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Branded Blu-ray Disc Review

Branded (2012) movie poster Branded

US Theatrical Release: September 7, 2012 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: R

Writers/Directors: Jamie Bradshaw, Alexander Doulerain

Cast: Ed Stoppard (Mikhail "Misha" Galkin), Leelee Sobieski (Abigail "Abby" Gibbons), Jeffrey Tambor (Bob Gibbons), Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Guru's Associate Dupcek), Max von Sydow (Marketing Guru Joseph Pascal), Ulyana Lapteva (Veronika), Alexander Doulerain (Roman Schwartz)

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The dystopic Moscow-based thriller Branded tells the story of an award-winning movie marketer who finds himself overwhelmed by the world's advertising.
The son of a once-Communist British defector, Mikhail "Misha" Galkin (Ed Stoppard) cuts together film trailers usually to strong effect. Despite Misha's accolades, his American boss Bob (Jeffrey Tambor) delays giving him a promised promotion to partner. In defiance of clear orders, Misha enters into a secret relationship with Bob's niece Abby (Leelee Sobieski).

Meanwhile, to reverse declining revenue in the fast food industry, marketing guru Joseph Pascal (Max von Sydow) spearheads a dramatic campaign to make fat the new standard of beauty, as it once was long ago. There appears to be some connection between this grand conspiracy and "Extreme Cosmetics", a new reality television show which Misha and Abby create as 50/50 executive producers. That surgical series lands a chubby contestant (Ulyana Lapteva) in a coma, prompting an outpouring of public response and repercussions for its makers.

Moscow advertiser Misha (Ed Stoppard) gives girlfriend Abby (Leelee Sobieski) a brief history of marketing that dates back to Lenin.

The film only gets weirder from here. After Misha performs some kind of sacrificial slaughter of a red cow, he suddenly sees unsettling giant fish-like creatures floating on the backs of people and others like large Thanksgiving Day parade balloons in the sky attached to buildings. The campaign to make fat, and therefore fast food, desirable again appears to be working and even Misha and Abby have a portly, greedy son.

Troubled by his unshakable hallucinations and a mystery virus, Misha tries to strike back with a negative marketing campaign that raises awareness for a new chain of vegetarian Chinese restaurants.

As is no doubt clear to you by now, Branded is a ridiculous film. Its ridiculousness proves all the more glaring in synopsizing, as you try to find the logic and coherency in its mess of ideas. Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain, the duo who wrote, directed, and produced this film, deserve credit for having ideas. They're just not very good ones. It's quasi-science fiction loaded with social commentary, carrying strong views on marketing (whose invention is attributed to Lenin), fast food, and the malleability of the public.

Marketing guru and fast food industry maker-over Joseph Pascal (Max von Sydow) gives a toast to a job well done. Bob (Jeffrey Tambor) cannot believe how his niece and his protιgι are passing a traffic jam one lane over.

Bradshaw and Doulerain have great difficulty in channeling their criticisms into anything resembling a proper plot. The title bears more relevance to the film than its perplexing, generic home video cover. There are obvious stand-ins for real corporate giants: computer titans Yepple and Giantsoft, soft drink empire Soda Soda, and fast food king The Burger favors a familiar red, yellow, and white color scheme.
The filmmakers seem to be advocating for a society where we are not engulfed by giant billboards fighting for our attention. Their resolution is to rid the world of commercialism. Is this some kind of Communist manifesto? I don't know. But I suspect that whatever it is gets partially lost in translation, as the film was made in Russia, where Doulerain has ten years of producing experience.

You are right to suspect that the filmmakers used to make trailers, at least the American Bradshaw did. You're also probably right to assume that he probably will once again, following the countless failings of this film, which grossed a measly $354 thousand in 300-theater North American release (but a respectable $3.9 million in Russia, around what Taken 2 grossed there). There can't have been huge amounts of money spent on this film; the often hokey visual effects are clearly limited by budget. And there couldn't have been huge expectations in the U.S., where Stoppard is unknown and Sobieski has followed her brief stint of stardom with a decade of mostly terribly regarded movies.

None of that excuses the facts that Branded is a poorly acted and virtually incomprehensible mess. Bradshaw may know how to advertise movies (he's worked on such hits as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Sin City, Cloverfield, and the first two Spider-Man movies and apparently remains the senior VP of Creative Marketing at 20th Century Fox), but he and Doulerain clearly don't know how to make them.

Branded Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($27.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Bradshaw's background in movie advertising manifests not only in the film's themes but also in its design. Branded favors visual variety, changing from its usual 2.40:1 aspect ratio for a prolonged pillarboxed backstory, for instance, and repeatedly making use of random nondiegetic voiceover narration. The Blu-ray's picture quality is generally good, underwhelming CGI notwithstanding, exhibiting nothing worse than slight grain on occasion. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is better, making good use of the sound field for atmosphere and specific directional effects. Some Russian dialogue is translated by burned-in subtitles.

Half of the Blu-ray's marketing for this movie about marketing aims to be clever. Branded's menu, packaging, and trailers are all for you scanning QR codes with your smart phone.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray is light on bonus features, offering little beyond a feature audio commentary by writers/directors/producers Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain.

That screen-specific commentary covers the typical bases, including the title, casting, the characters, the film's look, the editing process, and production challenges. They also discuss filming in Moscow, Russian culture, marketing, feedback they received, and the searches for an all-white cow and a distributor. Bradshaw additionally expresses surprise that people haven't picked up on a subplot's parallels to the circumstances surrounding the Iraq War. While it's not a bad listen, I can't imagine many will want to see this movie again with its makers talking over it.

In addition, we appropriately get two Branded theatrical trailers, each running 2½ minutes and presented in 1080p with full 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound. The first is more creative and the second more conventional, undoubtedly both made under the influence of Bradshaw's ample experience in the field.

Those trailers include near-subliminal smart phone barcodes (officially known as QR codes) that link to videos and the official Branded website, a shrewd tactic/motif not in the film but which carries over to the cover art and the menu, which plays clips in staticky blue video with more QR codes still. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback, but does kindly support bookmarks.

The disc opens with trailers for The Darkest Hour, Source Code, the Total Recall (1990): Mind-Bending Edition Blu-ray, Mimic: The Director's Cut Blu-ray, and EPIX, all of which also play from the menu's "Also from Lionsgate" listing.

There is no slipcover around or insert within the standard eco-friendly Blu-ray case.

You know things are bad when you start talking to your hamburger in Russian. Abby (Leelee Sobieski) finds she has to compete with the hallucinogenic fish-like creature on her back for Misha's attention.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Some outside-the-box thinking went into the writing and filming of Branded. Unfortunately, that only serves to make you appreciate the box. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more conventionally made mainstream film given US theatrical release that is anywhere near as atrocious as this one. I guess it's possible for those who appreciate bad movies to find some enjoyment in this messy blend of conspiracy thriller, visual effects, and social commentary, but everyone else ought to stay far, far away.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: The Other Dream Team • Looper • Following • eXistenZ • Stolen • Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden
Leelee Sobieski: Eyes Wide Shut • ungle 2 Jungle | Jeffrey Tambor: Operation: Endgame • Heavyweights • Win Win • The Hangover
Ed Stoppard: Brideshead Revisited | Max von Sydow: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly • Rush Hour 3
The Darkest Hour • In Time • Skyline • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold • Freelancers

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Reviewed January 12, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Roadshow Attractions, Barbossa, Mirumir, TNT-Broadcasting Network (THT), OJSC and 2013 LionsgateEntertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.