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Knight at the Movies: Yossi; Oscar epilogue; film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2013-03-06

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Out director Eytan Fox's Yossi & Jagger, the clandestine and tragic love story between two Israeli army buddies, is often cited as one of the best gay movie love stories. (Tt certainly rates very highly on my list.)

It brought its out director, Eytan Fox, a certain amount of international fame, and he has followed it up with a batch of well-received movies, all with major gay characters and themes. (One of my favorites is his 2005 thriller Walk on Water, which stars Lior Ashkenazi.) Now a decade after its release, Fox has made Yossi, a bittersweet and insightful sequel to Yossi & Jagger. The film opens in Chicago exclusively on Friday, March 8, at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

It's been 10 years since Lior's untimely death in the arms of his secret lover and, as the movie begins, we discover that Yossi (Ohad Knoller) the soldier is still in mourning. He has poured himself into work becoming Dr. Yossi Hoffman, the work-obsessed heart specialist. His best friend, co-worker and fellow doctor Moti (Lior Ashkenazi, who starred in Walk on Water) is an incorrigible womanizer who senses his friend's loneliness and tries to draw him out of his shell. But Yossi, who is circumspect about his gay sexuality (to the point where a pretty nurse mistakes his friendliness for a come-on), keeps an emotional distance from everyone.

Then, a chance encounter with Lior's mother—who is visiting the hospital where Yossi works for routine tests on her heart—reignites strong memories of Lior and their abortive relationship. At the same time a desire for … desire and maybe a relationship is reawakened, and Yossi tentatively begins exploring the possibilities. A hook- up with a hot guy he meets on a dating site is a mortifying first step (and will no doubt resonate strongly with lots of gay men). Yossi has gained weight, doesn't work out and looks nothing like his online photo—something the hook-up guy quickly points out. A night out with Moti and an emotionally stilted visit with Lior's parents follow.

But it's another unexpected development—which finds Yossi giving a ride to a group of young (and very hot) soldiers on leave to a resort—that actually puts a potential new love object directly in his path. When Yossi decides on a whim to stay at the resort, Tom (Oz Zehavi), the only openly gay soldier among the group, does everything he can to let Yossi know that he's interested with a capital "I." The supremely confident Tom, with his blonde good looks and to-die-for body, senses something beyond the one-night stands in Yossi. But will Tom ever be able to break through to the emotionally cautious and potentially cuddly Yossi (whose weight gain makes him a fine bear-cub specimen)?

Fox and his screenwriter, Itay Segal, explore possible second acts for those suffering the long-term aftereffects of a tragic love—a theme that will resonate deeply with those old enough to be emotionally scarred by the AIDS pandemic as well as those entering middle age and still tantalized by the possibility of finding love. Or, just those thinking about trying love for a second time. (The fictional Yossi is after all, only 34.) Fox, who has done more to put a face to the vibrant gay scene in Israel with his contemplative movies, adds another thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying film to his resume with Yossi, which will touch audiences of all persuasions.

http://landmarktheatres.com/Market/Chicago/Chicago_Frameset.htm

Oscar epilogue: This year's Oscar award telecast, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, was surely the most divisive since James Franco and Anne Hathaway co-hosted a scant two years ago. Live snarking during the broadcast, not to mention follow-up op-ed pieces, blog posts and a landfill's worth of opinions on MacFarlane's choice of material (anti-woman/misogynist in the extreme or razor sharp satire that you just didn't discern) and capabilities as a host are old news by now. I thought MacFarlane was a medium choice for the show—with some bits landing, many more falling with a thud and with the most egregious of his faults being his lack of hosting skills; this was not a man born to comfortably emcee.

There has also been a lot of variety in the opinions about the show itself—put together by openly gay producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan for the first time. To some, the inclusion of the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus; Shirley Bassey; Jennifer Hudson; two selections from Zadan and Meron's own Oscar-winning movie, Chicago; and, of course, a rare appearance by Barbra Streisand made this the gayest Oscar show in ages. To others (myself included), these "gay" inclusions were sullied by the bizarrely haphazard way the show was thrown together without any sense of pacing. Ironically, for an awards show dedicated to movies, few clips from the Academy's 85-year history were shown (and the 50-year tribute to Bond was terribly edited, too).

Perhaps the show's most egregious faux pas, however, came during the "In Memoriam" tribute. For the family, friends and former colleagues of those filmmakers lost in 2012, the selection process must have seemed incredibly random.

It wasn't just heavyweight names like Andy Griffith and Phyllis Diller who were omitted but familiar faces like Latino character actress Lupe Ontiveros who didn't make the cut. (Her family has issued a statement detailing their disappointment with the show's producers.) A Feb. 7 New York Times article headlined "Even for the Dead, There's a Race to Make the A-List at Oscars" (a title that says it all) explains how the names are chosen (no surprise—it helps to have friends in high places). Hopefully, next year's producers will show a bit more sensitivity across the board to all demographics—and perhaps they'll even get back to presenting an awards show that demonstrates a love for the movies.

Film notes:

—Sci-Fi Spectacular 7—the annual 24-hour science-fiction movie marathon put together by promoter Rusty Nails—takes place Saturday, March 9, at the vintage Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. The doors open at 11 a.m., and from noon until noon on the following day (when, presumably, a group of bleary-eyed diehards will crawl out into the light) Nails is screening a whopping 17 features and several shorts.

The line-up includes everything from Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (man vs. zombies) to the Jim Henson guilty '80s pleasure Dark Crystal. In the Mouth of Madness, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dark City—three of my sci-fi favorites—are also part of the line-up. As usual, vendor tables with lots of memorabilia as well as a charity auction (with proceeds benefiting Vital Bridges) will be part of the fun. A full list of titles, screening times and advance tickets at http://www.portagetheater.org/Events/

—Throughout the month of March the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., is presenting the 16th annual European Union Film Festival. Each year, the fest features dozens of movies that will later show up on critical Top Ten Lists and find themselves winning prizes at competitive festivals before heading into theatrical release.

There are potential contenders worth checking out in this year's line-up but I'm particularly excited about the Chicago premiere of Portuguese queer filmmaker Joao Pedro Rodrigues's latest, a mystery thriller titled The Last Time I saw Macao. The film follows the attempts by an unseen male narrator to track the kidnappers of his long-lost drag-queen friend Cindy—who is glimpsed only in the film's opening moments. Rodrigues' movies—like his last one, 2009's To Die Like a Man (see note below)—push gender boundaries and The Last Time I Saw Macao, which was a cult hit at the Toronto Film Fest, promises to do the same. It screens on Friday, March 8, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, March 9, at 5:15 p.m. Complete line-up on the festival and ticket information at http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/eufilmfest2013

—Cinema Q III, the annual Cultural Center LGBT film series opens tonight, Wed., March 6, with the lesbian road dramedy Cloudburst (starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) and continues on Wednesday, March 13 with 2009's gritty To Die Like a Man, a fascinating portrait of an aging Portuguese drag queen from writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues. The series, which is co-sponsored by The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, The Legacy Project, Queer Film Society and Reeling, takes place in the Claudia Cassidy Theater in the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) at 6:30pm. Admission is free. A post screening discussion follows each of the movies. Windy City Times, Time Out Chicago and ChicagoPride are media co-sponsors for Cinema Q III. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/cinema_q.html

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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