Great Shots: “Mystic River”

Great Shots: “Mystic River” (photo)

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Some shots call attention to their greatness. They’re incredibly long, or feature onscreen choreography that is impossibly complex, or the camera makes a movement that should be physically impossible. But a shot needn’t be showy to be great. All it needs to do is show us something beyond the simple facts of the scene. For a perfect example, examine one seemingly simple-looking shot in the middle of a series of equally simple-looking shots during a dialogue exchange between two characters in the 2003 Clint Eastwood film “Mystic River.”

The characters are Jimmy, played by Sean Penn, and Dave, played by Tim Robbins. This scene occurs about 45 minutes into the film. Jimmy is grieving over the shocking murder of his daughter. Dave and his wife, who is Jimmy’s wife’s cousin, have come to lend their support. As the scene begins, Dave sneaks away from the crowd to smoke a cigarette outside.


Dave’s just about to light up when he’s surprised and scared by Jimmy. He thought he was alone.


Dave is deeply uncomfortable, but Jimmy asks him to keep him company for a minute. Reluctantly, Dave agrees. As he sits and the men begin to talk, the frame is essentially the same one as the one that earlier revealed Penn in the scene.


Jimmy notices Dave’s hand is bruised and asks what happened to it. He claims that he hurt it helping a buddy move some furniture. Eastwood cuts to a shot of Robbins as he explains the injury.


Next comes the Great Shot. When Eastwood cuts back to Jimmy after Dave’s explanation, cinematographer Tom Stern has moved the camera down to reframe the two characters. Now Dave’s in the extreme left foreground, and only his midsection is visible. His injured hand rests on his right leg, and his lit cigarette hangs hidden between his legs. Though it’s tough to see in a still screengrab, cigarette smoke wafts up and away from the unseen cigarette.


So why is this shot so good? Because it speaks, quietly but powerfully, to the subtext of this scene. Throughout his conversation with Jimmy, Dave is uncomfortable. Why? When he tells Jimmy that he hurt his hand moving furniture, Jimmy seems to accept it at face value. But the audience knows Dave is lying. In reality, he came home on the night Jimmy’s daughter was murdered covered in blood. He’d claimed at the time that he’d been mugged and fought back, injuring or maybe even killing the man in self-defense. But the next day, there’s no mention of the man who attacked Dave in the paper. Dave’s wife (along with the audience) suspects he’s lying. Could he have killed Jimmy’s daughter?

After Eastwood cuts to the Great Shot, Dave and Jimmy talk about their wives and the simple pleasure of sitting on the porch and all the food in the house that’s going to spoil. But the framing tells us to focus our attention not on their conversation but on that injured hand. The smoke also presents two different visual metaphor. It turns that hand into a potential smoking gun in the mystery of Jimmy’s daughter’s murder. And it’s sitting right under his nose! As the scene continues we fixate on it: will Jimmy ask more or will he buy Dave’s story?

Meanwhile, Dave is thinking the exact same thing. Plus, the way that Robbins holds the cigarette between his legs makes the smoke appear like it’s coming from the seat underneath him, evoking the idea that Dave feels like he’s on the hot seat, worried about people discovering what he’d done on the night of his daughter’s murder. All at once we’re the detective, eager to learn the truth, and the suspect, worried about covering it up.

The camera cuts closer to Penn for an tearful monologue about his relationship with his daughter. His performance is remarkable. But I must admit, when I think about his speech, I can’t remember any of its specifics. I always think of that hand, smoldering away. A secret, burning out in the open and deep inside, hidden from view.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.