Every now and then, a small indie film will manage to fight its way through the big-budget blockbusters and make its way onto a screen at a multiplex. It's easy to see these small, unknown films in the movie listings and find yourself intrigued by its obscurity and buried treasure potential. Plus, there's no better way to impress film snobs and hipsters than with tales of some hidden gem that no one else has heard of.
Unfortunately, sometimes the risk doesn't pay off. Case in point: "Branded." Instead of tales of hidden cinematic glory, audiences will leave the theater with tales of lackluster romances, strange ancient rituals, evil advertising companies and sinister goop monsters. It's not as interesting as it sounds.
At the center of this bizarre sci-fi thriller lies Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard), a successful Russian advertisement director. With the help of his girlfriend Abby (Leelee Sobieski), he creates a reality TV show about plastic surgery transforming a fat woman into a skinny model. However, the televised surgery puts the woman in a coma, causing Misha to abandon society.
Several years and a cryptic cow sacrifice later, Misha comes back to Moscow only to find ominous blob monsters growing out of citizens and clinging to buildings. It turns out the creatures, made by an evil brand advisor (the legendary Max von Sydow, taking a page out of Ben Kingsley's Book of Horrible Late Career Decisions), compel consumers to purchase advertised products. Misha is the only one who can see these creepy beings, so it's up to him to combat the evil brands and their brand beasts.
I've made the plot of "Branded" sound far more interesting than it actually is. Even with the clown-shaped blob creatures and ridiculous plot elements, writer/director tandem Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulertain present it all with a pretty straight face. Much of the film's first act plays off like a Russian-tinted, uber-melodramatic version of "Mad Men" as Misha attempts to make the cheapest fake movie trailer in history while hiding his romance from his boss, who is also Abby's dad (Jeffrey Tambor, who should have better things to do).
Their relationship â€“ and most of the film's relationships for that matter â€“ consists almost exclusively of heavy-handed, melodramatic conversations about the history and power of ads. Misha, a self-proclaimed historian, dubiously cites Lenin as the brains behind the first ad. There are some interesting ideas in these chats, but they don't belong in the same movie with evil brand blob monsters and lines like "fat will become the new fabulous."
It doesn't help that Stoppard and Sobieski are a remarkably dull on-screen pair, which only makes their off-again, on-again love story more tedious to slog through.
From a technical perspective, "Branded" is a mess. The story jumps illogically from scene to scene, sometimes contradicting exactly what came before. Fantasy elements, such as magical lightning strikes, occur with no rational explanation. Worst of all, several annoying voiceover segments often break into the story to just prattle off exposition. The narrator of these scenes may actually be a cow in the stars.
With elements like star cows and brand dragons, the film is obviously too ridiculous to be taken as a serious drama. However, it's also too dreary in almost every aspect to be fun, as well as too naÃ¯ve and juvenile to be a decent satire. Their childish attempts to poke at massive companies result in turning Apple into Yepple and Microsoft into Giantsoft. See what they did there?
Other parts of "Branded" just flat-out don't make sense. Where did these brand blobs come from? Are they creations from von Sydow's evil brand meeting, or were they there the whole time? These questions are never answered.
Bradshaw and Doulertain, former ad men themselves, clearly have plenty of ideas on the state of branding, and a few of them are even interesting. Unfortunately, the duo suffocates their potential under a pile of other, far less thought-out concepts (i.e. brand dragons). The result is the worst movie I've seen in 2012 and territory even the most adventurous moviegoer should avoid at all costs.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Feb. 10, 2016
Johnny Depp was surrounded by orange people when he played Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Now he gets to play one himself: Donald Trump, in Funny Or Die's faux-biopic "The Art of the Deal: The Movie."
Published Feb. 9, 2016
On the 26th day of the second month of the 2016th year, "Fuller House" will be unleashed upon the human species, and the world will know darkness and despair unlike any other. In the meantime, here's the first official footage of the rebooted sitcom.
Published Feb. 8, 2016
Yesterday, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in what could only be technically described as "a competitive football game." But who actually won yesterday's great American unofficial tribute to commercialism? Here are the real winners and losers of Super Bowl 50.
Published Feb. 6, 2016
Filmmaker Brian Oakes remembers James Foley well, growing up together as friends and remaining tightly knit all the way until Jim's abrupt death. And it's that James Foley - his life, not his death - that Oakes hopes to pay tribute to with "Jim: The James Foley Story."
Published Feb. 5, 2016
OnMilwaukee recently caught up with Milwaukee-born animator Owen Klatte to talk about the making of "Anomalisa," the process behind turning puppets into people, stop-motion sex and the movie's Oscar odds against "Inside Out."
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Are you exhausted by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the media hullabaloo constantly around it? Do you have about ten free seconds of time to waste? Then you might just love TrumpDonald.org.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
Want to know why you crave those cheese curds? According to a recent study from researchers at the University of Michigan, cheese triggers the same part of the brain as several hard drugs do.
Published Feb. 4, 2016
The Milwaukee Brewers are bringing back their postgame concert series with two performances set for the 2016 season: pop star Andy Grammer and country performer Kip Moore.
Published Feb. 2, 2016
By the time I landed in Park City, Utah Friday for the final days of the Sundance Film Festival, most of the party was dying down. However, the important parts - the movies - were very much still in action. Here are the best and worst of what I saw.
Published Jan. 29, 2016
As we speak, my bucket list is in the process of becoming one entry shorter. I am currently on a plane to Utah, about to attend my first ever Sundance Film Festival. And even though this year's festival is reaching its end, the buzz is still high.