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.
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.
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.