Another Movie Guy?: "$9.99"

Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I normally review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. I feel a bit under the weather, so no similar movies this time. But don’t fret – you wouldn’t want to see a movie like this one.

While watching $9.99, the new stop-motion feature playing at E Street, I thought of the Uncannyy Valley. Fans of 30 Rock will recall the Valley as the place where humanoid characters reach an uncomfortable middle ground between abstraction and realism. Such a phenomenon applies to $9.99, a collection of vignettes based on the work of Israeli writer Etgar Keret. The characters are off-kilter but not necessarily interesting, and the characters definitely exist in the Valley. There are fleeting moments of interesting visuals, yet the movie never gels into a watchable whole.

Keret focuses on a Sydney apartment building in which tenets look for meaning in their lives. A homeless man threatens suicide if a random passerby does not provide a dollar for a cup of coffee. A repo man begins a passionate affair with a fashion model who requires much more than simple physical pleasure. There are also more innocent residents – a boy forms an unlikely attachment with his piggy bank, and a teenager discovers the path to happiness in a mail-order guide (guess the asking price). Meanwhile the homeless man turns out to be an angel, and now harasses the tenet who denied him charity. At first the stories develop in ordinary ways. Then things take a turn for the absurd  – I won’t reveal the twists, except to say that the characters are ready to make unusual sacrifices.

Because of the Uncanny Valley, I always felt distant from the action. The claymation is neither expressive nor beautiful. Unlike Nick Park‘s wonderful Wallace and Gromit movies, the characters of $9.99 move inelegantly, and there are times where you can even see the wrinkles in the figures. With the exception of Geoffrey Rush as the homeless angel, the actors bring little wit or emotion to their performances. All the stories reach some conclusion about the search for happiness (e.g., you won’t find answers for $9.99), yet Keret offers little that’s new or interesting. The ambitions of Keret and his director Tatia Rosenthal are perhaps better suited to a web series.

$9.99 will not capture the audience’s imagination, especially since most animated nowadays efforts are far more colorful and engaging. The movie is not worth your time, and even at a running time of 78 minutes, it feels a little tedious.  Oh, and I forgot the mention the sex scenes. Two characters fuck in a way that’s perfectly ordinary – there’s plenty of clay nudity. I found myself oddly angry at the sight of solid clay breasts. I wonder what the director was thinking. There’s no way such a scene could be construed as erotic, and after a few seconds, my aversion became so strong I craved the closing credits.  Now I only wish Frank from 30 Rock could sit Rosenthal down and tell her what it’s like.

That’s it for today’s “Another Movie Guy?”! Tune in later this week when I’m almost nominated for a Nobel Prize.