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Dog Day Afternoon
Set It Off
An odd double feature? Sure. But, pairing the (unforgettable) Dog Day Afternoon with the (mostly forgotten) Set It Off accentuates the tragic gay-and-lesbian sentiments that run throughout both films, even if they aren’t necessarily intended to stand out. In the former, Al Pacino plays Sonny Wortzik, an amateur crook who robs a bank to pay for his partner’s sex-change surgery. In the latter, Queen Latifah plays Cleo, a hard-nosed lesbian who convinces three friends to rob a bank. Although Sonny and Cleo couldn’t be more different, these characters drew difficult, multifaceted performances from Pacino and Latifah that add an incredible degree of emotional heft to each film. Both films are marked by a boldness. Pacino’s performance in the mid-’70s and Latifah’s in the mid-’90s stand against difficult periods of LGBT violence — especially in cities — subtly challenging social prejudices without lionizing themselves. All of this is to say: There’s a lot more to Dog Day Afternoon and Set It Off than bank robberies and tragic endings. –Chris Heller
Far From Heaven
It’d be easy to deem Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes’s Oscar-nominated drama, as simply a clever pastiche of the infamous 1950’s housewife genre — which characterized itself in tales of bored wives, social angst and tempestuous love. Indeed, Haynes borrows heavily from the Douglas Sirk films of that era, with lush colors, period direction, lavish costuming and deliberately clunky dialogue, but he uses the genre and its penchant for examining the lives of the traditional white, middle-class family, and injects a postmodern emphasis on racial tension and sexuality — topics explicitly disallowed in Sirk’s time. Julianne Moore, in a stunning performance, is Cathy Whitaker, the housewife in question, whose seemingly perfect life is shattered when her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) reveals his repressed homosexuality. What follows is a close examination of the reaction typical of the time – therapy, secrecy, an emphasis on maintaining the veneer of perfection – and the inevitable destruction it wreaks on their family. Brilliantly acted, Far From Heaven is a beautifully crafted modern take on the effects of sexuality on the nuclear family. –Rhuaridh Marr
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