Sunday, September 21, 2014

C.Y.A. Cover Art: Howard (The Duck)...A New Breed of Hero

As a sneak Preview for the next review, here is some interesting Cover Art used over in Europe.

The background: after Howard the Duck was such a famous bomb, it was retitled (but not reshot) for its European release.  See if you can spot the subtle differences...
Oh yeah, that's a little sad.

Instead of saying 'The Duck,' they just add the tagline instead.  Note the use of big, bright imagery...of everything except Howard himself.

Oh wait- he's there...in shadow.  You can't lie...but you can do your best to make people look elsewhere.

In case there is any doubt to the validity of this, here is another Pic of it (from someone trying to sell it)...
Yep, still ridiculous.

Project Terrible: Laser Mission

Welcome to Project Change-of-Plans, as unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Maynard's choice for me -- Zipperface -- was only available on Youtube...and after multiple attempts on several different browsers, computers, and tablets, and even downloading programs, I couldn't get the darn thing to stop going into freeze frames and silence at about 9 minutes in. Shame, as that one looks really, really cheesy.
So, Maynard's given me a replacement this round: Laser Mission.


Laser Mission concerns a mercenary named Gold, who is hired by the United States to find a scientist and ask his price to defect to America. When the mission goes wrong and the scientist disappears, Gold and the scientist's daughter, Alissa, must track him down and go up against a whole heck of a lot of gun-toting bad guys. There's a subplot of Gold not being sure whether Alissa is who she says she is, but other than that, there's not really that much of a plot here.

This is basically just your average low-quality late 80's action movie. People wouldn't even know about this except that it's one of the unfortunately very few film credits of Brandon Lee, son of the legendary Bruce Lee, who died while filming The Crow a mere four years after this film was released. He plays Gold here in one of his earliest roles.


Laser Mission is...not a very good movie. There was a time I would have called this a truly awful film, but I've seen a lot worse since then. It's watchable, and honestly pretty fun...just that it's also quite a stupid film, existing mostly for the purpose of various action sequences that are for the most part extremely generic. It's a hard film to review because there really isn't much to talk about.


What does it do well...mostly, Brandon Lee. While he's crippled here by some truly stupid and ham-fisted dialog, particularly the film's attempts at one-liners ("I just dropped in to say...bon appetit." "That's Mr. Asshole to you." "Your sense of timing is impeccable. It's just one of the many things I like about you."), it's very clear he's got some charisma, talent, and an ability to handle action scenes that surpasses what this movie throws at him. Look, obviously I'd hate to insult the guy given what I mentioned above, but I'm not holding back because of that...I honestly feel like he did as good a job as anyone possibly could in this film given the material he had to work with. This is a third-rate action movie starring an action star who could be first-rate. It does help the film...just not enough.


As for the rest of the cast, they're mostly okay. Ernest Borgnine shows his face as the scientist, and is rather fun, but not in the movie all that much. The actress playing his daughter, Alissa, is...um...tolerable? She has a habit of kind of raising her voice and screeching a bit in a pretty irritating manner, and makes really oddly sexual faces while driving from time to time. Disturbing.


There's also a couple comic relief characters in the form of two idiot soldiers working for the bad guys...they're not all that interesting and not all that funny. As for our villains...they're villains. They never get any character development outside of being evil, so...I don't have much to talk about.


Laser Mission's plot is, as mentioned, extremely bare-bones. It exists to move you from one action scene to the next. It does a fair job...I can't remember too many plot holes, but that's largely because there basically isn't a plot. It's all basically..."Gold goes here, and oh no, there are soldiers! Bang, bang, bang!" or "Gold and Alissa are driving, and oh no, there are soldiers! Bang, bang, bang, swerve, bang, bang!" You get the idea. There's a couple brief attempts at establishing a relationship between Gold and Alissa thrown in, but they're pretty much forgettable.

Oh, driving...I-I mean, oh, Gold...
And the action itself? Mostly generic and forgettable as well. I can't remember much of what happened in the action scenes...very few things stand out in any way, which is a bad thing and a good thing. There's not a lot of outright stupid stuff that happens, but there's not really much awesome stuff that happens either. I do have to call out one particular fight: There's a fight between Gold and a mercenary that's hunting him in the desert. It's mostly generic punching and kicking, and is notable only for an unusual front-facing neck-break performed by Gold. Does it work that way? I'm honestly not sure. I guess if you got enough rotation it could? It's just weird seeing someone break a guy's neck from the front rather than the back.


You do have to love the super-casual walk Lee gives after he snaps that dude's neck, though. That's hardcore, man.
What is honestly strange in this film is that it stars the son of Bruce Lee, but the majority of the action is gunplay. It's not even martial-artsy gunplay with a lot of stunts...it's mostly just running and shooting in very ordinary style, or firing from moving vehicles. It's difficult to understand why Brandon Lee ended up in this sort of picture, as this has little to nothing to do with martial arts. Not that martial artists have to use martial arts in every picture, but come on, this was one of his first starring roles! You'd think he'd get to kick some fools in the face. Instead, the few unarmed fights he has use much more of a generic brawling style, and are over very quickly. You'd really think they'd throw in one enemy that can go toe to toe with him for a while and get at least one good martial arts fight in the film, but no such luck. It's like they were trying to hide the fact that he's Bruce Lee's kid.


One minor compliment on the action, though: Brandon Lee does a pretty nice job of remembering when he's injured, and acting accordingly. He fights like he's tired at several points, and most notably...

...there's really no non-awkward way to talk about Brandon Lee being good at acting like he's been shot. Sigh.

Might as well go with it. Okay, so Gold is shot in one scene late in the story and Lee does a pretty nice job for, oh, the rest of the film showing the injury. He's tired, stumbling, and hurting, and while he's able to keep fighting he makes it pretty clear it's just his willpower keeping him going. There's a couple slips here and there, but by and large I really appreciated that he made a clear effort to show the impact of the injury.


As an aside, because looking at Brandon Lee's short film history is much more interesting than talking about this movie, did you know a later film of his, Rapid Fire, was originally slated to be directed by John Woo before he ended up doing Hard Boiled instead? Geez, can you imagine?

Okay, a few more notes before we call it a review...first off, if there's one truly irritating thing about this movie, it's the soundtrack. I believe I counted all of three separate songs in the film, used repeatedly. That's bad enough, but what's really strange is that one of those three songs is a vocal song, "Mercenary Man" (also an alternative title for the film). So you get the same vocals over and over throughout the film.  It's pretty annoying.


Second, I can't really critique the overall filming style all that much, as there's not a lot good or bad about it, but I do have to call out the fair number of scenes with really awkward silence. There's a number of points in the film where conversations end, and the director could have cut there, but instead we get a couple extra moments and another camera angle or two of the actors doing basically nothing. Sometimes people look a little embarrassed that the camera is still rolling. Seriously, just cut to the next scene. These add nothing.

So, yeah, he's dead.
And finally, one more note, requiring a spoiler warning.

The villain of this film actually has a pretty glorious death sequence. It's very much one of those "Holy crap, how is he still alive?" bits. First, he captures Alissa (in very questionable fashion, since she had him in a headlock and at gunpoint one scene before), but is shot by Gold. Several times. However, he was wearing a bulletproof vest (which he is actually shown putting on several scenes earlier, to the film's credit), so he lives through that. However, some explosives his men had set up to destroy the mine they're fighting it are nearly about to go off when he climbs onto the hills just outside to scream at Gold and aim a gun at him. The explosives go off all around him, and Gold and company go to drive away...only for him to again show up, charred and burnt, and start firing at their jeep...whereupon Alissa just flat-out runs him over and drives him into a wall. It's not quite a Goldeneye or Con-Air villain death, but wow!

Ow!
I don't have much more to say here, really. Laser Mission is a very basic action film with little to make it noteworthy for good or ill. It's actually a fairly fun watch if you're into B-grade action films, but it doesn't have much to really call out as particularly funny or stupid moments, nor any so-bad-its awesome bits. I'm not sure I'd call it terrible...bad, yes, not not that really awful kind of bad that makes you cringe.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Seagal Crap?: A Good Man (2014)

Oh Seagal, even your 'best' is still pretty much shit.  Today's film is A Good Man, a 2014 DTV Action Film Starring Steven Seagal- yes, this is a thing!  So, if you are new to this kind of stuff (aka any Seagal film made after 2002), here is a quick rundown on what to expect.  Voice Dubbing- since Seagal is usually too lazy/busy to do ADR/Voice-Over.  Stunt Doubles.  Body Doubles.  No, not for Nudity (thank God!), but for things like walking to/from doors and such.  You also get the Impervious/Infallible Seagal Trope as our hero is never caught off-guard or nor is he ever in danger.  Drama- what's that?!?  A more recent addition has been the blatant addition of a younger, more fit Star to do the heavy-lifting (no pun intended), as opposed to just Editing the fights to make them look better.  On the plus side, Seagal is doing *some* more work now, but it is not all that great.  This film gives us Victor Webster from The Scorpion King 3 (and 4!) to do the more active stuff.  The plot involves Seagal as, you guessed it, an ex-Special Forces Agent who gets involved with the Russian mob in...Eastern Europe.  No Country or City listed- just a big, vague area of land.  To find out what's better and worse here, read on...
On a mission in Dermastan (is that real place, Internet?), Seagal and...one other guy try to take out two bad guys.  They get one, but...
...a drone blows up the building, killing one girl...even though she was right next to Seagal when the explosion hit and he was fine.  Seagal powers!

Oh and Seagal carries a Wakizashi (or small Japanese companion sword to a Katana) with him.  Why again?
2 Years Later in...sigh Eastern Europe, Seagal is working as a handyman while Webster and his sister (who has an accent, while he never tries one) work for a Mobster (to pay off their dead dad's debt).

The man behind it all is...Ambassador Han from Rush Hour?
It will come to no surprise that Seagal is killing the Mobsters.  They treat it like a mystery, but...really now, who else could it be?  The killer has a perfect record, kills with a blade and uses a sword.
For no good reason, the Mobsters blame Webster's character and try to kill him.  Well, NOW he's going to betray you- dumbass.  On the plus side, his fights are back and forth & feature good choreography.

On the other hand...
They do weird stuff like randomly have him impersonate Tony Jaa for this bit.  It just feels weird.
Since the film is so new, I won't SPOIL too much more.  I will show you Webster pulling out a Suplex (really?), making this the second time I've seen this out-of-place move since 12 Rounds 2 last year (which at least starred a Wrestler).
Who will live?  Who will die?  Will Seagal save the day and get the girl?

Okay, that last one was a gimme, right Seagal?  The End.
Is it the best of Seagal's recent works?  Is that a poor scale for reviewing films?  As just a normal film, it has minimal Plot, so-so Acting and purely-average Production Values.  As a Seagal film, it is...alright.  The Plot is kind of a silly mess involving Arab Terrorists in the beginning, Russian Mobsters in the middle and then a Chinese Triad Boss for the end (plus an Italian creep for a bonus).  Seagal is the only connection here, since he fought one in the beginning, killed more in the middle and finally battles the last guy in the finale.  In between, you have a Spec Ops Partner who disappears after the Intro, a Canadian-European villain/hero and two pieces of pathos (the sister and her daughter).  The rest of the Story is just Seagal and/or Webster fighting people for random reasons.  If you go into a film like this for the Plot, you're going to be let down.  If you go into it for Action, you will get a bunch of that.  On the Seagal side, they are one-sided Akido beatdowns where the poor European Stunt Men have to flip and flail while Seagal vaguely tugs at their wrists/arms.  For Webster, we get actual fights that are interesting and dynamic.  The only issue with his fights are the silly parts- like the aforementioned Flying Knee, Suplex and (really) a Chokeslam.  If the film was Starring Webster and a more competent Action Star (like Van Damme), it would be much easier to recommend.  As it is, you have to get pat the fast, silly spectre of Seagal's waistline, neck-covering bandana and jowl-concealing goatee.  As a bonus, I got a goofy shot from their own Making Of Documentary.  Good one, guys!  Here is Seagal, Master of Not Learning His Lines...
Next up, I cover one of the more infamous film flops of the last thirty years.  While Marvel is making all sorts of bank, see how they managed to make Lucas lose his shirt!  Stay tuned...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Lost in Translation and/or Double Rip-Off Cover Art: Suddenly (2013)

Holy crap- I have to use this one!

While searching for Images to use for the Suddenly review, I found this German DVD Cover that is just...just...wow.
So many problems here!  Where do I start?

1. The film never even shows The White House, let alone being set there.
2. The main fake Title is a rip-off of Olympus Has Fallen.
3. The fake Subtitle is a rip-off of White House Down.
4. The random Photoshopping.

My God...this is glorious crap.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Boll-shit?: Suddenly (2013)

Ah, Uwe Boll- is there something you can't ruin.  Today's film is Suddenly, which is somewhat of a Remake of a 1954 film.  In that film, the villain is played by Frank Sinatra.  In Boll's film, the villain is played by Dominic Purcell.  See a problem yet?  The film tells the tale of a group of homegrown terrorists (all white, for a change) that seek to kill the President.  Their plan hinges upon a nearby house that they can shoot him from.  The only one that can stop them is a drunk Cop (Ray Liotta- aw!) with a secret in his past.  Shot on the cheap in Canada, this film is chock full of Boll 'day-players,' but not Boll himself.  I'm sure if he could have found a way to appear in black-face or as Hitler, he would have.  The reason I'm even doing this is because Bob's Parents watched this on their own (they learned their lesson) and wanted to know who I, a connoisseur of bad movies thought of it.  Well, I saw it (obviously), so let's just jump right in...
Liotta is a Cop/The Town Drunk and...can we just address that one?  How bad off is your town if you are paying this guy to carry a gun in your town?!?

Then again, this film has a Cast of about 15 people, so I guess that beggars can't be choosers.
In the main Plot, this small town is getting a visit from The President of the United States.  He's there to visit their...Hunting Lodge?  That's what Barack Obama is known for- HUNTING!

So yeah, they have to prepare.
Meanwhile, some militant guys show up dressed as Secret Service Agents and take over a house that is apparently close enough to shoot into the center of town from.

Look- I know it is part of the Plot, but how close could this house be?  Do you have guns that can fire accurately for well over 1,000 yards (through a Forest)?!?
Just for fun, let me highlight an earlier scene where the lead Actress' kid is shown hiding some fireworks in the Woods.  I mention it because, despite showing us the exact place that he hides it...and how he re-covers it...THIS HAS NO PAYOFF!!!!
While nothing offensive or really stupid happens, the movie is just *yawn* so damn boring.

I think Dominic Purcell's attempt at being stoic and serious says it all.
In fact, let me just remind you of how Boll put Suddenly Co-Star Brendan Fletcher in Blackface in Blubberella.  Good ti...no, I can't finish that sentence.
Since the film is so recent, I won't SPOIL the ending for you.  I will show you a real black man- just for contrast.  The End.
Damn, this one was boring.  So what is it about Uwe Boll?  What kind of film is he aiming for?  It can't be a good one, can it?  He's made bad movies (In the Name of the King, Bloodrayne, In the Name of the King 2), really bad films (Blubberella, PostalHouse of the Dead {either Version}) and just really dull ones (In the Name of the King 3Bloodrayne 2, this one).  The best thing I've heard about his work is that he has made a decent film (according to Bob and/or Maynard).  Is that it?  Alright then.  Suddenly is a film with a good premise (good enough to be made 60 years ago), but the execution just sucks.  Nothing outrageous happens.  Nothing funny really happens.  Nothing all that exciting really happens.  I know that there is supposed to be thrills and drama, but there is not.  To make up for it, the Musical Score *tells* us what the Scenes are supposed to illicit emotionally.  That is good Writing, folks!  Seriously though, this Score is very, very insistent.  I will say that some of the Acting is good, provided that they don't underplay Scenes too much.  I'm still not sure whether Dominic Purcell likes working with Uwe Boll.  He has appeared in quite a few now, so he must...right.  I question it because he has seemed to be permanently bored out of his mind in the two films I've seen them work together on (this one and In the Name of the King 3).  Is that his thing?  Either way, he's no Sinatra.  Do I need to watch the original film?  It inspired Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly), so who knows what it will inspire me to do?  I can say one thing: it won't make me want to watch this nap-inspiring film again.
Next up, the king of Fat-Kido returns with a new film.  Naturally, he's a former Special Agent who fights the Russian Mob...again.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Project Terrible: Branded

Welcome back to Project Terrible. Today I'm reviewing a film brought to me by Al, who decided to give me a pretentious film for Project Terrible this time instead of waiting for his birthday like he usually does.

So yeah, fair warning that I'm about to get really long-winded, as per usual when I review this sort of film.


Branded is the story of Misha, an advertising executive in Russia who is fed up with his job and decides to help his boss' niece, who wants to make a new reality show involving an overweight woman who decides to become beautiful by undergoing multiple cosmetic surgeries. When things go wrong and his life is thrown in to disarray, he makes a sacrifice of a red cow and gains the ability to see brands as creatures and...

Wait, what?

Yeah, so, basically, Branded is a rather strange film that seems to exist to argue that our advertising goes too far--that it's gone beyond informing people about products and has become a form of thought control. The film's general point, argued by Misha as the final act nears, is that brands used to originate from the will of the people, but now the will of the people originates from brands.


So let's talk about what this film does well. There's...quite a lot, actually. This is actually a pretty high-quality production--I'm used to films that make these sorts of points looking like they were put together on about $300 and worked on whenever people could spare a few minutes over the course of a few years, but this looks fine. The CG the film eventually starts using isn't of the greatest quality, but that actually kind of works in its favor to add a surreal and obviously strange atmosphere. For the rest of it, the film limits itself to what it can manage and doesn't overstep its funding or abilities, so we're good there.

The acting is...pretty much spot on. Branded features quite a good cast, with all major actors able to capture all the emotions they're supposed to be presenting very well. This is one of those things that can make or break a film, and also one of those things that more artsy films often fail in. In many films that are trying to make a point or get all artistic and strange, the cast is just kind of there because they have to be there for the film to exist. They end up quite dull and pull you out of the movie, damaging its potential. In Branded, on the other hand, the characters seem fully presented and the cast is well and truly capable of bringing them to life. Of particular note is Misha, who the film spends most of its time focusing on and who therefore absolutely has to be believable...and very much is. He's a very interesting and very much imperfect character, and there's a lot of nuance to his portrayal.


I also very much appreciated that for the most part, the film remembered to be a story first and an argument second. I've read a number of stories--The Jungle, for example--which were written by someone who very badly wanted to argue a point (in the case of The Jungle, "socialism is awesome") but which shot themselves in the foot by telling a great story...and then utterly abandoning said story to just become diatribes on whatever they were arguing. The Jungle is a wonderful and heart-wrenching story, but the conclusion is utter murder to get through because all trace of the characters and their motivations disappears and all that you get is "Main Character goes to X and Person speaks to him about Socialism." Over...and over...and over. Branded mostly avoids that particular mistake. It allows its story to slip sometimes, but not to near as much a degree as other films or stories I've seen. (Birdemic, anyone?)

Finally, let's note the film's general sense of humor and strangeness. It was...actually fairly refreshing. There's a lot of very fun and even clever humor in the film, from some of the fake advertisements to cute interjections and flashbacks (like Misha learning the three laws of marketing when working on his first real job, the third of which is "Get paid up front, because no one believes in marketing"). I really appreciate that the filmmakers were willing to have fun with this. They don't overuse humor, but they bring it in just enough to make the film pretty easy to watch overall.


If this sounds like a glowing review...it isn't. There are some points where this film just completely crashes and burns, and as much as I did find things to compliment about it, I really can't say I liked it. But all of the above things really are great elements of a flawed film--I have to give credit where credit is due.

So, let's talk about the bad.

Branded remembers to be a story first and an argument second, but it is at the same time still very clearly an argument. It never lets you forget it. It's very in-your-face about it. Criticism of advertising and its power to shape culture is ever-present in the film, and there's really not a single character associated with advertising (including Misha himself) who looks like a good guy in the film. Considering that that covers, oh, every notable character in the movie, that's a major issue. Branded does not take a nuanced approach by any means, portraying its chosen targets pretty much as scumbags interested in profit at any cost and without regard to morality, willing to sacrifice human choice and even human lives to get what they want. Unfortunately, in a story, this means that the viewer is honestly left without much of anyone to root for...and that, despite the well-written characters, took me out of the movie quite a bit and made it hard to want to find out what happened next.


Furthermore, while it again remembers to be a story most of the time, Branded can get really, really preachy. There are notable moments where characters give pretty lengthy speeches on the topic of the power of brands or advertising and such and might as well have just looked right at the camera and held up a posterboard with "THIS IS THE POINT" written on it. Of particular note are some of Misha's speeches towards the end of the film, particularly the one in which he explains the film's premise pretty blatantly (the whole "brands used to be defined by the will of the people, but now brands define the will of the people" thing). The film manages to keep the characters in character while doing this...but only because it defines its characters as people willing to go off on long-winded tangents about this sort of stuff.


Next up? The narrator. I agree that this film needed one...but it didn't need to be some faceless voice that doesn't have a relation (well, an intelligent relation, anyway) to anything that's going on. We get a lot of narration in the movie to close up some time gaps or handle some of the flashbacks, and it really hurts the film when the narration isn't coming from a character we know. It honestly should have been Misha himself--we could get kind of a Burn Notice thing going on, especially in the early film with the humorous flashbacks and stuff. Instead, the narrator just seems disconnected from events. They do eventually reveal who the narrator is. It's not satisfying.

Let's talk about the film's overall structure, too. The vast majority of this film is a moderately odd but at least somewhat realistic story about an advertiser trying to get out from under the wing of his boss (who is secretly an American spy for...no real reason, as it adds precisely nothing to the film) and make partner at his company. Things happen, he gets romantically involved with his boss' niece while helping her with a project, he gets decked by his boss...there's some weirdness with a conspiracy of fast food executives intentionally sabotaging a reality show about trying to lose weight, but by and large this sticks within the normal realm.

Then midway through the movie, Misha basically loses everything, goes out to the fields and lives alone, and eventually sacrifices a red cow as part of an ancient ritual (the ritual's actual purpose is to cleanse those who came in contact with the dead, but the film claims it was to reveal things that could not be seen). And then...the movie goes bonkers, with Misha suddenly able to see these CG things everywhere representing people's desires and the brands that inspire them. This stuff is nearly omnipresent for the remainder of the movie.

What's the problem? The two halves don't really fit together. They do somewhat as a story (this isn't a Birdemic-level thing with two totally separate tales glued together via sex scene), but not at all in tone. You just can't do this. You can't have nearly a full movie with virtually nothing at all out of the human realm and then, with maybe a fourth of the film left to go, very suddenly introduce brands as living creatures in CG form that exist in a parasitic relationship with humans and have all this crazy stuff happening everywhere. It totally throws the viewer for a loop and it just seems silly.

To put it another way: the film's villain is not the fast food conspiracy that seems to be the villain in the start of the film. It's the very idea of advertising, and that doesn't get introduced as the villain until the final act. 


This is like if The Lord of the Rings was two and a half books of Frodo just kind of strolling around the countryside with a ring and a few hobbit buddies, having a good time and seeing the sights, with a vague suggestion the ring was important, and maybe solved some totally human-and-hobbit troubles with no mention of Sauron, and then in the last half of the third book, boom, orcs and ring-wraiths. I don't care how well you do the orcs and ring-wraiths part, then, it won't work with what came before!

Or, think about if Star Wars was just about Luke trying to go become a rebel pilot--the entire movie is just him arguing with his aunt and uncle and wanting to go, and this family conflict about him on the farm and such...and then at the very end of the film he gets to go and boom, Darth Vader and the Death Star. It'd just seem completely nuts!

The transition doesn't really help, either. Misha's cow sacrifice comes completely out of nowhere. He doesn't research it and he hasn't shown any interest in the occult or anything like that. He just withdraws from society, meets his old girlfriend, has a dream about cows, and then builds a big old tower and sacrifices a cow on it. Why? Because, that's why.

So...what I'm trying to say, I think, is that this film would have been much stronger if it either had the whole "can see desires and brands" concept in from the start (maybe as an explanation for why Misha's an awesome advertiser, and then later begins to understand that he's been feeding the brands and that's not a good thing) or abandoned that completely and just did the film on a more human level the whole way through. The way this was done led to a complete clash of styles between the movie's two parts.

Not a heck of a lot of the movie is like this, sadly.
But wait, there's more! There's a host of more minor problems in the movie, the kind of little flubs that take you out of things just a bit. One of the film's main plot points for the later part of the movie is that the fast food conspiracy managed to change the world's perception of beauty. In six years. With one reality show controversy. So obese people are beautiful now. The problem? Outside of advertisements and Misha's kid, basically no one seems to be obese or even more than a little bit chunky. This is supposedly a world which believes that fat is beautiful, but there's a noticeable lack of overweight people out on the streets or anywhere except on TV screens.

Why is this a problem? Because this is a world where the concept of beauty has just become entirely attainable. You don't have to be dedicated to weight loss or undergo surgery to become beautiful. You just have to eat a lot of burgers. Even in our world, where muscle or slimness is considered beautiful, people rabidly pursue it to the point of physical harm. If it became so simple to be considered attractive...if all you had to do was eat and not exercise...don't you think there'd be a lot of people going right for it?

There evidently aren't in Branded, and that's a problem. It makes the film's reality...less real.

More minor problems: There's little parts of the plot that just feel like they happen because they have to, like Misha and Abby (his boss' niece) being discovered making out in their car in a traffic jam...because they just happen to be sitting in said jam right next to his boss' car. Wow. Out of nowhere revelations that just aren't needed, too, like Misha revealing that he's been faking reports to the CIA for years and got an old boss killed. Oh, and Misha somehow managing to lie to cops about knowing a man with whom he's been repeatedly publicly photographed. And nothing at all coming of Misha being the last man to see his boss alive...even when Misha meets up with Abby later. Oh, and then there's the few bits of a movie trailer that Misha's working on...which is pretty much always terrible, even once he says it's fine and it ends up working. And some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard on the other end of a phone call to Misha at one point. There's a ton more, but...this is one case where I'm not going to go into it, because this review will be long enough as it is.

Want more? Well, at this point I'm going to have to warn of spoilers, though I'm not quite sure how consequential they are.

All right, let's talk about the way the film's supposed villain, the advertiser employed by the fast food conspiracy, is taken down. Want to know how? You'd think it'd be some kind of confrontation with Misha or the conspiracy turning on him when he fails or something like that, right? Nah. Random bolt of lightning. Vaporizes him on the spot. No reason whatsoever. Yup. Underwhelming much?

What about the rest of the confrontation, then? Well, as I mentioned before, the brands basically fill the "villain" role for the last part of the film despite not actually being villains or even characters at all. So here's the idea. Misha blames the very concept of brands for what has happened to humanity through advertising. He thinks that brands control people's lives, and therefore must be destroyed. He does this by setting brand against brand, working as an advertiser for lots of brands in kind of a Yojimbo thing...he tells each to use really dirty, underhanded and unethical tactics against the others. He tells companies to lie and say that other companies' products will harm or even kill the user. (Basically, this is like if Sony and Nintendo fought over console gamers by claiming that the rival console was programmed to electrocute you if you lost a game.)


This results in no one being able to trust any brand, so all the brands start dying off. It also results, very foreseeably, in people hating the concept of advertising in general, and rioting against it. So people start dying too. Finally governments step in and ban advertising, after the crowds rise up and actively start beating Misha's coworkers to death.

I repeat, just to be clear: people beat Misha's coworkers (and attempt to beat Misha himself) to death, and governments ban advertising entirely to resolve the unrest.

The beatings are portrayed as an unintentional side effect of Misha's plans, but the advertising ban? That's his goal. And it is very much portrayed as a positive thing, the start of a new utopian existence where no one will be controlled into buying anything.

Ahh...a world free of advertising. Also, presumably, of economics.
I'm not going to get into a huge discussion on this, but I hope it's pretty clear that precise definitions of free speech and what's okay and not okay to say aside...banning advertising entirely is a catastrophically stupid decision that would more than likely result massive economic consequences and destroy quite a lot of business. At the very least, companies have to be able to inform consumers of new products, and need to be able to notify consumers of the benefits of those products. Maybe you can restrict exactly what companies can say or some such, or require companies to be able to prove benefits and restrict them from negative advertising, but...banning it outright? No questions asked? Worldwide? Can you say "collapse of the global economy?"

This is where Branded just kind of throws its point off a bridge. It actually fairly effectively (if sometimes in a preachy manner) argues that advertising has too great an influence and is in danger of progressing to active thought control...but then the proposed solution is worse than the problem, and it doesn't even recognize it! 

Here's the other problem. Branded gives way too much credit to advertising's power to sway the minds of people. Does advertising make some pretty unreasonable claims at times, and do people believe them? Sure. But is it actually thought control? I don't think so, personally. I think advertising is enough to get people in the door to a place, but unless you're putting some kind of horrible addictive substance in your product, you keep customers through good service, good products, and convenience. I go to Wendy's a lot when I come home from work. Why? Not because of ads. I go there because it's right on the way home and the spicy chicken sandwiches are to my taste. I don't go to McDonald's nearly as often. You know why? It's not because of advertising. it's because McDonald's isn't on my most direct route home. I like the burgers fine, but it isn't on my route and no amount of advertising is going to make me go out of my way.

That is, my choice to go to Wendy's has much more to do with its convenience and my experiences with the food there than it does with advertising. At some point in my life, advertising got me into a Wendy's. But the power of advertising stopped there, and it was up to the staff and products to keep me.

Similarly, I'm just not going to like coffee no matter how much advertising to do. I don't like the taste, and advertising can't change that.

The point is that advertising isn't active thought control and doesn't control people's lives. There is definitely some advertising that is unethical (holy crap, political ads), and there are definitely people who obsess too much too easily with the newest, hottest thing...but by and large, I think people are brought in by advertising but stay because of service and quality. In Branded's world, it seems the other two parts don't matter--it's all in the advertising, and if you advertise you can keep people coming back again and again no matter what else happens. And the only thing that can stop it? The advertising of another company. People are robots and just do what they're told. I'm pretty cynical about a lot of things, but even I've never sunk that low.

Additionally, there's something of a false portrayal here in terms of the idea of exclusivity--that is, if a customer comes to your brand, they are not going to a competitor's brand, ever. I mentioned before that I go to Wendy's more than McDonald's due to location. I go to McDonald's at other times, though. It's not like I chose one and will never choose the other. I go to Nature's Table, too. I go to lots of places. I shop at CVS and Walgreens. I'm not trying to say I'm a unusual--I'm trying to say I'm pretty normal in this regard. I don't think I'm the only person in the world like that. So...I really have to doubt the film's portrayal of a winner-takes-all slugfest between brands towards the end.

Not to mention, y'know what it looks like when all the brands are dead? You're getting all your goods from one location. No competition, no need to compete for quality, price, and such. That's the sort of thing that goes wrong in cable monopolies, and it's also the sort of thing that goes wrong in state-controlled industries...which this film itself argues against (in an honestly pretty fun, if preachy, little speech by Misha about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union from a marketing perspective).

Heck, Branded itself is a great little example of the limits of the power of advertising. If you've ever seen the trailer, the vast majority of it is from the last parts of the film. So if you go see the movie because of the trailer, you'd be rather disappointed, since it's nothing like said trailer. Guess how people react when that happens? Yeah, it's not good. Branded's trailer is great. Branded itself has terrible ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, low ratings on IMDB, and was savaged by critics. Oh, and it's showing up in Project Terrible. While sometimes some decent films sneak in here, being nominated for this is not exactly a ringing endorsement of a film's quality. So, yeah. The trailer might have gotten people in, but the film's quality let them down. That's that, isn't it?

So...that little tirade done and dusted, what's my overall reaction to Branded? Well...I think it's a film that has a lot of potential, but just doesn't work overall. It has a lot of strengths, but its weaknesses really drag it down. It gets too preachy, it loses focus sometimes, it has well-written but nevertheless unlikeable main characters, and it has a serious and damaging shift of style and tone towards the end. It starts out kind of interesting and turns into a real train wreck by the end. I struggled a lot with this one, but I can definitely end up calling it terrible. It's has decent production quality and good actors...it's just a shame that it really goes off the rails and destroys itself in the end.


Lost in Translation: Super Mario Bros

After the last one, I just couldn't resist.  I just knew that there had to be more out there.

As it turned out, there was.  For example, this bit of Japanese promotional art for the infamous 1993 film...
I love it!

It looks like a mix of Russian Communist Propaganda and an Andy Warhol work.  I love the use of Dennis Hopper shots here.  Random!

Leave it to Japan to spruce this turd up!

Quick Reviews: Batman- Assault on Arkham

After many good, but not great DC Animated films, it was a surprise to get something so different...
Based in the same Universe as the Batman: Arkham Asylum/City/Knight games, this tells the tale of The Riddler being targeted by....Amanda Waller.  I guess Batman too, if he has time.

He has secrets that she wants kept that way, so she has to assemble a team...
The Suicide Squad (or Project X if you are on a show like Justice League) is made up of crazy villains and killers like, well, Killer Shark here.
It also includes classic foes like Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn and, just for fun, poor KGBeast.

He was good in one Story Arc in the 1980s before becoming 'that guy with the gun hand' for the next thirty years.  Nice of them to throw him a bone.
Speaking of which, does the team engage in some inter-team relations?  More importantly, will this get awkward when they run into The Joker lately?

He did kill several people for not letting him Patent some fish, so...probably.
Good for them to throw in a random reference to The Dark Knight.  You've got to prioritize.
The Story is full of twists and turns and I don't want to SPOIL any of them for you.  Some will live, some will die.

To find out who does what to whom (with a giant mallet), watch the movie.  The End.
Damn- this was a surprise!  I have never been truly disappointed with a DCU Animated Film, just a little underwhelmed.  Stuff like Justice League: War and Superman: Birthright have just been too close to their recent source material.  Seriously, we're only about 3 years into New 52 and we're getting a SECOND Animated Adaptation (Justice League: Throne of Atlantis) already?!?  This company has been around for 80 years, so you'd think that they'd have more to work with.  That's part of this movie's charm.  Yes, it is based on the Arkham: Asylum game series, but that's mostly a cosmetic thing.  You get to see cameos from Bane and the like, although it just serves as a cosmetic thing.  Deadshot and company take center stage, even while they kill and rob people.  It works since they are all actual Characters and you get to know them so well.  The villains working a heist is also a unique thing for these kinds of films, which also works in its favor.  Solid Voice Acting and strong presentation make the whole thing even better.  If you like to see a harder edge in your Comic Book Stories and want something new, this is a big recommendation.  All the killing and implied Nudity does make it a strong PG-13 (how they got that is anyone's guess!), so bear that in mind.  Oddly enough, they work in a plug for...The Looney Tunes Show.  Weird.
Kudos to DC for giving us a Story from a different perspective and with a new edge.  Now when do we get 'The Judas Contract' again?