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One character in this beautifully crafted film buys a book entitled
"The Meaning of Life." While we never discover exactly what that book
contains, "$9.99" peruses questions about life's meaning with poignancy
and affection. It's sad, silly, very human characters are people we
know, and real enough so that we might occasionally forget we are
This is not a film for the young there is no "action," no "romance," and little to make a viewer laugh out loud. Rather, we are offered a wryly comic look at human nature, best suited for those who have lived enough of life so as to be able to identify with the film's pathetically flawed characters, and look on them with affection rather than impatience or contempt.
Human beings, the filmmakers suggest, are rarely able to communicate with other human beings, even to express love to those they love most. They are even less likely to fulfill each other's hopes and expectations. It is a pessimistic outlook, to be sure, and rather depressing but, in the end, we are left with the message that love not only is possible, it is the only thing that gives life any meaning at all. Love crazy, misguided, or bizarre as it may be is all that matters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The U.S. is dominant at the world box office for animated films, with
Pixar at the top of the top of that particular food chain. And, Japan
paces the planet for sheer volume of animated movies.
So, who woulda thunk that not one, not two, but THREE of the more interesting animated features of the past couple of years would come out of the Middle East?? First, the Iranian filmmaker working in France, Marjane Satrapi made the superlative PERSEPOLIS -- and, with this past week's events, it's worth revisiting for it shows some of the seeds of rebellion that has lead to the protest marches. Then, came last year's Foreign Language film nominee, WALTZ WITH BASHIR out of Israel.
Now, there's $9.99, made by another Israeli, this time working out of Australia - Tatia Rosenthal. $9.99 got a brief, ill-fated Oscar qualifying run in December in NYC and L.A.. It is now back in those two cities before, hopefully, opening wider across the country. *(see Oscar rant below)
$9.99 is a well done claymation feature which weaves some short stories by writer Etgar Keret into an entertaining composite story centering around an "angel" and how he interacts with the inhabitants of unnamed small city. Don't expect a strict narrative and some of its best moments are just that - moments in time. It has a bit of the hallucinatory effect of Richard Linklater's animated features - SCANNER DARKLY and, especially, WAKING LIFE. Really hard to describe because the plotting is so loose that to give away many details both ruins the effect, and don't do the film justice. Best to let its brief 78 minutes just wash over you.
The Claymation (augmented with CGI) is interestingly done, with an oddly effective sculptured look to the characters. Australians including Geoffrey Rush as the Angel and Anthony LaPaglia head up a solid voice cast. And, this must be the year of animated male member. First, there was the big blue meanie in WATCHMAN, and now, a clay one here. Yes, this is an R-rated film - also, for some language, clay-sex and drug use.
* Oscar Rant. As noted, $9.99 played for a week in NYC and L.A. in order to qualify for the Animation Oscar category. So, not only didn't $9.99 not get a nomination, neither did WALTZ WITH BASHIR. But, BOLT did!?? The members of the Animation branch should be utterly embarrassed. What?!! Did these two films split the Israeli animation vote? Of course, animators in Hollywood further humiliated themselves by voting for the lite-weight KUNG FU PANDA over WALL-E at their Annie awards (in fact, a near sweep of their many categories).
I was so surprised to see so many negative reviews for this movie
because I thought it was absolutely brilliant!
Some people found the animation ugly whereas the movement seemed very smooth to me and the realistic expression and emotion they were able to portray with clay faces astounded me! The claymation style was too realistic for me at first, not cartoon-y enough, which gave the movie a very creepy disturbing feel. There are a lot of reds and purples used in the faces that can make the characters seem sickly, but you come to realise that this is a stylistic choice that makes the faces more varied and more like pieces of art than just moving toys. Art is supposed to disturb the comfortable anyhow and this movie does it very well.
I have also heard the movie be critiqued for its jumpy, disconnected plot (it is based on a collection of short stories) whereas I felt that the thematic connections were strong enough that this movie very much felt like a unified whole. The characters are connected by the apartment complex they share and by the kinds of lives they lead and the kinds of problems they face in the plot.
I loved the dialogue in this movie, one of those great works where subtle, very real moments and shifts in relationships are defined by the idiosyncratic way a line is worded in a conversation between characters. I was wrapped entirely in every conversation and each line seemed to carry so much meaning (in a light-hearted kind of way).
The stores range from touching, sweet and hopeful to disturbing and depressing send-ups of life in a post-modern age. You really can take from this what you want- but not because the filmmakers have made ideas vague and unfleshed, but because they have taken so many ideas and fleshed them out in so many different and unexpected ways that you have a whole smorgasboard of meaning to pick, choose, riff on, dissect, abstract and so on.
I don't want to hype it too much because I think part of my love for this movie was due to similarities I have with some characters and how connected this made me feel but please don't dismiss this movie, because it is definitely something very special!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really liked this adult-aimed Australian animated film. The humor and the mood was somewhat dark and cynical, but I still enjoyed a lot seeing this movie, mostly because of the animation, which is quite detailed and well made. Unlike other stop- motion animated films, the characters aren't cartoonish, but are portrayed in a realistic way, something that contrast with the surreal and strange situations. The movie keeps a very interesting tone from beginning to end and all the characters are unique and interesting. Geoffrey Rush made a great voice performance as the "angel" and the rest of the cast made a wonderful work as well. This movie deserves more appreciation and recognition. I highly recommend it.
$9.99 came and went from theaters, but it sticks out very nicely on On
Demand, which is where I ultimately saw the little 70-minute claymation
movie (I could say stop-motion animated, which it is, but it is very
much in the clay tradition of practically being able to see the
fingerprints on the characters' bodies and faces). It's about... I
suppose how to live a life, I suppose, and that's emphasized by the
book that keeps popping up periodically in the film- which you can buy
for $9.99 (in the movie, not in real life, I think anyway)- that tells
what the Meaning of Life is... that is, it gives a lot of other offers
for books on how to deal with this or that in life. It almost looks
like a coupon book, which is a shame since the character who is most in
love with it, a nice kid, seems very much engrossed by it.
But the title of Tatia Rosenthal's film is more like rounding off reality, perhaps. It's not a full $10, but the characters do try to make that price in their lives. To put it another way, no one character in this film is quite happy, but they keep trying, and maybe life will have some meaning when they can attain some happiness - or not, as case might be. Rosenthal's film, based on short stories Etgar Keret, focus on a group of people who have some, um, quirks to them, or are just painfully normal. The film begins with a middle-aged businessman turning down a homeless man a dollar for a coffee, and the homeless guy pulls out a gun and shoots himself. He later returns as an Angel and hangs out with an old guy on his porch, smoking cigarettes and wondering what Heaven is like. The businessman's sons: one is the Meaning of Life book-reader, and the other is a repo man who falls hard for a sexy (as sexy as claymation can be) model, and proceeds to shave his whole body with hair - and then takes a cue from the organ-less men who removed their body parts until they were heads and blobs. All for love, I guess.
Other stories are a little more ordinary, more or less. More: a little boy is told by his father to put away fifty cents in his piggy bank so he can save up to buy a toy, but he finds that he grows attached to the piggy bank, who he names, and finds the piggy's smile very comforting ("I put money in, he smiles, I don't put money in... he smiles!"). Less: a guy whose girl really wants to settle down and marry and have kids and all of that, but finds that he would rather spend time in his room, listening to records with his three little "friends", little men ala Gulliver's Travels, and getting wasted on beer and pot. So the stories are mostly by themselves, but intertwine by certain events (such as the Angel doing a test "fly" off of the patio and with everyone else looking out the window), or by thematic context.
The stories have a lot of humor to them, with one-liners that zing ("I found that there's not one meaning to life, there's six!"), and the look of the film feels similar but is original in its own right of character design and approach (and, for once, we get a rated-R claymation movie, including full frontal nudity!), but it also goes for deep moments and resonance, and Rosenthal strikes some good ground here. She doesn't try and over-do the messages, but lets them speak for themselves through the stories. It's genuinely odd, but it also gives heart-felt scenes and passages, such as the little boy with the piggy bank (the end of his story with the bank is quite touching), and it values the power of human responsibility with fantasy in equal measure. If it were a little longer it might really be something great, but as it stands it's a curious little find.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A man steps out of an apartment block and is accosted by a vagrant who
pulls out a gun and politely requests for a dollar to buy a cup of
coffee. The man refuses saying he is feeling manipulated and the
vagrant promptly shoots himself. Yes, kills himself! This is the
stunningly surreal opening sequence of the film. This stop motion
animation film is populated with more such oddballs. . There is a drug
addict who has for his buddies three Lilliputians straight out of
Gulliver's World. We have a supermodel who likes her men so smooth that
she can tolerate neither hair nor bones on their body. There is a
little kid who gets a coin every time he drinks milk, which he saves in
a piggybank; yet when it gets full does not have the heart to break it.
The one common thread that binds these disparate characters staying in the same apartment block is their deep melancholy. They are bored by the monotony of their lives and are in search of a meaning. We can readily empathise with these characters despite the comic book feel of the film.
The film takes a dig at the self help books available for $9.99. Despite shot in vivid colours, this is a grim film asking some uncomfortable questions about the meaning of life and happiness. The film ends on a positive note though with two of its characters teaching themselves to swim like a dolphin from a self help book. They have managed to discover their happiness. A fairy tale for today's grown-ups.
The animation is a treat for the eyes
Personally I dig stop-motion animation, for the simple conscious fact
that there's a lot of blood and sweat going on behind the scenes just
to get an object to move. You can imagine what it takes to get a
character to move an arm, and you extrapolate that effort into a
feature length film with a lot more things happening concurrently on
screen, and you're likely to appreciate this artform a lot more, with
new found respect for it.
$9.99 is an amazing piece of stop-motion animation coupled with a tremendously engaging story made up of multiple narrative threads, and a myriad of characters attempting to tackle their respective problems in life. It begins with a bang literally, where a homeless man (Geoffrey Rush) with a gun in hand, asks Jim Peck (Anthony LaPaglia) for a cigarette and a light, before launching into some really clever moments about manipulation. It's an excellent start to jolt you into realizing that this film isn't just another walk in the park, and as it plays on, you'd discover its brilliance in its commentary about life, as seen from the experiences of the residents in an apartment block.
We have a family of three, with Jim who might just need his karma checked for encountering really antagonizing moments involving death, and his two sons Dave (Samuel Johnson) and Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn), the former being unemployed and is found to be central to the narrative, and the latter being a Repo-man finding himself falling, and obsessing over the love by new neighbour and supermodel Tanita (Leeanna Walsman), who has a fetish for a hairless body. Then there's a lonely old man who finds the world contents passing him by with nobody interested in hearing him talk a bit (well, because he's long-winded as well), finding a companion in an angel, whom he asks incessantly about Heaven. Then there's a boy who has a friend in his piggy bank, and a couple on the verge of being married having to fall out because one of them refuses to grow up.
The "$9.99" comes from the price of a catalog of books, one of which touts to hold The Meaning of Life which Dave buys. Unfortunately, the characters here seem to be caught up in living their own lives and falling victim to respective challenges life presents itself, and so every effort that Dave wants to share gets spurned, and we the audience, unfortunately, don't get to hear if there are any insights to that. But of course we all know that there's no silver bullet, and the characters here, though the course of this emotionally moving film, learn of that meaning as it applies in their own, with the old man determined to take a more proactive approach, to a connection between a father and a son, to love found and running parallel to that, a love broken because of sacrifices that one has to make, or the lack thereof, and the maturing of a young child.
I guess nobody scoffs at animation, especially one that targets the mature audience check out that Dr Manhatten moment. I've new found respect for stop-motion animation, and for the filmmakers involved in producing this fine piece of work. The attention to detail is incredible, never at any moment hinting that they had cut some corners and compromised quality. Definitely highly recommended, and easily one of the few films I thoroughly enjoyed in the festival lineup.
In a Sydney apartment building, Dave Peck is an unemployed 28 year old
living with his father Jim. Jim encounters a homeless man who pulls out
a gun. He's not robbing him but only wants a dollar. Jim doesn't give
him the dollar and he shoots himself. Dave buys a book giving the
meaning of life for $9.99 in the mail. His brother Lenny gets him a job
as a repossessor. Lenny has model girlfriend Tanita who is obsessed
with smooth hairless guys. The homeless man returns as an Angel and
talks to old man Albert. Zacky is a soccer obsessed boy. His father
gives him a piggy bank instead of a soccer toy. Ron asks Michelle to
get marry but she rejects him.
The stop-motion claymation looks interesting. It gives the movie an originality. The story has plenty of weird touches although it's too scattered. The narrative meanders a lot following quite a few main characters. It opens with an intriguing scene. Then it grounds down a bit. Dave is an annoying character. I can't tell if he's mentally handicap. He's slow and clueless like a 10 year old. I don't understand Michelle although her phrase "I'm not yelling. I'm just talking very loud." is kinda funny. Angel falling off the building should have been the climax. It is definitely a great scene. In general, the story is a bit too scattered and it needs a more compelling lead than Dave.
An Australian-Israel independent animation clay movie that tells the
story of a group of lonely people living in the same block of
apartments. The story is told, mainly through 28y.o. unemployed Dave
Peck, who buys books by post for only $9.99, one of them about the
meaning of life. But we also see his depressive father, his
disconnected brother, a commercial sexy model, an elderly widower, a
father living with his only child, a young couple in crisis, an
"angel", and a former magician.
This is a film for adults that examines adult themes (loneliness, immaturity, lack of love and purpose in life, lack of communication in society), with drug use, nudity and explicit sex scenes included. It also has some surrealist touches in between, that I found delightful.
The clay animation is very cartoonish in a way, odd-looking at first, but very original, with great movement and good facial expressions, realistic clothing and body language. I loved all the decoration of the flats, all the little details inside them, which help to draw visually the character of the people living in them. The city landscapes and city spots are also lovely. The colours and mood of the movie are excellent, and also the music.
The individual stories are great - fresh, believable, and poignant. They depict well the sins and deficiencies of modern society, and the social distress in which many people live. They also show real Australian characters and attitudes, those that you'd find in real world, in your own block of apartments. Raw Australia without sweetener.
The main problem of the movie is the lack of a real plot. In most cases we are just witnesses of the lives of those people, but we do not understand why are in a certain state or why they act in a certain way, what troubles them inside and moves them to act in a certain way - Lack of depth. Only after watching the movie, I learnt that the story is based in different short stories by Etgar Keret, which explains in part the lack of harmony of the film, and the disconnection of some of the individual stories. The scriptwriter is to blame for not finding an element that gives consistency to the whole film and not blending well the individual stories.
In fact, the aim of the movie might not be clear to the viewer. All the part about the purchase of books is unnecessary. Many people will think that the meaning of life is what the movie is all about, when in fact the movie shows that life does not have any meaning, at least for the characters of the story, and that life is what it is. So, why confusing the viewer with elements that don't add anything to the characters or the story line? I think it is a very interesting and original film with great characters that deserves to be watched despite its flaws.
I guess a lot of people went into this movie expecting something more
straightforward and "meaningful" due to its premise. Perhaps they were
expecting some sort of insight into the meaning of life; after all, one
of the main characters does buy a book for the titular $9.99 which
purports to know.
Instead what we have is a delightful collection of interwoven short stories, all sharing in a similar theme of what it means to be happy, with surrealist angle that gives it an almost fairytale feel, but which never detracts from its believability.
The characters are made out of clay, but they're people, and even in their mundane lives, they still have interesting stories to see play out. None of them are heroes, or villains, or otherwise anything more or less than ordinary enough people. They have flaws, and fears, and insecurities, but they manage to make do with what they have to give their lives meaning, and it's the sort of thing that happens all the time in the real world, just sans some feathers and swimming techniques.
This movie never bludgeons you over the head with things the director feels are profound or meaningful, it sits down with you for some tea and chats amiably about its day, and lets you draw your own conclusions. If you want a movie to just relax and get lost in, you probably won't go wrong with $9.99.
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