Choose Your Own Adventure with Aaron Katz and Lee Chang-dong 

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Cold Weather Directed by Aaron Katz and Poetry Directed by Lee Chang-dong

Opening a week apart, two new films arrive with stories conditioned by different stages of growing pains and, to varying effect, leaving the viewer to observe someone else's search. Poetry, the latest film from Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine), is understated and disarmingly frank in its portrayal of a woman in her late sixties staying afloat while grappling with her grandson's mindlessly evil deed. Cold Weather, the third feature from Dance Party, USA and Quiet City director Aaron Katz, rambles along with a Portland slacker whose willfully water-treading life with his sister is galvanized by a mystery involving his ex.

Saddled with a beer-ad parody of an art-house title, Lee's drama features more than its share of misfortunes befalling its by turns fearful and firm-willed main character, Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee). There are her problems recalling vocabulary that portend Alzheimer's, her job caring for a frisky stroke victim, and last but not least, a horrible crime and a communal moral conundrums to contend with (a fixture of so many Korean imports). But Lee, who first rose to success as a novelist and screenwriter, sticks to Mija's often wandering point of view instead of confining the film to a storyline of redemption. Framing shots of a river express the mingled flow of her gradual progress and of events beyond her control. Yes, Mija takes a poetry class, whose outtakes are faithful enough to be trying, and Lee strains for the brass ring with a lyrical conclusion, but the film is admirably rooted in the private twists and turns of a credibly and awkwardly layered character.

It may seem a little easy to move from (qualified) praise for a Korean film called Poetry to disappointment with a film from a director often slapped with the ridiculous term mumblecore. But in Cold Weather, Katz adopts a similar openness about where his film is headed and how we get to know its world. Rather than working in and around the hard and soft edges of a dramatic plot, Katz frontloads thirty minutes of settling in with forensics school dropout Doug (Cris Lankenau), newly rooming with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and employed at an ice-making plant. When an ex-girlfriend reappears and then abruptly disappears, Doug turns detective, first spurred by co-worker Carlos and then roping in Gail.

The details seem potentially sordid, but the most fraught moments come in verbal exchanges with Carlos (Raul Castillo) and Gail; the search is at heart a playing out of personal tensions and restless energies. But that initial half-hour instills a tedium that nothing overturns. Katz, who has excelled with slippery moments more than the big picture, leans on mechanical landscape montages and an enervating score. Gumshoe confabs between Doug and Carlos range from funny to flat to outright awkward in one scene of rude awakening. Despite comparisons made since its SXSW debut, the film lacks the dotty mystique of Rivette or the consistent larfs of Manhattan Murder Mystery. For a story of a life detoured into intrigue, it's less diverting than it could be.

Opening February 4, February 11

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