Gordon Houser Archive

Minding the Gap

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August 30, 2018 Gordon Houser

Many documentaries have in mind the point they want to get across and make the film fit that notion. A few let themes unfold as they present a narrative. Minding the Gap is one of the latter—and one of the best documentaries to emerge this year, when there are many good ones out. Bing Liu both directs the film and appears in it. It begins by showing skateboarders in Rockford, Illinois, with the camera (held by Liu who is himself on a skateboard) following the graceful, acrobatic skills of the young skateboarders. The music—neither intrusive nor overly dramatic—fits perfectly with […]

Leave No Trace

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July 20, 2018 Gordon Houser

One rule of good storytelling is that less is more. One of the things that makes Leave No Trace so effective is not just the story it tells but what it leaves out. Will (Ben Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), are living in a Forest Park, a nature preserve near Portland, Oregon. They find food, collect rainwater, and sleep in a tent. They also do drills to practice hiding from anyone looking for them. We’re not told why they are there or what they are afraid of. We learn that Will is a veteran, likely suffering from […]

What Are We Doing Here?

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June 1, 2018 Gordon Houser

By Gordon Houser “What Are We Doing Here?” is the title of one of the 15 essays in Marilynne Robinson’s new book, What Are We Doing Here? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 USD), and while it addresses a specific audience that includes many literature teachers, it also serves as a major theme of the book, addressed to all of us. Although Robinson is known more as a novelist (Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, Lila), this is her sixth book of nonfiction. It collects mostly lectures she’s given in the last few years. In the preface, she notes that these essays reflect “matters of […]

The Power of Art

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May 4, 2018 Gordon Houser

By Gordon Houser A delightful French film, Faces Places, directed by Agnès Varda and JR, is a documentary from 2017 that appeared on many critics’ top 10 lists, and it would have appeared on mine, had I seen it in time. Varda, 89, is a well-known director (she was part of the French New Wave in the early 1960s), and JR, 33, is a photographer known for placing large photos on buildings. The two travel through rural France and create portraits of people they come across, then paste them onto surrounding buildings. These are regular people, not celebrities.   The […]

I Am Not Your Negro

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January 19, 2018 Gordon Houser

On Wednesday, Third Way released the top 10 films of 2017 by three of its reviewers, including me. With each film we chose, we included a brief synopsis and why we chose it for that position. Today, I get to expand on my choice of what I felt was the best film of 2017. I chose it as my no. 1 film of 2017 because it is a must-see documentary for our time. I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary by Raoul Peck that focuses mainly on James Baldwin, the African American writer known particularly for his books Go Tell […]

Lady Bird

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December 1, 2017 Gordon Houser

No, this film is not about Lady Bird Johnson. The title character, 17-year-old Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan in an outstanding performance), gives herself that moniker to try to establish a different identity. She wants to escape her hometown of Sacramento, which she calls “the Midwest of California” (as if the Midwest were a bad thing), and get into an East Coast college, preferably in New York City. What we pay attention to reveals what we love. Her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf, who is equally good), has other ideas. She harps on her daughter constantly that their family can’t afford to […]

A Ghost Story

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September 1, 2017 Gordon Houser

A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery, is the ultimate anti-blockbuster film. It is slow, with long takes and little dialogue, and eschews any violent action or special effects. There aren’t any car chases or bombs going off. Lowery plays with our conception of time as linear. In addition to the long takes, he makes quick cuts from one time period to another. And it will not set any box-office records. It only stayed one week at my local cinema, and when I viewed it, I was one of three people in the theater. But art and popularity don’t always […]

Three novels to check out

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June 2, 2017 Gordon Houser

Summer is coming, and for some that means setting aside more time to catch up on reading. And what better to read than fiction? Here are three novels I’ve read in the past few weeks that I recommend. What is most effective is how Hannah helps readers experience what it must have been like to face hunger and cold and watch Jewish neighbors be hauled away. The Nightingale (2015) by Kristin Hannah tells the story of two sisters in France just before and during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. Hannah draws her characters well and explores […]

Reason vs. belonging

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April 21, 2017 Gordon Houser

We live in a society where facts don’t seem to mean much. If the president, for example, doesn’t like a report or scientific study, he simply calls it “fake news.” When this ruse was revealed, the one group still thought they were better than average at identifying real suicide notes. He’s not alone. Many of us take similar positions, and, according to some recent books, there are reasons for that. In her article “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” (The New Yorker, Feb. 27), Elizabeth Kolbert reviews three of these books. All, by the way, were written before last November’s […]

Get Out

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March 31, 2017 Gordon Houser

Get Out came out more than a month ago, but it’s worth talking about. While it is rated R for violence, bloody images, and language, it tackles an important issue in a creative, disturbing way. The film’s plot draws on other horror films, such as The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, as a conspiracy is gradually revealed. It also employs humor in many places. The film is by first-time director Jordan Peele, who also wrote and produced it. Made for only $4.5 million, it’s already grossed more than $154 million worldwide. Peele uses some typical tropes of the horror genre but […]