DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Branded, Blu-ray (2012)

I'm undecided whether this is an outrageously pertinent film or pure drivel.

Published on January 13, 2013

Branded, Blu-ray (2012)

Cast: Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, Jeffrey Tambor, Max Von Sydow, John Laskowski
Written, Produced & Directed by: Jamie Bradsaw & Alexander Doulerain
Studio: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate [1/15/13]
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic/enhanced 1080p HD
Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Commentary track by Writers/Directors, Trailers
Length: 106 min.
Rating: ** or ***** (unsure…)

“Unlock the truth behind the conspiracy” is one of the headlines of this most unusual film, billed as a sci-fi thriller, but I really don’t see much sci-fi about it. I can’t decide if it’s a perfect iconoclastic attack on the evils of advertising and capitalism, or if it’s a mess. It does take place in the near future, in a dystopian society in Moscow controlled by mega-brands. Some have seen its similarity to the ideas of The Matrix, John Carpenter’s They Live, and the French 99 Francs. And others think it is completely misunderstood by most viewers and its originality could be compared to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. (In which Tom Stoppard was involved, this film stars Ed Stoppard; connection?)

Max Von Sydow plays a mega-marketing genius who foresees saving the slipping fast food industry by advertising and reality shows that make being fat the desired goal for everyone. He will start with Brazil, Kenya and Russia, and later expand to the rest of the world. The brands, whose ads are everywhere, include parodies such as “Burger,” and “Yepple.”  One vehicle is a popular reality show on the life of a likable but fat girl. Eventually she is subject to “extreme cosmetics” (plastic surgery), but ends up in a coma following the operation. This turns the populace against the marketers and things begin to go wrong.

The main figure in the film is the advertising man played by Stoppard, who at first profits from the conspiracy, but then sees what has happened and exiles himself to a backward Russian farm as a shepherd. There he stages something that comes to him in a dream: a Taurobolium—a brutal ancient ritual involving slaughtering a red cow, incinerating it in a specially-built wood construction, and pouring its ashes over one’s head. After this, when his lover brings him back to Moscow, he is able to see the supposed “brand creatures” coming out of most people around him, which nobody else sees. This is probably the worst thing about the film, since the amateurish CGI is pretty bad, and the idea seems just ridiculous. From here it gets more and more loose and confusing. He becomes an advisor to a corporation trying to launch a chain of Chinese vegetarian restaurants. He does so by advertising that those who eat hamburgers are dying of mad cow disease, and is successful.

Incidentally, both the Stoppard character (as a child) and the Von Sydow character get hit by lightning; who knows why… The love interest comes from Leelee Sobieski, whose presence makes the film more attractive. She seems a younger Helen Hunt.  The Stoppard character explains to her that Lenin was actually the first marketer, pushing the Soviet idea with top designers, posters, films, etc. (The people eventually had enough of his product though.) Things get pretty outrageous.  But remember, this is Moscow. In the future. And Max Von Sydow is in it. So it can’t be as awful as some say it is. Can it?

—John Sunier




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