Friday, January 25, 2013

Take a chance on BRANDED -- at least it's not your "typical" Hollywood mainstreamer

What an odd combination is the Russian/American movie BRANDED -- a anti-consumerism, fat-is-good/no-it-ain't, sci-fi/fantasy, adventure, thriller, love story, magical-boy-comes-of-age film, and then some! It is so bizarre in so many ways that it reminded me now and again of another bizarro flick that I utterly loved: A Heavenly Vintage. The film has received some of the worst reviews of the year. (This alone should tell you that, despite its problems, it is probably very much worth a look.)

Written and directed by Aleksandr Dulerayn (shown at right), who here is using a slight name change to Doulerain, perhaps to sound more French?) and Jamie Bradshaw (below, left), the movie -- despite being all over the place themati-cally and plot-wise -- manages to speed along surprisingly well. The style is consis-tent throughout, no matter how bizarre become the events shown us. Dulerayn has the longer resume and greater experience in film (this is Mr. Bradshaw's
first try at a full-length movie) so I cannot begin to say who did what or where, but the two have managed to create something original -- if splintered, flawed and crazy. The film begins back a couple of decades, as a lot of people wait on line in Russia, including one young boy who is about to have a surprise adventure with the "elements." The film's beginning introduces a fairy tale quality that the movie never quite loses -- which is just as well, since everything that follows this does so as much on "faith" as on logic.

The movie takes on everything from our consumerist society and the "branding" so popular these days to the need for women to be ultra-thin (and what might happen if society decided to embrace a new-fangled view of the old-fashioned "Rubensesque" beauty, above). All of this is pushed to the fore by the world's greatest mar-keting maven (played by a super-suave Max von Sydow, below).

In addition to marketing, we have romance, car-sex, and maybe a budding love story; there's a little death along the way, followed by a very weird kind of penance/repentance; and finally a transformation of some kind in which only our hero can see what's really going on.

The "reality" of the situation involves a kind of mind-control via creatures that look like really fun balloons (above) that affix themselves to the spinal cord (or anyway, the back of the neck) of individuals, without the person realizing it. The special effects here are completely bizarre -- and unlike anything that normal/boring Hollywood would give us -- which makes them all the more enjoyable and different.

Things percolate and stew until they hit the boiling point, at which the finale becomes one heck of surprise/delight (and looks something like what you see on the poster at top). But what actually happened here? And what does it all mean? Something triumphs, all right, but I'm really not sure what that something is. The great cow in the sky, perhaps? What I do know is that my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves during this wild ride.

The stars, by the way, are Leelee Sobieski (above) and Ed Stoppard (below, and yes, he's Tom's son!), both of whom acquit themselves well, considering how confusing they probably found everything they were asked to do. There is also a nice turn from Jeffrey Tambor (at bottom right, with Stoppard), playing a combo businessman/CIA operative. Or maybe he's not. Ah, more confusion.

OK: Branded is no doubt a failure of sorts, but it is such a goddamned interesting and fun failure that I enjoyed it a lot more than I did something like Argo -- which uses the same old contrivances, coincidences and Hollywood hooey to turn a true story based upon a very funny scenario into a typical piece of mainstream fodder. (Did you know that practically the entire last third of the film -- the much vaunted escape -- was entirely fabricated to "heighten" the suspense. Once the basic structure had been set up, those people got out of Iran without a hitch. Now, what a challenge it would have been to take that story and make something fun and interesting out of it!)

In any case, Branded is available now on Blu-ray (in which it looks scrumptious: this movie must have had a BIG budget) and DVD. Come on, take a chance: At the very least you've got to meet (and mourn -- but don't worry, she's reborn!) that cow. (Or maybe its a bull....)

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