magic red cow with an axe, burning it, and then showering in its ashes. Because yes, that’s normal.

After he performs this ancient ritual (the voiceover tells us condescendingly because, hey, this movie is so smart it has to explain itself to the stupid, stupid viewers) it cleanses Misha to the point where he finally sees the world for what it is: people with colorful monsters around their necks whispering to them ‘buy that burger,’ ‘and the fries,’ and ‘don’t forget the ketchup’. (All this craziness is interspersed with scenes where Misha and Abby watch the sunrise (or sunset) together because Russians think it is the sign of deep spiritual movement to show characters doing that in movies.)

To battle with the overriding corporations, Misha makes up rumors against competing corporations and trains ‘brand dragons’ to slay the bad burger monsters (and other monsters such as Yepple, Vipsache, Zvezdochka, Roshoz, Monolit, etc). The happy end is that Moscow is virginally ad-free, and you can really see the Stalinist architecture (no, it wasn’t built to intimidate and subdue, not at all).

Shame, oh the shame

Writers-producers-directors Jamie Bradshaw and Alexsandr Dulerayn do a very bad job at everything here. Do they even know of such people as Noam Chomsky and what he has to say about mass media? Have they seen George Romero’s Dawn of the Living Dead? Their amateur efforts are simply insulting to the art of cinema.
The plot bleeds itself to death. The costumes and visual effects are ugly. The story is so idiotic that the narrator has to explain the action to the viewers (screen text and dream sequences also abound). The understanding of social studies and consumer behavior is laughable: just because a model dies of anorexia in Brazil, being obese suddenly becomes popular in their world. It’s also funny how the makers of Branded are so quick to criticize the American marketing model while they conveniently forget that in Russia Ca(CIO)2 is used to wash floors in schools and nurseries, colorants that are banned all over the world are added to food routinely, and asbestos is used in construction up to this day. Look up hypocrisy in the dictionary.

Far away from reality

Ironically enough, Branded is made for an audience of simple-minded commoners who watch television incessantly and become the armchair experts who know everything about everything. This version of society is so far away from reality, it hurts: recent research of consumer shopping patterns shows that people know very well what they are buying, why they are buying it, and are willing to spend hours online doing research to find the best products at the best price. With blogs growing steadily all the time, the trend is only likely to continue, with consumers being at their most educated than at any other time in history. Eat this, Branded – your vision is as obsolete as the world where what was said on television mattered.

Branded is pretentious, self-important and enamored with its own ‘depth’ and complexity. The movie is preachy and condescending. The makers have no idea about tone and atmosphere. What could be a perfect dystopian setting is wasted completely. Don’t believe the reviews that talk about a dark dystopian society: it’s simply not the case. (Even the sunny Upside Down is a better dystopia.) The set looks cheap and you can see the wet paint on the island palaces or the construction fence next to the traditional Russian vodka kiosk (they couldn’t use a dilapidated Russian market for this scene; what’s more dystopian than that?). The painful tone shift from fable seriousness to idiotic jokiness is unbelievable in this day and age.

The jumps from one event to another are horrible. The only laughs are unintentional; the drama is nauseating. The characters are simply loudspeakers for the makers’ ideas and hammer the main points into viewers with everything they do: ‘advertising is in your brain,’ ‘burgers are evil,’ ‘the West will eat you alive,’ etc.

Verdict: Branded wasn’t screened for critics and its marketing campaign was almost non-existent. This is not because it follows its own guidelines of banishing advertising for its evilness. It is because Branded is delusional, ugly, ideological crap. My heart bleeds when I see projects like this get funding. There are talented people in cinema who need that money. Step away. Go work at a burger chain.

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About Sviatlana Piatakova

  • Ford_Prefect313

    Dear god. I was made to sit through this hot mess. I wish I would have broken my jaw by banging my head SO I COULD HAVE LEFT THE ROOM. This movie couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. It was humorless, though my movie snob friends laughed their heads off. The stupid faux monsters and the dumb love plot….it jumped the shark when a brat is introduce. This is just all sorts of gross.

  • Thanks for your comments, Companyofthree… I really don’t see how you can argue against the points of consumers being smarter where everywhere you look you can get books and articles on exactly how branding, marketing and promotions work – with all the tricks exposed. i cannot be responsible for people who wanna drink Pepsi cuz Beyonce advertises it, despite the fact that they KNOW they need H2O to sruvive and not a bunch of colorants, preservatives and sugar… Please do not tell me people don’t KNOW they need WATER not soda, it is absurd. The fact that they are slaves to the system and willingly agree to be manipulated is a completely different matter. P.S. love Beyonce, never tried apple/starbucks

  • CompanyOfThree

    This review sounds like it was written by someone who is indeed being controlled by brands. I mostly take issue on how you tried to make a point that consumers are no longer as ignorant as they were before. You are very far from the truth. People continue to buy broken, unusable, OR even dangerous projects for no better reason than the brand itself. Marketing is a thriving competitive business and the people behind may very well be evil at the core. Think of that the next time you buy a starbucks coffee or an Apple product that function no better than its competitors’. You make something flashy enough and the fish will take the bait. You also need to make a better check on your statistics. The consumer is not always so pleased. The film was terrible though,Ill give you that.

  • AnonAnon

    It’s ok Sciatlana. You need intelligence to understand what this movie is about. I can easily understand why you missed such vital points, like the Communism, and how Misha and Bob were not just normal marketing agents, but GOVERNMENT AGENTS. This movie wasn’t about one mans fight on the capitalist world, it was about one mans fight to make everyone equal (Lenin). This movie is about the atrocious nature of human beings to succumb to anything that has a “brand.” Instead of just being thankful for the things that we DO have, we constantly want more. In a communist society, the only brand the people care about, is the government. When Misha states that Lenin was the first true marketing agent, he’s not entirely correct, but he’s not far off either. Lenin’s advertisement campaign to unite his people was ingenious, and developed on a scale never before accomplished, and it was this success that Misha admirably tried to gain in his own life. Realizing the error of his ways, after years of solitude he came back to destroy the same beasts he helped create.

    This is a deeply thought out movie. It’s not for most people because simply put, they’ll be to dumb to understand it. Due to the branding they’ve already been exposed to. Think out side the box. You want to know a good review of this movie? Watch it yourself.

  • and your point is to come here from nowhere and write a nasty comment? some of us have a life )))

  • manufacturedconsumer7867

    you’re so wack Sviatlana