Saturday, September 8, 2012

BRANDED (aka THE MAD COW) (2012)

Not in movie 

The first half of Branded introduces us to Misha Galkin, an advertising genius in Russia set in an undetermined future. Misha falls for his boss’s (Jeffrey Tambor) niece (Leelee Sobieski) and goes into business with her to produce a reality show where a “fat” lady after several surgeries will be madeover into a beautiful “thin” woman. The surgery goes bad, the show bankrupts, the TV audience turns on Misha, sending him into self-exile. Basically, that’s the story so far. That was easy to follow. It’s when he becomes a cowboy caring for a herd (six years later) that the second half of the movie gets weird.

Not in movie either

You see, Misha has a vision about performing a certain rite involving a “red” cow. After the rite, his girlfriend, the niece, Abby, has him in the back seat of her car, apologizing for kidnapping him. The last thing we saw was Misha passing out in the cow pastures. Now we’re back in the city, and it seems that because of Misha’s failed TV Makeover show, the corporations have taken advantage of angry public opinion against “fat” people and have made “fat” the new “thin”. You following?

Anyway, Misha looks at Abby as she apologizes and sees these creatures attached to her head and shoulders, creatures only he can see—get it? Because of the rite. These monsters are colorful balloon-like menaces that look like demons designed by the McDonald’s advertisers by way of Disney—creepy in a cute sort of way. Well, everybody has a monster attached to them, and only Misha can see them. Oh, and everybody is fat. I mentioned that, right? He tries to explain the creatures to Abby who is more concerned that Misha may not be a suitable father for their child (remember, six years have gone by, so guess how old the kid is?). After he tries to knock the monster off her shoulder, Abby mistakes his shoving her to the ground for the act of a lunatic and leaves him, fat son in tow. It is then that Misha figures a way to stop the monsters. Go green!

Definitely not in movie

That’s right. In order to bring down all the corporations (you see, each corporation’s logo resembles each creature), he convinces the country that hamburgers contain mad cow disease (thus the alternate title to the movie). Soon the healthy green food of the Koreans begins to replace that evil red food; we see this in two ways: the red restaurants come down and the green ones go up; and the gray flying demons kill the colorful balloon monsters. Very nice part of the movie, actually. I really thought it was going somewhere at this point because I wasn’t sure if Misha was just hallucinating after eating a mad cow himself. Soon Misha’s on a roll. He brought down the burgers. Cola is next. Then I-Phones. And he’s got a big list on the wall.

Yes, in movie for a few seconds

Let’s just say that things don’t turn out the way Misha planned. And the movie doesn’t turn out the way the trailers painted it either. Hell, I’m not going to lie to you. I liked this mess of a movie. As Shemp of the Three Stooges says, “It’s a mess-terpiece.” The monsters were cool. The overacting was adequate. The mysterious appearance of Max von Sydow is never explained and neither is his disappearance. Jeffrey Tambor’s role is misleading and he too is disappeared. Misha is the only constant, and it’s a treat to see him go from genius to cowboy to crazy visionary to advertising prophet to klutzy dad. At times, the movie seems to be a satire, at other times a science fiction metaphor for propaganda, but the abrupt edits never let the viewer decide just what he’s watching, and just when we think we know what’s going on, bam!, it changes direction again.

I’ve included the trailer below so you can see the highlights. But don’t be fooled. Though all those parts are in the movie, they are not in that order. And the voiceover seems like it came from an educational film from the fifties. But that just adds to the unintended creepiness of this movie. I recommend Branded only for those connoisseurs of bad film. Everyone else, enjoy re-watching the trailer a few times. Those few minutes is as good as it gets.  

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