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Mean Creek


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I've seen Mean Creek twice now, and it improves with a second viewing. It's much more complex, truthful, and intriguing than I thought on the first go round.

It's been called a "teen Heart of Darkness," and I can see why. It's about some kids who go out on a river boat to play a prank on a playground bully who "has it coming." His worst behavior bring out the worst in them. You can feel a rising panic as the film and their journey progress, wishing you could reach in and turn that boat around.

What unfolds is, at times, predictable, but the characters are all thoroughly convincing and filmed in a naturalistic style that recalls George Washington , All the Real Girls, and even Raising Victor Vargas. Rory Culkin shows even more potential here than in Signs--his portrayal of a bullied young kid whose fleeting thoughts of revenge lead to a truamatizing experience of human evil is haunting. That kid's intuitive sense of portraying vulnerability, confusion, fear, and need is rather unsettling.

His co-stars are equally strong, especially Scott Mechlowicz, who may have found a star-making role as Marty, the oldest of the bunch, a teen abused by his father. His reckless and destructive behavior is at once terrifying and completely believable.

The location shooting in Oregon is at times quite beautiful, and yet dismaying in its vision of a rural setting devoid of traditional families and saddeningly free of parental involvement in their kids' lives. The way that these kids' misbehavior stems from the absence of fathers, mothers, and God in their lives is something to consider; their thoughts about their families and beliefs are only ever-so-slightly suggested by their comments, but they are, I think, the key to understanding the movie. There's also a lot going on in the film's exploration about the way that boys become men, or at least the way they THINK they should become men.

I recommend you catch this one at the theatre while you can; it may not stick around for long.

Cautionary note: A lot of harsh, crude language, typical of lonely and insecure teenage boys posturing to impress each other.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

It's been called a "teen Heart of Darkness," and I can see why.

Oh. My. Word. That is exactly what i wrote in an email to a friend this morning!

I was glad to show up this morning, after seeing Mean Creek last night, and find it nominated under the Spiritual Exploration in Film category. Like Dogville, it asks, in a powerful way: Should one always get what he deserves? If yes, why do we sometimes grieve when one does get what he deserves? Do punishment and rewards as a system of modifying behavior really add up to a truthful response, or only conditioning? At the base of our structures, have we all been conditioned to respond to pain the same way? If we are made in the image of God, has God ever experienced guilt when dealing out even a deserved punishment?

I want to recommend that everyone here sees Mean Creek. It's one of those films that deserves our attention. Likewise it's one of those films that looks like it's going to disappear fast.

We always look for stories whose themes burrow into the human psyche. This one finds that point and it resonates there, and then it digs to an even deeper level of discovery.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Just discovered:

Also by Jacob Aaron Estes: Summoning (2001). 29 min. Knives, guns and marijuana. A teenage girl in trouble. When her mother passes, she's left alone to cope with her emotionally dysfunctional father. As she learns to use black magic to summon the spirit she's lost, she discovers that the soul she should be contacting is amongst the living.

A user at IMDB calls it a "mesmerizing, profoundly moving little film."

Where can i find this?

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Still processing after seeing it yesterday. Very good. It certainly has the look and feel of low budget, but I think they really got their money's worth for $500K. I really like the prolonged scenes of quiet reflection. It gets to the point of making you uneasy with the intimacy of sensing the shock and pain of the characters.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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1998 seems to have been a pretty good year for young film writers. Estes was awarded one of the Nicholl Fellowships for Screenwriting. The fellows for 1998:

Jacob A. Estes ....Mean Creek

Robert H. Gyde ....Jelly-Babies

Donna McNeely ....Julia's Child

Karen M. Moncrieff ....Blue Car

Michael A. Rich .... Finding Forrester

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Jen and I just saw Mean Creek this last weekend at the Harvard Exit theater in Seattle (our favorite movie theater of all time).

We were both blown away. It's definitely in my top 10 of all time and a think a battle with Magnolia for the number 1 spot may be brewing.

I'm going to start going over previous posts to see if there are any fatal flaws I didn't pick up on a first viewing. Will some observation later, once I've caught up.

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I am now looking forward to this even more than when I saw the trailer before "Maria Full of Grace."

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Just in case... spoilers1.gif

Saw Mean Creek this afternoon and find myself impressed. I appreciated the understatedness of the whole thing. As the action moves along to major conflict, there was a sort of muted enjoyment of the beauty surrounding them. There's a shot in this early part of their trip that struck me in its simplicity. We see a beer can floating down the middle of this beautiful river. After seeing so many trees, birds, rock formations, and calm flowing water, this image haunted me.

The first half of the film seemed to be filled with these kinds of things, things that seemed just a bit off, yet still remaining truthful. One character relieving himself in the river, another making a sharp comment immediately ending conversation, another talking frankly about death. I think all of that set the stage so nicely for the upcoming events, leaving you captivated by the beauty of the surroundings yet uneasy about this whole situation.

I also appreciated the complexity of these characters, with the bully of course, but also of the relationships between friends, that seemed to mirror, at times, unhealthy encounters between the bully and others.

And finally, I was also struck by what an act of kindness did for one character, how it changed him so dramatically. How true that is. And how much it reveals to us about what people need, what they do to cover those needs, and the futility of most of our more negative responses.

This is such a well-thought out piece of work, and it's too bad that kids under 17 won't be able to experience this without their parents in the States. As I've heard Ebert comment a number of times, it seems the mature, responsible, and thoughtful work involving teens invariably receives an R, while the inane, vice-ridden stuff finds its way to PG-13. Blah.

Edited by John

All great art is pared down to the essential.
--Henri Langlois

 

Movies are not barium enemas, you're not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible.

--James Gray

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I really hope everybody on this list gets to see this before it disappears from theatres. It really deserves to be among the finalists in the AFC(2) year-end honors.

Which reminds me, I should get over to that AFC(2) thread and wrap things up.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Saw it. Loved it. Might have to see it again. Haven't had time to check out any of the reviews linked here, but might get around to it in the near future. Definite top ten material.

SPOILERS

One of the many things that struck me was how the bully was so complex and so dominant a personality in the first half of the film -- so capable of tugging your emotions in all sorts of directions -- that you really, really feel his absence in the second half. The last time I think I felt a character's non-presence in a movie this strongly might be when I saw the third act of Ikiru a year and a half ago.

I was also struck by how REAL these characters felt. When Rory Culkin gets his brother to get (most of) the other people to abandon their plan, I almost breathed a sigh of relief; the future felt open, full of possibility, capable of change; but then, no, I thought; no, if the plan were abandoned, then there wouldn't be a story to tell, and there wouldn't be a film, would there. It says something about the reality these characters inhabit so vividly that I really, really wished there wouldn't be a story to tell.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Did it just open in Vancouver or did you get to a late screening of it?

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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stef wrote:

: Did it just open in Vancouver or did you get to a late screening of it?

It opened here a week ago.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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That's kind of what i was getting at when i asked Peter when it opened in his area. I don't get it. It's not getting a fair shake. You've gotta wonder what's going on behind the scenes. What senator do i write in order to get this film more widely exposed?

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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That's kind of what i was getting at when i asked Peter when it opened in his area. I don't get it. It's not getting a fair shake. You've gotta wonder what's going on behind the scenes. What senator do i write in order to get this film more widely exposed?

-s.

I think it's Senator Kerry.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Great stuff, Jeffrey. I am insanely jealous that you were able to meet Mr. Estes!

I loved your opening and how you built the themes around the three quick questions that were asked in that fun scene near the intro. I completely missed how meaningful those questions actually were!

Reading your words, combined with some of the thoughts from the director, made me realize again that i really do love this movie.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I completely missed how meaningful those questions actually were!

You know what's funny? So did Estes! When I pointed out how brilliant I thought that scene was, how it encapsulated the film, he started laughing and said, "You know, you're right. And I'd never even thought about that before, but you're right."

That's two interviews in a row where the interviewee has been surprised by an interpretation of their own work. I don't know if what that means, but I sure get a kick out of it.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 4 months later...

spoilers1.gif

Just saw this tonight (thank you, Netflix) - what an excellent film - the natural beauty, the depth of characterization, the kids' relationships, the themes of moral judgment/wrongdoing/responsibility - so much to consider here.

I was struck by how this film rang true on just about every level - the characters seemed utterly plausible. Given the lack of moral development in mid-to-late adolescence, the immature decisions made by the kids here were entirely believable. Although I love your analysis, Jeffrey (and that is a dem' fine article in Paste, by the way), I'm not sure that the absence of parents is so much of a core issue here - these seem like average kids, to be found in any school or neighborhood, with halfway decent parents (with the notable exception of Marty). The fact that average, decent people are capable of doing awful things given the wrong set of circumstances seems more central. The darker side of human nature - turning a river of beauty into a 'mean creek,' transforming a birthday party into a death and burial, sending aluminum beer cans down the river instead of floating sticks, impaling snails with swiss army knives - is fully on display here.

(And in the context of our 'Million Dollar Baby' discussion, I can't resist this comment: considering that the debatably gay kid displays the most decency - he's the only one who doesn't turn his back on the corpse, indeed lying down next to it - with his two daddies being the most sensitive parents, I'm surprised Michael Medved and company haven't begun a morality rampage, claiming a subversive gay agenda for this film and revealing its ending. devil.gif )

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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spoilers1.gif

His orientation certainly wasn't made clear - but a couple of his long, tender glances directed Marty's way made me wonder - and I suspect the director intentionally left this ambiguous, in keeping with the theme of the temptation to pass judgment on those we don't actually know as well as we think we do.

The more I think about this film, the more I'm impressed with it. Again, the characters seem so plausible, their actions so believable - there's an air of inevitability about the film's proceedings. The bully, George, for instance: he's obviously a pampered kid with significant learning disabilities and little meaningful social interaction with his peers up to this point - so that when he's invited to a party, he responds gratefully but ineptly. Then when the betrayal is made clear, his intellect doesn't offer him a great repertoire of responses to choose from, such that he stupidly chooses the only options that have worked in the past, taunting and rage.

Even the music is impressing me more. Last night, I found the soundtrack a bit distracting in one of the slow pastoral scenes - the dissonant electronic sounds over the strings seemed a bit annoying. In retrospect, the music, like the polluted creek, seems to carry the theme of beauty corrupted by human nature.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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