Sundance 2/2 Dispatch: Apollo 11, Corporate Animals

Apollo 11 Sundance Apollo 11 | courtesy of Sundance Institute

Oh, spirit of Robert Redford, I know that I only saw two movies on Thursday, but I also saw four on Friday. Does that make it okay that I only saw two today, or do I still need a chance to repent?

But whether or not I’m forgiven is okay. After all, I saw one of the best movies of the festival so far today. … And then I saw one of the worst.

But let’s start with the good—and, after all, what the day started with. The first film was Apollo 11, a pretty great documentary that director/editor Todd Douglas Miller spent years in the edit bay for. It’s obvious that no movie is a simple task, but this is especially the case here: apparently he, with the help of NASA, sifted through over one hundred hours of archive footage to recreate the 1969 voyage to the moon. The final product is just 93 minutes of what started as over 6,000, but you wouldn’t guess it. Apollo 11 is symmetrical both in structure and emotion, and while its momentum can falter when its different styles don’t slide into place, there’s always a sense of technical and emotional inspiration.

Miller shows his love for the human condition by melding moments into expressionistic editing reminiscent of the art that’s come before him, before his time, and before the event. There are very few static shots in the first half, and when it finds its rhythm, it’s a tense and hypnotic beauty that never feels confined by the archive footage that built it. There’s a near-constant sense of momentum punctuated with what can feel out of the ordinary. (One of the more notable moments feature diptych and triptych editing that’s as stressful as it is satisfying.) Some parts don’t fit into the overall pacing arc, but this is strong work otherwise that feels planned, not predestined.

Corporate Animals | courtesy of Sundance Institute

And then there’s Corporate Animals. This unsure satirical/dark/deadpan/broad comedy about something stars Demi Moore as Lucy, the CEO of Incredible Edible Cutlery. Do you ever wish you could eat your utensils instead of throwing them away? Well now you can, thanks to Lucy’s genius idea that she totally didn’t steal from anyone. Her employees hate her. Her boy toy Freddie (Karan Soni) has been the victim of her sexual misconduct for years. Her assistant Jess (Jessica Williams) is pining for a promotion but doesn’t know Freddie’s ahead of her to get it.

She also has bunch of other employees (Isiah Whitlock Jr., Martha Kelly, Dan Bakkedahl, Calum Worthy) who just seem to exist as human punching bags. When she enlists a tour guy named Brandon (Ed Helms) to guide them through a cave for a team-building exercise, they all get stuck. Soon everyone’s dirty laundry is out in the open, and they have to spend nine interminable days without losing their minds, dying, or both. What feels like a bottle episode of a TV show has been stretched out to a meager 81 minutes excluding credits, but even that’s too long.

There’s a huge disconnect between screenwriter Sam Bain (Four Lions) and director Patrick Brice (The Overnight, Creep). It would appear that Bain wanted a broad comedy, one where characters raise most jokes into the stratosphere. Brice, on the other hand, seems to have gone the deadpan route. His style is one-note; his actors deliver their lines as if they’re half-asleep. There just isn’t a synthesis of script and screen here. If you’re going to do deadpan humor, don’t explain every joke. If you’re going to do an ensemble piece, maybe don’t have twice as many people as you need. Corporate Animals is populated by two schools of characters: those that deliver a joke, and those that bash that joke into the ground. (And no, most of these jokes aren’t even funny.)

But there’s a bigger issue with Brice’s film, and that’s its complete lack of context. There’s no attempt to provide a sense of this world’s logic, no idea of just how disconnected it is from ours, and an episodic structure with little flow or tension. It even seems to lack of starting point or a general purpose in what appears to be its satire. Corporate Animals is like the unabridged version of a web series no one knew existed.

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