or “Business Is My Business and Business Is Good… BUSINESS!”
Starring: Ed “The Pianist” Stoppard , Leelee “Joy Ride” Sobieksi
& Jeffrey “Saturday the 14th” Tambor
Directors & Writers: Jamie Bradshaw & Aleksander Duleryan
“It used to be the brands were formed from peoples’ desires. Now it’s the people who are being formed according to the desires of the brands!”
Did you know that, when played backwards at ¼ speed and amplified through a paper towel tube, the popular music song “Band On the Run” contains a repeated line of seeming gibberish? When that gibberish is run through Google’s translation program, first from “German to Icelandic” then “Icelandic to French” then “French to Portuguese” then given to a linguistics professor hallucinating on Absinthe to translate into Colonial American English, the rough result is “Beware Paul McCartney’s army of darkness”. Though most think this to be a warning heralding the End of Days by Sir Paul and an endless horde of unholy supernatural forces, it’s a common misinterpretation. The true translation is “Buy Paul McCartney’s armoires of dark woods”. That’s right, “Band On the Run” is, in actuality, a subliminal advertisement for Paul McCartney’s line of handcrafted cherry wood furniture. They’re beautifully made, sturdy enough to survive an F4 tornado, and heavy enough to crush any masked lunatic who might force their way into your home or office! And this marketing method? Brilliant. Speaking of marketing, let’s review Branded!
As much as I make it my policy not to spoil movies under the 5 year moratorium, I may have to spoil a bit more of Branded than some would like. It’s a fairly complex movie, and taking you from part to part without telling you how exactly we make the progression might just lead to more confusion than entertainment. And in the end, that’s really why I’m here: to entertain you. I’m certainly not here to entertain myself by talking about the movie because, in the words of Columbia (Rocky Horror), “Ha! I’ve seen it!”. I’m also not writing “SPOILER ALERT!” before every key plot point I divulge, so either gird your loins or go watch the movie before you read this. Made your decision? Good. Let’s proceed. Keep your hands in the car at all times. Do not stand up once the ride has gone into motion. Spit out any gum, chewing tobacco, or other potential choking hazards now, as we are not responsible for any fatalities that may occur as a result of rider negligence. Children, pregnant women, people with heart conditions, and the elderly should not be on this ride, so if you’re already here, well, tough shit cuz we’re not stopping it now!
Oh, and don’t misunderstand the title. I thought it sounded like some kind of cowboy version of Hostel too. It’s not that kind of “branded”. It’s a business movie about the powers of marketing.
Wait! I promise it’s not boring!
As a young British immigrant boy in Communist Russia (where Lenin created the idea of marketing via the very branding of Communism), our hero Misha fell asleep one night while waiting in a bread line. During his slumber he was visited in a dream by some strange deity resembling a cow-shaped star constellation. Upon waking from the dream, he was immediately struck down by lightning… FUCKING LIGHTNING! Being the most metal kid in the world, Misha wakes up from Mother Nature’s mighty sucker punch to find the rest of the line jockeys looking on in a combination of shock and not wanting to lose their respective places in said line. An old woman finally comes to his aid though, and portends that little Mish-Mash is gonna have a very “interesting” life. No shit! If he can keep from going into frequent epileptic seizures and wearing his underwear outside of his pants, do you know how much ass a guy who survived being hit by lightning will get in his lifetime?! MAD ASS! Mad. In math terms, that’s at least in the high 30s.
Anyway, to paraphrase that old lady, so begins one of the more “interesting” movies I’ve seen in recent years. Misha grows up (and is now Ed Stoppard) to discover he has a talent for manipulation, or as the white collar class calls it, “marketing”. Upon graduating from college with an all but useless degree in history, and with Communism proving to be a failed experiment amidst the previously united soviets, Misha decided to use his born skill for appealing to the masses by founding his own one man marketing firm. Desperate enough to take mob money to do so, he finds himself in the “uncomfortable position” that everybody who borrows from money handlers of ill repute find themselves in sooner or later. There’s a reason they’re called “loan sharks” and not “cash guppies”. On the verge of getting a lead pipe enema, Mish lucks out when a rep of the US government named Bob (Jeffrey “George Bluth Sr.” Tambor) comes to him seeking someone to advertise for major US companies as they slip their lubed up corporate tentacles into the eager consumer holes of a populace ready to buy blue jeans, Springsteen cassettes, and Star Trek commemorative plates for something more affordable than black market mark-ups. There’s just one thing that Bob asks in return for this exclusive big money contract – a little espionage. Yep, Bob’s bosses in the CIA want Mish to unearth dirt on his countrymen like a proverbial Killdozer-for-hire. In other words, Misha trades one deal with a devil for a contract with another.
As an aside (cuz random tirades are my thing), I know a little something about marketing, myself. You know who the greatest marketing geniuses in history were? The Egyptians. By using a written language that was nothing but pictorials, Egyptians were able to create an advertising method that would maintain throughout the ages, long after their society was consumed by the sands. Seriously! What’s the one advertising method that spans all cultures and breaks the language barrier no matter where you are? Yep, visual medium. Early man tried the same thing with cave wall paintings, but we Egyptians truly mass marketed the idea, to the point that’s it’s one of the most prevalent themes even the most average of average joes think of when you ask them about Egypt. Tell me you don’t look at Egyptian hieroglyphs and get a strange urge to buy laundry detergent or frozen chicken wings. See? Toldja.
Back to our flick-of-the-day, Mish-Mash enjoys a few years of the high life, becoming a big wig in the advertising industry until he makes the cardinal mistake of dipping his pen in the company ink. And by “pen” I mean his ding dong, and by “company ink” I mean Bob’s niece Abby (Leelee So-barf-eski)’s poon pod. Abby’s producing one of those shitty “female beauty is determined by clothing and cosmetics manufacturers” reality shows (i.e. “The Swan”) wherein they convince an “overweight” woman to undergo an extensive series of surgical procedures to unearth the “attractive” person supposedly trapped and writhing for release from underneath her current meat suit of a body. While helping his new girlfriend choose the perfect candidate for said excuse for entertainment, Misha’s plugging of Abby’s baby hole is quickly discovered by Bob in a sitcomian moment or overly coincidental mishappery.thanks to one of those constant Moscow traffic jams. It’s like the LA of the steel curtain. What a country!
In my best attempt to avoid some significant spoilage here, let me just say that a bunch of shit goes horribly horribly wrong for the young, oddly faced, lovers. When I say shit, I mean “Ammut after she ate those laxative brownies I was saving for Seth’s birthday” levels of shit. Said fecal avalanche comes about thanks to a sinister ”marketing guru” named Joseph Pascal (Max von Sydow!), who’s hired by a collective of fast food barons to bring their profits way up by whatever means necessary… WHATEVER means… When the smoke clears from the ensuing debacle Abby winds up forced back to return to the States, Mish abuses his marketing super powers and goes into self-imposed exile over the guilt, and Bob… well… damn it, just watch the movie!
“Six Years Later”, ScAbby returns to the land of (yak) milk and honey (vodka), hunts down Mish-Mash, and finds him tending cows in the middle of nowhere. Being a modern girl, she’s not down on the idea of living with Mish 400 miles away from the nearest wifi source and taking her midnight dumps in a filthy outhouse, so love-of-her-life or no, she’s out of there. After her departure (you’re better off without her, dude), our hero has another weird-ass vision like he did as a lad. In this dream-within-a-dream, he’s told to build a sacrificial altar, find the cow in his herd whose fur glows red in the setting sun, slaughter it on said altar, then BURN the altar, before finally washing himself in the resultant ashes, then wandering off into a field to almost freeze to death. So, basically, he has his own Inception-alized Field of Dreams Screams moment. Shit’s getting’ complicated…
Mishy awakens from his vision quest in the backseat of CrAbby’s car. She went back to try and convince him to return to society one last time, but just kidnapped his unconscious body back to Moscow instead. What if he’d died in her car? Was she planning on having him stuffed so she could keep him forever? Now THAT would’ve been an interesting ending! Instead, we continue on and finally get to the crux of the flick when Misha sees freaky little creatures squirming out of BlAbby’s back. Not just pink elephants and plaid donkeys, but floating parasitic aliens from a circus clown’s fever dreams. Shaking off these living nightmares, we go on to discover Abb’s become a mommy and spawned a brat named Robert since parting ways with Misha… HIS brat… his FAT brat… cuz, you know, StAbby is one of those single moms who’d rather give their kid all the junk food and stupid shiny toys they want rather than have to argue with them and raise ‘em like a real parent. I’ve known a few single moms (and moms who might as well have been single), and at least when it comes to sons, they fold faster than an origami master on a cocaine binge.
While trying to deal with his status as an instant father (and how much the kid’s already been warped by his milksop mommy), mister protagonist sees more of those freaky beasties all around him. Thinking that his noodle’s been overcooked and he’s due for a straight jacket fitting, Mish soon realizes that these otherwise invisible monsters are actually influencing their hosts to indulge in consumerism. Know why little Fatty’s so fat? The deformed sock puppet stuck to his back makes him eat nothing but fast food, and causes him great discomfort if he doesn’t get it. And if you trace these Capitalist parasites back to their source? They’re spawned from GIANT versions of themselves that nest at the stores and eateries that birthed them! Burn down Wall Street! Occupy the strip malls! Kill Ronald McDonald! Insert additional rhetoric to get into hippie girls’ hemp undergarments here!
ShAbby isn’t down with her baby daddy’s insistence on perpetuating his psychosis (or pushing her to the ground in a moment of random hilarity), so she fucks off back to the US of A for a vacation with her butterball in tow, telling Misha not to be there when they get back. Left to his own devices, Mish-Mash decides that the only way to rid the world of these evil creatures and cure himself of these visions is to crush the scourge of Capitalism (that HE helped infest Russia with in the first place) by turning its strongest weapon against it: marketing. Good thing these crazy visions weren’t bestowed upon somebody who sucks at marketing, otherwise this movie would’ve been a lost cause real quick! Unless the hero was Pauly Shore, in which case he’d stumble upon some kind of lucky break, show us all that we should maintain faith is seemingly useless, dysfunctional stoners, and make the world a better place for people to talk like surfer dudes who wiped out on one too many coral reefs… is Pauly Shore still alive? He is. Okay… WHY?!
Despite being out of the game for a few years, Misha’s infamy as an advertising Great White still garners him a client eager to hire our marketing mercenary to make their vegetarian Chinese food restaurant a success in Moscow. Through an elaborate system of maneuvering and manipulation that would leave Gordon Gecko with jizz stains in his $5000 pants, Mish makes the restaurant chain the new czars of Russian fast food. By doing so, he also births them a corporate colossus of their own (a big green dragon), which immediately targets the iconic gargantua of their closest competitor, murderizing it like a Monster Island Curb Stomp. Of course, when you’re a big penis-shaped sock puppet clown balloon, you don’t have much of a chance against the talons and snapping jaws of a fucking DRAGON. Like Mecha-King Ghidorah overpowered on a dozen atomic bombs then descending on Varan… while his back is turned… and after a massive kaiju stroke took away the use of his arms and legs and tail… and he’s forced to spend the rest of his life in a huge wheelchair. Not a Mecha Wheelchair, mind you. Nor a wheelchair that transforms into Jet Jaguar, double mind you. Just a HUGE old wheelchair he found in a dumpster behind the Monster Island Retirement Home. Yeah.
Anyway. successful in his first step of ridding Mother Russia of the Western Scourge, our monster slaying beastmaster of the business world sets his sights on seeing his crusade to the end!
If the movie had just stopped here and set us up for a sequel, I would’ve given it a full grade point higher. I thought this was a perfect place to pump the brakes. Whether we actually got a sequel or not, THIS moment, of Misha standing triumphant over his first foe while a list of his remaining targets stands before him (and with BlandBland Snore-bieski out of the picture), made me want more! It really feels like that’s what it was meant to be made as! Instead, we actually get more, and the movie goes on for 15 more minutes. It works its way to an Occupy wet dream of an ending that just feels so damn “sell out” for such a supposedly “fight the power” flick. Almost like Branded fell victim to the infamous meddlings of the dreaded FOCUS GROUP. Bastards. But, you can’t sell your cause to would-be martyrs if they don’t think there’s a happy ending to the struggle, right? It’s like convincing suicide bombers that there’s some bullshit post-life reward, otherwise they wouldn’t be so eager to kill themselves if there weren’t pearly gates and fields of sex hungry bitches on the other side. Blart.
The Stuff. Now THERE was a brilliant little lampooning on the dangers of commercialism. Great movie. Michael Moriarty. Garrett Morris’s head melt-splodes. Fantastic. Branded has a similar message (in case you haven’t been paying attention), but it gets REALLY heavy-handed with that message. Like, Hellboy’s right hand heavy… cuz it’s made of stone… what the fuck do you mean you don’t know who Hellboy is?! Onto the shame bus with you. As for the rest of you, in addition to Bradshaw and Duleryan dropping their anti-business message on us with the subtlety of an Acme brand anvil (“If it’s Acme, it’s a gasser!”), that message kinda gets confused at the same time. It feels like one big “FUCK YOU!” to the brain washing manipulations of Capitalism, but then it makes sure to remind us repeatedly that branding and advertising was created by one of Communism’s biggest proponents, Vlad Lenin! So… is it pro-Communism and just anti-Lenin? Is it cool with Capitalism business, just anti-advertising? Is it okay with advertising, just anti-OVER advertising!? I don’t fucking get it.
As a message movie, it manages to be both blatant AND confused. As a movie movie, it draws a little long-in-the-tooth for the first 90 minutes, then packs way too much fudge into the final 15. Most critics complained about the low budget computerized mascot monsters. I don’t care. Their cheap-ass look lends them an oddly appropriate, distorted cartoonish look. I’m cool with it. Like I said, circus clown fever dreams. I’m also cool with Ed Stoppard. He’s oddly likeable. I should hate him because he has that doofy pretty boy look, but I don’t. He’s an affable chap. I hate Leelee Sobieski though. Hate her like the coffee table you’re always stubbing your toe on. She’s an imperfect clone of Helen Hunt, and I’m not a big fan of Double H to begin with. I’m not mad about her… not that anyone under 20 knows what the fuck that joke means. Either way, Leelee is Crapcrap and I wouldn’t miss her if she Dieddied. Jeffrey Tambor’s okay. If it’s not “Arrested Development’ or another Saturday the 14th sequel though, I’m not really paying attention. I gotta say, I did like the color composition of the movie. Some people are over the color saturation thing, but it kept my eyes happy. Thanks guys. Tighten your writing style a little and don’t let Mini-Hunt into anymore of your movies and I’ll gladly watch your next feature!
Then again, as Misha says, “We have been trained to love shit. We want shit and shit shit.” Maybe Branded is the 100+ minute wet fart that the critics say it is and I only like it because I’ve conditioned myself to expect the absolute shit of the shit to grace my TV screen. Maybe Branded is garbage and the only reason I like it is because it’s not Ice Spiders or Killjoy or Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula. Or, maybe fuck everybody else and Branded does something different and totally deserves acknowledgment of that. I say that it’s almost guaranteed to become a cult classic, either because the right people will gradually discover it (and each other) over time, or because enough of the wrong people will vocalize their dislike for it that the “I only like what regular people don’t” types (i.e. hipsters) will pick up on it and claim it for their own. I’m really hoping it’s the former rather than the latter, because the only people I hate more than those who dislike movies they’ve never even seen before, are those who like movies just because someone else doesn’t… and Nazis. In the words of Hellboy, “I hate Nazis!”. Two Hellboy references in a single review. Points for me!
One last thing before I go. Another musical secret. Do you know what happens when you play ANY Rob Zombie song at double speed? He sounds like one of the Chipmunks. Try it. It’s adorable. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go order some new furniture… OF DARKNESS!
That’s gotta be the most haphazard opening credits card I’ve ever seen… stellar cast though.
Bob’s face looks like Misha’s practicing his ventriloquist act on him… his hand’s in the guy’s butt is what I’m trying to say.
“I’m sorry you don’t like my face, but I have to keep up with my Helen Hunting in case they finally greenlight a ‘Mad About You’ prequel series!”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but as I’ve told you, I’m NOT an exorcist in real life! There’s nothing I can do for your daughter beyond an autographed Judge Dredd DVD!”
“I’m telling you, I never called the Yakov Smirnoff Hotline! I certainly didn’t spend 47 hours and $390 on it at that!”
High Plains Hipster
That’s easily the laziest attempt at a Wicker Man recreation I’ve ever seen.
Somebody finally found the perfect lighting to shoot Leelee Sobieski in!
Abby finds out why Misha’s nickname is “Snowball”…
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that to a woman, I could retire from this whole reviewing thing.
Yeah, I don’t think Japan has anything to fear from Russia when it comes to the giant movie monster market.
Don’t stare at this picture too long before bed. Trust me. More night terrors than Tobe Hooper’s Night Terrors.
Protestors stormed McDonald’s corporate offices today, demanding that the fast food giant finally make the McRib a regular menu item. Ronald McDonald was violently dismembered. Hamburglar was lynched and subsequently burned alive. The Grimace is still missing…
Anubis will return next time in
“Super Robot Adjective Excitement Perversion Display!”
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