Author: Jared Gordon

April 24, 2014 /


Editor’s Note: To coincide with our monthly Elements of Cinema series, we will periodically present essays discussing various aspects of filmmaking. 

When an audience member walks away from a critically successful film and says, “Those characters talk and act like real people,” you should know that you’ve just witnessed a magician’s trick.

January 8, 2013 / / Main Slate Archive


The Master – 2012 – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is a tale about masters and pets, leaders and followers, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Dodd, the brilliant but short-tempered founder and prophet of The Cause, takes Freddie on as his template, his patient zero. As Freddie hungers for sex, food, and survival, Dodd meticulously draws inspiration from Freddie, himself. His own religion changes shape, the more time he spends with this sex-crazed, alcoholic lunatic. Freddie learns from Dodd, Dodd learns from Freddie. Dodd leads with his directives, and Freddie follows. Freddie follows with his whims, and Dodd changes things to suit Freddie’s desires… but to a point. There is still very much a master at work.

December 20, 2012 / / Main Slate Archive

Lost in Translation – 2003 – dir. Sophia Coppola

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s tale of two lost souls in Japan, is a touching parable of loneliness and companionship among a sea of strangers.

Neglected newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) has a husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), a workaholic photographer who largely leaves Charlotte to her own devices. She spends her days at first lounging around a hotel, initiating a warm friendship with actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and ultimately expanding her radius of exploration to Tokyo and its surrounding areas.

November 26, 2012 / / Main Slate Archive

Babe – 1995 – dir. Chris Noonan

Babe was a surprise nomination at the 1996 Academy Awards, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. James Cromwell, who played Farmer Arthur Hoggett, barely has a dozen lines in the entire film (171 words of spoken dialogue, and 61 words that were sung, according to IMDb), and yet was nominated for best supporting actor. What’s so great about a film with singing barnyard animals?

January 18, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Inception – 2010 – dir. Christopher Nolan

I was very impressed with the world of Nolan’s film.  It seemed as though so much was possible, even though we only see a small piece of it.  The audience is along for the ride from the very first shot.  A world where you can explore other people’s dreams?  We buy it seamlessly.  Heck, it’s fun to imagine, similar to how a world without murder is fun to imagine in Spielberg’s Minority Report.

March 18, 2010 / / Main Slate Archive

Big Fish – 2003 – dir. Tim Burton

Tim Burton’s Big Fish is an homage to everything that we were, everything that we are, and everything that we will be.  What really bakes your noodle is the reveal that it’s all happening, every moment, all at once.

Based on the novel by mythology enthusiast Daniel Wallace (watch for a cameo of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces on Ed Bloom’s nightstand), Big Fish is a tale about everything big in our lives: the worlds of our childhood, the worlds of being in love, and the worlds of responsibility, maturity, death, and beyond.

September 17, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

Star Trek – 2009 – dir. JJ Abrams

Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”

Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions.  I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year.  It’s not just a good sci-fi movie.  It’s a good movie.

August 25, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – 2000 – dir. Ang Lee

“When in comes to the affairs of the heart, even the greatest warriors can be consummate idiots.”

Ang Lee’s homage to Du Lu Wang’s kung-fu novel, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, I must confess, did not make an instant impression upon me the first time that I saw it.  The film soars with Lee’s breathtaking direction and cinematography by Academy award-winner Peter Pau, but I found the story meandering and simple.

Of course, I missed the point, discovered only after a re-watch.  The story is indeed simple.  It is the characters who are complex.  This is an ironic movie about opposites: finding through loss.  Gaining through sacrifice.  Joy through despair.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a simple story about masculinity, femininity, and life.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

Coraline – 2009 – dir. Henry Selnick

“You probably think this world is a dream come true… but you’re wrong.”

From the minds of Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods), with musical accompaniment by They Might Be Giants comes Coraline, a dark, enchanting fable about the worlds we see and the worlds we want.

April 10, 2009 / / Main Slate Archive

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – 1979 –  dir. Terry Jones

In a motion picture “destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third,” you know to expect the Pythons on top of their game.  Life of Brian, being the British comedy team’s farcical view of first-century Judea, parallels the life of Brian Cohen, born in the manger next door to Jesus.  Mistaken for the messiah his entire life, Brian’s trials turn a camera squarely onto the audience, examining our hero worship and dogmatic obsessions, challenging us to laugh at crucifixion.  And do we ever.