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And of Clay Are We Created

$9.99 (2009)

Regent Releasing

Some of the best animated films are the ones in which the story could not be told any other way. Perhaps you need a flying house held aloft by balloons as in "Up," or you are attempting to re-create spotty memories of a traumatic past as in "Waltz with Bashir." Either way, for whatever reason, live action just won't do. An Israeli-Australian stop-motion film directed by Tatia Rosenthal, "$9.99" joins the ranks of well-written and beautifully-rendered modern animated films, but it ultimately lacks that essential relationship between form and function achieved by the best.

Based on the short stories of Etgar Keret, "$9.99" explores the lives of the inhabitants of an apartment building in a nondescript city. The characters include a little boy saving up for an action figure, a lonely old man who forms a friendship with a local bum, and a young man, Dave (voiced by Samuel Johnson), who is looking for the meaning of life in a mail-order book ("for the low price of $9.99!"). "People think there is just one meaning," Dave says to his father after reading a few chapters, "but there are actually six!" Dave's older brother is less philosophical, choosing instead to flirt with girls around town. After a few pick-up lines, one woman sighs. "You seem like a really nice repossessor, Lenny, but I'd like to be left alone."

There are plenty of witty and funny lines in "$9.99," and the actors have great comic timing. The settings, props and puppets themselves are beautifully crafted and have a unique, painterly style. But the stories themselves are so divergent in tone that, when weaved together, the film lacks cohesion. The puppetry style can be effective and jarring when the characters engage in unexpected violence or grief, but conversely, some sexual scenes come off as ridiculous and grotesque, almost reminiscent of spoofs like "Team America: World Police."

"$9.99" is a feature-length film which grew out of several short films, and perhaps Mr. Keret's stories and Ms. Rosenberg's style are better suited for shorts. The handcrafted artfulness and magical realism are there, but some of the edges just needed to be sanded down a bit - and for some parts, there might be the question of why this particular story needs to be told in this particular – and peculiar – way.


Opens on June 19 in Manhattan.

Directed by Tatia Rosenthal; written by Ms. Rosenthal and Etgar Keret, based on a story by Mr. Keret; directors of photography, Susan Stitt, James Lewis and Richard Bradshaw; puppetmaster, Phillip Beadsmoore; animators, Steve Cox and Antony Elworthy; music by Christopher Bowen; production designer, Melinda Doring; produced by Emile Sherman and Amir Harel; released by Regent Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Geoffrey Rush (the Angel/Homeless Man), Anthony LaPaglia (Jim), Samuel Johnson (Dave), Claudia Karvan (Michelle), Joel Edgerton (Ron) and Barry Otto (Albert).


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