Category: mainstream media

That did not just happen. I did not just rent the movie called “Branded” from a Redbox in Hollywood and see what I just saw. I didn’t think the Terry Gilliam “Brazil” effect could happen again. Sometimes it is also known as the “Blade Runner” effect – a film that gets completely overlooked that years later will be seen as a bright torch casting light on its progeny. Branded, by writer/director team Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn is what AdBusters would be if it was turned into a dystopian sci-fi movie. But it is also shot in Russia and has a beautiful 1980’s vintage film look – think Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall or perhaps Buckaroo Bonzai. The film also incorporated incredibly imaginative and perfectly integrated computer animation to illustrate the insatiable need that corporate advertising creates in the end user.

I can’t believe the film was made and that it came from Russia but reached American distribution alongside Dark Knight Rises and the latest Wayans brothers’ satire, and moreover that it was nary mentioned on a single 2012 year-end list. This is a film I dreamed of making for years – not necessarily the subject matter alone, but the tone, the style, the acting – it’s like John Cassavettes directing Ghostbusters. Leelee Sobieski is amazingly understated but charismatic and sexy in this movie and Ed Stoppard carries the film well, playing the line between insanity and prophecy beautifully.

branded movie - ed stoppard and leelee sobieski

People who are rating it low are more than likely being misled on the film they are going to see. This is an arthouse film disguised as a AAA title, not the other way around. Although it is inevitably a little heavy-handed, and I mean only a little here and there, in order to establish its rhetoric, it is also bleeding edge contemporary, encompassing everything from the powerfully exploitative organic food movement to government bailouts of multi-national corporations. At times the voiceover narration seems a bit forced, but then again you may grow to love it, the same way some prefer the original release of Blade Runner because even though Harrison Ford’s dialogue is trite and on the nose, it also is just more insight and material for those who want it. Myself, I am more of a Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut no driving away into a green landscape kind of fellow.

Anyway, see it. It works and it is wonderful and it will be the first film to be added to my favorites of all time (that includes the aforementioned Blade Runner and Brazil as well as Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Stalker and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers) since Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover in 2002.

Finally I want to mention that this is a Lionsgate release. LGF has it going ON right now. They are the New Line Cinema for which I originally moved to Hollywood. Fuck the Hobbit. Lionsgate is taking chances and making bold choices – The Hunger Games, The Cabin In the Woods and grindhouse fare like Rambo and The Expendables, and that I have worked on for them via Punisher: War Zone and Texas Chainsaw 3D – which remind of what it might have felt like to work on a Roger Corman film when the going was really good. they are releasing the funnest, most daring slate of any studio around and Branded is a perfect example of that.

ps. don’t be fooled by the rather slick American trailers for the film – ironically, just like in the movie, the real thing is far more underground than you might be led to believe.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

In order to decipher LOST, it is essential to understand two things, what makes JJ Abrams tick and some theological symbolism. Addressing the former, there is no better example of this than the TED talk that he did about The Mystery Box:

The second part in understanding the seemingly esoteric series is understanding who is paying the bills – in this case ABC / Disney. Like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, it is fun to draw upon the canon of esoterica and mysticism to seemingly substantiate the boundless pathways to intrigue necessitated by a weekly one-hour high-budget drama based on anything outside the run-of-the-mill police procedural, teen coming-of-age drama or Yuppie comedy. That does not mean that it is any deeper than the respective minds of its viewers.

All of which is not to say that I disliked the show. Read my previous post about season 6 episode 16 to get a better idea of why I loved the series as much as I did, and then read the following as to why I don’t think it is much more than that:

On a Facebook thread dated March 24th, 2010 I wrote:

I told you in season one it was Purgatory.

The quick reply was:

The producers debunked the “purgatory” theory a few years ago. Sorry, it’s not that simple.

So I felt I needed to extrapolate my theory:

“ABC loves doing shows that are just Biblical parables – I wondered if they might manage to escape that pattern with Lost, but given how close this is seeming to the whole afterlife concept, I would be really amazed if they can escape its gravity and pull off something way more quantum. Nonetheless, I loved the episode last night – for sheer production value alone. And yeah Jacob and Smokey, Hugo the medium, Ricardus – wonderfully metaphysical and all those Mcguffins about the Devil! Can’t wait to see how this ends up having nothing to do with a biblical afterlife.

Granted the Egyptian references are ubiquitous as are all other manner of esoterica – good stuff to draw from in building a canon of mythological symbolism to take us down the rabbit hole, but in the end, whether or not it is literally a retelling of Job, it is about sitting in limbo (not the kind populated by unborn babies, but, well purgatory) and asking whether or not we can transcend our fate and find absolution.

Christiany co-opted everything before it anyway, so the Egyptian thing doesn’t throw that off course. (The Virgin Mary is mentioned more in the Quran than in the entire New Testament.) In fact the very horned image of the devil that we know is the product of the battle between Templars who may have bastardized the name of of Islam’s prophet into Baphomet (so as to disempower its influence, it was literally demonized).

The Devil is the figure who was short-changed and cast out of Heaven and whose function is to tempt you away from certainty. “Think you are ready? Need anything? Can I help you with something” the Devil asks. If you concede that you in fact require a favor, or help from the Devil then he will grant it but you will be in his debt and unprepared for the Kingdom of Heaven. Smokey has always been this way (and although Jacob may appear to do this, he never makes such offers and in fact is totally loathe to intervene lest he become devil-like). “If you let him (Flocke) talk to you, then it is already too late.”

See where I am going with this? Doesn’t matter what you call it – it is still a parable about purgatory in the biblical sense.”

I kinda wrote a book about this – it is called True and Selfish Prophets. Two sequences from the book remind me of this whole ordeal, the first having to do with the epiphany that regardless of what we argue, what matters is not what we find inside the box of answers, but that we are walking there together, and second that – despite what the reality, the Truth may be – it is ultimately inaccessible to us: we can only experience its effects as processed by our particular form of awareness/consciousness/sense-making. Beyond that, we have that big placeholder word we have named Faith.

I think it is only fair, however, to point out that the value of the subject matter in LOST became greater than the sum of its parts in no small way due to the input of the cast and their performances, the highly active fan base and the questions it posed to the creators and the people behind the scenes that put the show together; there was an incredible vitality to the end product that ultimately led to many questions and emotional quandaries for which the writers simply couldn’t be accountable. The show outgrew its concept and will stand the test of time, in my estimation, as one of the great television storytelling events.

At its best, LOST’s final episode summoned one of my favorite and most underrated films: Final Approach. It also took the avant-garde trapdoor from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and I guess The Sixth Sense. Interestingly, 2001 was a major inspiration for the ending of The Sopranos, a parallel in ambiguity that Lost’s producers were quick to parody on the special episode of Jimmy Kimmel that followed their final episode.

I refrain from addressing specific plot points and story lines out of respect to those who are just now discovering the series or haven’t completed the final season. But I would love to get into them with you. See my invitation below.

So long, LOST, and thank for all the fish, which is another way of saying, thanks for giving us a new opportunity to consider ourselves, what we are doing, and what it all means from something like outside the box, one more time.

I would love to discuss salient points with you further – feel free to post your comments, reactions, questions and challenges in the comments section of this post.