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★★ 1/2 out of four stars
Rating: R for drug content throughout, and pervasive language including some sexual references.
Perhaps Henry Carter needs to read his own bestsellers. The celebrity psychiatrist to the stars and author of self-help classics "Stop Being Sad" and "Happiness Now" drags himself through his days in a drug-fogged daze. Carter's clientele of film-biz honchos, fading starlets and talent agency blowhards interconnect in the manner popularized by "Short Cuts," "Crash" and "Melrose Place." Carter, reeling from a shattered personal life, questions whether he can help any of them, let alone himself. The jaded doctor's blues lift a bit when he takes on a troubled teen (Keke Palmer) as a pro bono client.
The characters are so flatly conceived and their dilemmas so familiar that you wonder if the filmmakers even aspired to be original. Luckily, Kevin Spacey plays Carter with scene-saving grace. He makes the healer at once depressive and sharp-witted, and his rapport with the ensemble (including Saffron Burrows, Robert Loggia and Robin Williams) lifts the formulaic story to moments of authentic character revelation.
Spacey is perfectly suited to this smart, guarded character. Director Jonas Pate, newly arrived from television, presses hard on all the obvious buttons.
★★★ out of four stars
Rating: R for language and brief sexuality and nudity.
The seven ages of man braid together in this animated fable woven from short stories by Etgar Keret, often described as Israel's Woody Allen (the early, funny one). This Israeli-Australian feature uses stop-motion models to capture the surreal humor of Keret's fiction, where the funny and the uncanny rub shoulders. The cast of characters include Angel, a philosophical panhandler (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), weary single dad Jim (Anthony LaPaglia) and his two grown sons, Lenny (Ben Mendelsohn), a Casanova who works as a repo man, and Dave (Samuel Johnson), a searcher who orders a mail-order booklet promising to reveal the secrets of the universe "for a mere $9.99."
Lenny hooks up with a supermodel; his attempts to become her physical ideal transform him from man to ottoman. A little boy in their apartment building develops a fantasy friendship with his ceramic pink piggybank, while a lonely widower welcomes a rude, surly angel into his home.
What does it all mean? Possibly one thing, maybe six. "$9.99" marries the tradition of Jewish self-flagellating humor with uncanny absurdity. The film shows us miracles coexisting with the mundane, a tone of disorienting everyday oddness that is equal parts "Seinfeld," Kafka and Gumby. The conclusion is cheerful -- rather than strain for answers, we should just experience the joy of the moment -- but the road to that resolution is jarring.