Branded: A Grimm Fable For the Twenty-First Century   Leave a comment

“Even as I speak, the scourge of advertising could be heading toward your town!  Lock your doors, bar your windows, because the next advertisement you see could destroy your house and eat your family.” – Kent Brockman
“We’ll be right back.” – Homer Simpson

Top Line: Branded is the rare kind of movie that you just have to file under “Other”.  Though very funny in places, it is not a comedy; though there are many suspenseful moments, it is neither a thriller or a drama; though there are computer animated monsters; it is not a science fiction film.  It’s odd enough that the trailer above makes it look like some sort of conspiracy or horror movie, which it isn’t (except in the places where it is). 

Who (probably) should see this movie: Font and design geeks, film fans generally, and people who don’t like advertisements. 

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People looking for a calm or formulaic movie that they can veg out in front of and lawyers who work for McDonald’s. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:47m – The movie has a big story to tell and, with one or two exceptions, it moves at an entertainingly brisk pace to get to all of it in less than two hours.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 12min

Rated: R – And for no good reason at all.  A movie like this with an R rating is one of the reasons why people think the MPAA has a political agenda beyond merely letting parents know when there’s boobs and swears.  This is the MPAA’s official line, per IMDb, “Rated R for language and some sexual content".  But there’s only one very brief, very clothed frottage scene in a car and hardly any bad language at all.  Its main threat to young minds would seem to be expressing some rather dark ideas about advertising and consumerism and especially McDonald’s (a big friend to movie studios).  The R is ludicrous here. 

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Ed Stoppard – Leading Man:
    I can’t give a better description of Stoppard’s character than that.  He’s not really a hero, but nor is he an anti-hero.  He’s just the guy with the most lines, but he delivers all of them very well. 
  2. Leelee Sobieski – Leading Woman:
    She’s an ambitious television producer who becomes involved with Stoppard.  Shit gets increasingly crazy from there.
  3. Jeffrey Tambor – Advertising Spy:
    Is enjoyably cynical and corrupt in a minor role.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +2 Movies this strange and well done don’t come out that often.  It’s worth a trip down to the theater.

Final Score: 4

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 There’s no telling if this movie might be a cult favorite ten years from now, but it might.
  • +1 There’s also no telling if Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn are going to keep making more movies that stand out this well, but they might.
  • +2 Unlike so many other independent films, this one doesn’t feel like a studio cookie cutter on a budget.  It’s impossible to think a big studio would ever produce this film.
  • -1 A lot of people are going to hate this movie, and you might be one of them.  Hell, I might be one of them. 

Final Score: 8

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 Sobieski gets to play a believable and three dimensional person.
  • -1 She is more of an observer than a participant later in the movie, though.
  • +1 This movie has only two really big parts, and she got one of them.
  • -1 But it’s definitely the smaller one.

Final Score: 5

IMDb Sez:

Directors:

  • Jaime Bradshaw:
    Total Noob.  Only credited with having written or directed this and a short eight years ago.
  • Aleksandr Dulerayn:
    Has a couple of Russian credits, other than that, also a noob.

Writers:

  • Same as above.

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: N/A Top Critics: N/A Audience: 58%

Notes:

  • It doesn’t really look like it from the trailer, but the creature design is fantastic.
  • For a movie about a world where fat becomes sexier than skinny and the population blooms accordingly, our leads remain real-world fit and trim. 
  • The movie does not disappoint in the surprise department, and the ending is appropriate and no more gimmicky than the rest of it.
  • This is a very strange movie, one that is going to confuse and/or piss off a lot of people, so don’t let the low crowd score discourage you.
  • That said, it may be best to wait for video so you can turn it off halfway through if you find yourself bored and unhappy.
  • At its most basic, the movie is a fairy tale in the oldest sense of the term.  It’s a fantastical folk history, with advertising in place of the usual monsters. 

Bottom Line: I’m actually not sure if Branded is a good movie or not, but that’s because it fits very few preconceived notions.  It is unclassifiable as any common kind of film, and so it may be that, given a second viewing and some time to think it over, I’ll eventually find it lacking.  But I don’t think so.  My suspicion is that this isn’t just a good movie, but a very good movie that falls just short of being outright excellent, like an early Coen brothers picture but without the glacial pacing. 

It is full of clever visual and audio tricks, the script is top notch, and the voiceover narration, which is usually a sign of a weak story, actually fits in well.  A few of the movie’s gimmicks do have the rough feel of an inexperienced hand, and some shots and transitions don’t flow quite the way the movie seems to think.  But those things are mostly minor.  Overall the movie is consistently engaging on every level. 

It is also utterly bizarre, but in a very good way.  The movie opens with an invocation of the supernatural, followed by Ed Stoppard’s Misha as a boy in Moscow.  Out of nowhere, he is struck by lighting, and marked to have an eventful life, which the movie wastes no time in showing us. 

In the present, Misha is a hotshot marketing executive who works for Jeffrey Tambor (who is himself moonlighting for the CIA).  He quickly gets hooked up with Sobieski, Tambor’s niece who’s in Russia for the fun and the money.  From there things shoot through a fake reality television show, a real global conspiracy, animal sacrifice, and plenty more on their way to those computer generated monsters. 

Underlying it all is the idea that advertising and consumerism are irredeemably evil concepts that have mutilated our species and exact a hideous toll we scarcely notice.  And these are not abstract costs or abstract brands leeching off of our shared humanity.  The design people did a great job of creating legally distinct but clearly evocative brands (there are stand ins for Apple, Microsoft and seemingly dozens of others), so when McDonald’s (played here by “The Burger”) starts to infect people with invisible, belching parasites, the movie isn’t exactly being subtle about its points.  On the other hand, it also plays a number of less blatant notes, including the idea that advertising is ultimately Lenin’s(!) most lasting curse on the world. 

Any film messing around with ideas that far outside the mainstream almost has to reach for the kind of visual flair and satirical absurdity that Branded relies on a bit too much, but the movie is redeemed by not taking itself too seriously and by having a great deal of fun at everyone’s expense.  At least, I think it is.  I reserve the right to decide that this movie is just so odd that I’m too puzzled by it after one viewing to realize that it actually sucks.  But it is easily original and distinct enough to merit a repeat viewing and further consideration at some point, and that’s a compliment that very few movies earn. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Branded:

[Note: Was a couple minutes late to the theater, so I probably missed a few of these.]

Cloud Atlas – The Wachowskis have made precisely one good movie and several terrible ones.  This leans more toward terrible, but it’s odd enough that it should at least be worth trying to watch.

Unconditional – It certainly looks like a melodramatic racial fairy tale, so that’s probably what it is.

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted September 7, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Box Score Cinema

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