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Mean Creek
(2 films)
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

I gave up television twelve years ago and have not been tempted to return to it. Had I needed a reminder of why I made that decision, a viewing of "Outfoxed" would have provided it.

"Outfoxed" is a straightforward and powerful critique of Rupert Murdock’s Fox News network. Created by Robert Greenwald, with help from MoveOn.Com and others, "Outfoxed" doesn’t pretend to be ‘Fair and Balanced’, as does Fox News.

But it’s no less effective for wearing its point of view on its sleeve. It’s simply honest. And the documentary makes it sufficiently clear that Fox News isn’t. Greenwald isn’t questioning that Fox News has a right to its opinions. The argument is that its opinions are dressed up as if they were news. "Outfoxed" makes a convincing argument that Fox News is really a shill for the Republican Party and conservative politics in general.

What fascinated me most was the portrait of a man named Bill O’Reilly. One suspects that something tragic must have occurred in Bill’s life, something he never worked through. The man is a bully. What isn’t so obvious is how he is able to attract guests to his show. He’s rude, impolite, and thoughtless. He confuses loud mouthed threats with rational argument. When his opinions are challenged, his favorite response seems to be "Shut Up", repeated ever more loudly. If that fails to wither the guest, his last recourse is to turn off the guest’s microphone. A few episodes like that might have entertainment value, but after a while, why would anyone bother to tune in?

My hat is off to the folks at 41st Avenue Theatre, in Capitola, for booking "Outfoxed". It’s indeed a public service to make this film available to the community.

Now on to a different kind of film, though at its heart, "Mean Creek" is also about a bully. "Mean Creek", written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, was made for $500,000. And it’s at least ten times better than most films that cost ten or even a hundred times as much to make. With a talented young cast and a terrific script, Estes retells a story seemingly encoded in our genes.

A recent study indicates that the contemplation of revenge feels good. It activates pleasure centers in the brain. (I found a report on this study in the on-line edition of Scientific American.) No wonder then that the small pack of teenagers in Estes’ film should exhibit such relish when plotting a payback scheme against a local schoolyard bully.

But thinking about revenge is different from executing the act. As these teenagers discover, action carries with it the possibility of unanticipated consequence.

"Mean Creek" is about more than revenge. Though parents rarely appear on the screen, "Mean Creek" is also about family dysfunction. And it’s about the various ways we relate to crisis and tragedy. And most beautifully, "Mean Creek" provides us an unsentimental but openhearted examination of the interior life of a bully, rather than simply a record of his social transgressions.

The performance of Josh Peck as George, a lonely, but oddly brilliant bully, is the highlight of the film, though all the actors do well.

"Mean Creek" is no mean achievement. Jacob Aaron Estes is already a better director and writer than many a veteran Hollywood hand. I highly recommend this, his first feature film.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.