“Love Is Strange”
Directed by Ira Sachs
Currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray
In most romances, no one worries about money or space, not even in high-dollar Manhattan. In “Love Is Strange,” writer/director Ira Sachs’ 2014 sleeper, new to Sony Classics DVD/Blu-ray and streaming, these forces retain their real-world gravity. So when George (Alfred Molina) weds Ben (John Lithgow), his partner of decades, and loses his job teaching music at a Catholic school in the bargain, the sudden loss of income is a serious problem. And as they scour New York for a new apartment they can afford, the newlyweds have to split up and bunk in other tiny dwellings around the city—George with gay neighbors a generation younger, Ben with his nephew and family, who have their own problems. Complications ensue.
Sachs isn’t preaching here, thankfully, though he makes good use of the tensions that fuel the plot—gay couples’ fight for dignity, the precarious financial perch of the aging, insane NYC real estate, and so on. More importantly, he makes masterful use of the simple drama of throwing people together and keeping them apart. Ben, sweet as the day is long, can’t help but get on the nerves of his writer niece (Marisa Tomei) and her adolescent son (Charlie Tahan) simply through proximity. And when George, weary of sharing a house with well-meaning party boys, bursts into Ben’s temporary billet and collapses their avuncular reserve with a weepy bear hug, it drops jaws with its naked emotional need. Sachs can’t avoid a few abrupt plot points and odd red herrings, but “Love Is Strange” feels on intimate terms with both its characters and the city in which it’s set. Not many films earn comparison with Kenneth Lonergan’s modern masterpiece “Margaret,” but this one does. (Lee Gardner)
“The Sword of Doom”
Directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Currently available on DVD/Blu-Ray
In cinema, samurai are like cowboys—the minute you spot that iconic silhouette, you can make some assumptions about skill, stoicism, and adherence to a code. But what if our protagonist isn’t a hero in waiting, or even an antihero? What if he’s a murderous borderline sociopath? Japanese director Kihachi Okamoto’s undersung 1966 film “The Sword of Doom,” out now in a new digital transfer from the Criterion Collection, pushes this idea further than Western directors such as Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone would for a couple of years. Indeed, its evocation of the psychic costs of a life dedicated to bloody violence feels remarkably fresh today.
Ryunosuke (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) is the best swordsman in the province. But he’s not above killing an elderly pilgrim he happens across, or manipulating the wife of a rival into sleeping with him to save her husband, who Ryunosuke then kills anyway. Soon, scores wants him dead, but no one can best him; in a pair of remarkable dueling sequences, Nakadai brings to mind a viper—silent, coiled, detached, almost passive until the moment he strikes. But Ryonuke’s predatory nature and trail of ill will poisons everything around him. He lives rough, bound to a mistress he uses like a drudge, working for warriors he considers his inferiors, all while a slow drip of madness erodes his toehold in reality.
“The Sword of Doom” also features samurai-film icon Toshirô Mifune in a small role as the upright swordmaster who coordinates efforts to rid the world of Ryunosuke, and his casting throws into relief the nihilism at the film’s core. This is not a story about the triumph of good. It is, in fact, about the triumph of evil over a man’s soul, and though the film ends with Ryunosuke still in the middle of an epic fight, it’s nonetheless clear that the title weapon has found its mark. (LG)