Combustible Celluloid
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With: Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, Joel Edgerton, Samuel Johnson, Claudia Karvan, Jamie Katsamatsas, Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Leeanna Walsman
Written by: Tatia Rosenthal, Etgar Keret, based on stories by Etgar Keret
Directed by: Tatia Rosenthal
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 78
Date: 09/04/2008

$9.99 (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Meaning of Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I love it when animators break out of the usual rut, which requires that they make fast-paced CGI features for kids. Earlier this year we had Nina Paley's extraordinary Sita Sings the Blues, and now the Israeli-born filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal has turned in a feature film that is not only aimed squarely at adults, but also uses that archaic, lovely old method of stop-motion animation. Magically, however, the film becomes so emotionally involving that the style winds up calling little attention to itself, and real characters emerge. Set in an apartment building in a London-like city, the film tells several short stories about its inhabitants, many of which venture slyly into dark fantasy, but without intruding on the film's humanity. We first meet Jim (voiced by Anthony LaPaglia), a balding workaday schlub who guiltily refuses money to a homeless man and watches helplessly as the latter blows his own head off. Jim's older son is Lenny (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn) who works as a repossessor and falls for a sexy model (voiced by Leeanna Walsman). His brother Dave (voiced by Samuel Johnson) orders a book on the meaning of life (for the $9.99 of the title) but finds that no one wants to hear it. The homeless man (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) returns -- he may be an angel -- and wanders into the life of a lonely old widower. Besides that, a slacker tries to deal with his fiancée leaving him by talking to three imaginary, two-inch-tall beer-drinking buddies. And a boy saves his pennies in a piggy bank to be able to afford a soccer action figure. Rosenthal wrote the screenplay along with Etgar Keret (Wristcutters: A Love Story), adapting several of Keret's short stories. The pair effectively balances the film with on one story weighing more or less than the others. The animation helps take away the harsh, dark edge lurking in the margins of the stories, and the film finishes off with a warm, satisfying bittersweet tone. All this in just 78 minutes!

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