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Nine Lives

Forget Tim Meadows on "Saturday Night Live" — director Rodrigo Garcia is the real ladies' man. Three of Garcia's four feature films to date have showcased some of Hollywood's best actresses in subtle, thoughtful performances as complicated, utterly human characters. Nine Lives (2005) is similar to Garcia's earlier Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her in that it's a collection of several loosely connected vignettes about a group of women living in Los Angeles. But in Nine Lives, each segment is presented as a single, uninterrupted take, offering a real-time glimpse into the lives of its nine heroines: frustrated prison inmate Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), wistful mom-to-be Diana (Rogin Wright Penn), woman-on-the-verge Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton), optimistic girlfriend Sonia (Holly Hunter), teenage caretaker Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), edgy divorcée Lorna (Amy Brenneman), nervous mother Ruth (Sissy Spacek), breast cancer patient Camille (Kathy Baker), and graveyard picnicker Maggie (Glenn Close). Close, Hunter, Brenneman, and Baker all also co-starred in Things You Can Tell, and Baker and Hamilton were in the director's Ten Tiny Love Stories; it's clear that they enjoy the all-too-rare opportunity Garcia's films provide for Hollywood actresses — particularly those "of a certain age." And they thank him by doing a wonderful job; each actress makes her character as fascinatingly flawed as a woman should be. The men in Nine Lives aren't anything to sneeze at, either: Aidan Quinn, William Fichtner, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, and Jason Isaacs all deliver strong supporting performances (Isaacs' understated work as Diana's former flame is particularly notable, given that many moviegoers are used to seeing him as the hugely over-the-top Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). Nine Lives is a quiet, reflective film that finds drama in the kind of moments that make up real life — it's greatest success is in making those moments so absorbing that we forget its cinematic "gimmick" almost as soon as we notice it. That said, capturing the picture's scenes in one take was a difficult job that challenged cast and crew alike, as the behind-the-scenes featurettes on Sony's DVD make clear. There are four in all: "The Women of Nine Lives," "Sonia: Blocking a Scene," "Working with One Continuous Take," and "Maggie: A Day at the Cemetery." Also included are previews and a 22-minute Q&A session with Garcia, Brenneman, Hamilton, Baker, and Mantegna at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. The anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) is strong, as is the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are available). Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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