Though the feeling persists that this movie wants to bring the spirit of Neil Simonmeaning the Jewish middle class and the New York suburbsto lesbian farce, this adaptation by costars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen of their own off-Broadway play is both better and worse than that description implies. Better because the cast is wonderful and the story is commendably free of the sectarian us-versus-them tone of many romantic gay movies, and worse because the jazzy vocals are too strident and Charles Herman-Wurmfeld’s direction lacks the polish of a well-mounted Simon comedy. Still, this is possibly the funniest lesbian romp since Go Fish. 94 min. (JR)
Started in 2000 near the Afghan border in Iran, shot in rough and haphazard conditions, and completed the following spring, this is one of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s strangest films. An Afghan woman (Nelofer Pazira), exiled to Canada, returns to look for her sister, who still suffers under the Taliban and has threatened to kill herself during the forthcoming solar eclipse. This may sound like a setup for action and suspense, but the narrative is much more splintered than that, combining poetry, black comedy, social protest, and a sharp sense of actuality. The acting is mainly horrendous and the English dialogue is frequently awkward, but they’re overcome by the beautiful colors and settings and a grim sense of the uncanny spilling over into twisted humor. I didn’t even mind when the narrative stopped abruptly; in retrospect, Kandahar seems like an experimental film, a horror story, and a slapstick comedy–sometimes all at once. In Farsi with subtitles; also known as The Sun Behind the Moon. 85 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 22 through 28.
A young Catholic in San Francisco (Josh Hartnett), still pining for his ex-girlfriend (Vinessa Shaw), takes a vow of sexual abstinence for the 40 days of Lent, and after his flatmate and coworkers place bets on whether or not he’ll make it, he meets the woman of his dreams (Shannyn Sossamon). Scripted by Robert Perez and stylishly directed by Michael Lehmann, the film doesn’t shy away from cheap gags when it runs out of good ones, and if I were a Catholic I might be offended in spots (after getting himself chained to his bed, the hero compares himself to Jesus). But this is smooth and at times even sensuala well-oiled machine. With Paulo Costanzo and Griffin Dunne. 93 min. (JR)
Completing a loose trilogy of revisionist horror films that’s already seen Habit (about vampires) and No Telling (which works with the Frankenstein myth), writer-director Larry Fessenden’s loose take on the wolf man movie (2000) is stylistically lively and generally well acted. Thematically, however, it’s somewhat incoherent. When a photographer (Jake Weber) and a psychotherapist (Patricia Clarkson) from New York City drive upstate with their eight-year-old son (Erik Per Sullivan) to spend a weekend in a friend’s farmhouse, their car hits a deer being tracked by local hunters, antagonizing one of them. Over the course of the weekend the boy is introduced to the Native American myth of the Wendigo, a spirit that combines man, animal, and vegetation, but the film sends mixed signalssometimes it simply seems to want to be a horror remake of Deliverance. The bold editing keeps things visually interesting throughout. 90 min. (JR)