In today's DVD reviews, we cover a Korean drama, a documentary about young boys exiled from a polygamist cult, and a British crime thriller. We're almost done with the films of 2011, but first we've gotta cover...
Poetry - This is the first film I have seen from South Korean writer/director Chang-Dong Lee, but it is easy to see why he is quickly earning an honored place in the pantheon of international directors. Poetry is a beautifully shot, thoughtful film that takes its time without lagging, and reveals itself in layers, much like a poem. There is something reminiscent of Hitchcock in both the way the story unfolds, and in its ending.
Poetry tells the story of Mija, a young at heart grandmother raising her grandson as a single parent. At least, that's the woman we meet briefly at the film's beginning. Bad news at the doctor's office starts her odyssey of late in life self discovery and leads her to enroll, on a whim, in a poetry class. More dire twists of Mija's fate compound her stress exponentially. She must reach deep inside herself both to make the most difficult decisions of her life and to write a poem.
Lee's script and direction, however excellent, could not have carried this film without the amazing performance of actress Jeong-hie Yun. So much of this film rests solely upon the expressions of Mija's face. Her journey is the film. As embodied by Yun, she is adorable, lovable, pitiable, and admirable. She creates a character that is much more of a whole person than the vast majority of those captured on film.
Like a good poem, Poetry is not obvious, and gives up its meaning indirectly and organically. It gives no easy answers, but makes you look inside yourself in much the same way as its leading lady. Available on DVD and Netflix Instant Play. 4 1/2 of 5*
Sons of Perdition - This rather below the radar documentary almost got scratched off my viewing list several times, but I'm so glad that I kept it there, because I would have missed out on one of the year's most deserving non-fiction films. First time feature film directors Tyler Meason and Jennilyn Merten have created a well rendered portrait of a segment of the population whose lives and experiences are very alien to most of us in a way that allowed us to understand them better without ever inviting us to judge them.
Sons of Perdition tells the story of three teenage boys exiled from the polygamist cult (FLDS) and compound ("The Crick") they had spent their whole lives in. Separated from their families and unable to enter normal society without stable adoptive homes, the boys struggle to find their place in the world while trying to help loved ones still inside to escape at the same time.
The film's three main subjects are all flawed, damaged personalities, who nevertheless demonstrate a heartbreaking yearning to join the world and grow beyond the limitations of their backgrounds. I found myself horrified by the stories of life in "The Crick", rooting for the boys in all of their efforts, and disappointed when they messed up their opportunities. The film was both informative and emotionally engaging. Available on DVD. 4 1/2 of 5*
London Boulevard - I would love to report that Oscar winning screen writer William Monahan's first directorial outing was an unmitigated success, but I would be fibbing a bit. It's not that he's made a bad film here, or even that the direction is clumsy or sophomoric. The main fault lies in the predictability of the script, I think. So many crime thriller cliches. Guy gets out of prison, wants to turn his life around, meets girl outside of his old circles who's probably too good for him but he makes her feel safe, local crime lord tries to pull him back in, he resists, his loved ones are threatened, etc., etc., etc. Each etc. in that sentence is an actual example of the film's overused bag of noir-lite tricks that would have been more of a spoiler than I usually like to employ. I wouldn't have expected this from the man who wrote The Departed. Maybe the fault lies with the source material.
Whatever the case, the fault definitely does not lie with star Colin Farrell, who continues to prove he can shine in films that give him an opportunity to be better than the source material. Many of the situations that his character finds himself in have been done to death, but Farrell finds a way to make them his own. His delivery makes many scenes flow naturally that could easily have seemed cheesy. Basically, London Boulevard was somewhat entertaining, but less than essential viewing. 3 of 5*