Gordon Houser Archive

Arrival

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December 2, 2016 Gordon Houser

The theater where I watched Arrival showed several “coming attractions” before the film. Most were either sci-fi or adventure films with lots of fighting and technological violence. I thought, “Has the person who decided what coming attractions to show seen the featured attraction?” Eventually, we learn that the film has a much larger purpose. . . . It’s interested in the meaning of time itself. While Arrival can be labeled sci fi—it does involve alien spacecraft landing on earth—it is far from the usual genre films of heroes fighting aliens. Instead, it is an arresting, thoughtful drama that explores both human emotion […]

Hacksaw Ridge

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November 18, 2016 Gordon Houser

It’s rare for a Hollywood film to portray pacifism. Gandhi (1982), The Mission (1986), and 2014’s Selma, among others, have depicted stories of real pacifists. While our culture produces many stories of war heroes or vigilante justice, we can’t seem to imagine pacifist actions. For that we rely on true stories. These intrusions don’t detract from the powerful story. Doss’s actions are indisputably heroic, and the film ends with portions of interviews with the real Doss, who died in 2006. Now we have another true story of a pacifist displaying great courage. Hacksaw Ridge (R) is based on the story […]

Kubo and the Two Strings

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September 2, 2016 Gordon Houser

Too many films designed for younger audiences tend to dumb down their stories. They follow a certain arc that includes humor, fighting, and a chase scene or two, followed perhaps by a moral that’s good enough but fairly tepid. It is carried out with such an imaginative array of characters and complications that it doesn’t feel like a typical movie for younger audiences. But some films depart from this tendency and actually respect their viewers’ intelligence. Kubo and the Two Strings is a recent example. The film uses stop-motion animation, which gives the picture a certain depth. It’s an American […]

Free State of Jones

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July 1, 2016 Gordon Houser

Whenever a new movie comes out that addresses the period of slavery in the United States, viewers must confront that sordid history anew. In 2013, we saw 12 Years a Slave, and a month ago, we saw a remake of the miniseries Roots. Now comes Free State of Jones, another of the many films that are “based on a true story.” (See my column “Not Based on a True Story,” Jan. 30, 2015.) We easily decry the evil of “those people,” whose racism is so blatant and so violent. But this doesn’t necessarily challenge our more subtle or hidden racism today. […]

Money Monster

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June 3, 2016 Gordon Houser

Money Monster is a thriller that takes on current issues and offers some surprising twists, which only adds to its interest and appeal. The film confronts us with our own complicity in the way CEOs run their companies. The film opens with Lee Gates (George Clooney), who hosts a cable show, Money Monster. He’s full of himself and resists taking direction from his longtime director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), who cues him when to say what. During the show, a deliveryman, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), sneaks onto the set with a gun, and takes Lee hostage. Angry, Kyle says he […]

Midnight Special

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May 6, 2016 Gordon Houser

Jeff Nichols’s film Midnight Special has you wondering from the beginning what is happening and where is it leading. It opens with a news report about a man who is wanted for kidnapping 8-year-old Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). The man is Roy (Michael Shannon), and it turns out Alton is his son. Nichols treats each of his characters with respect for their complex humanity. He doesn’t view the members of the cult as dolts or the government workers as villains. Roy is accompanied by Lucas (Joel Edgerton), and the two of them flee the motel where they have the boy […]

Noble

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April 1, 2016 Gordon Houser

Noble (PG-13) tells the dramatic true story of Christina Noble, who overcomes a harsh childhood in Ireland to give her life to helping abandoned children. Overcome by how many children are in need of care and protection, particularly from sex traffickers, Christina eventually convinces donors to help create a ministry. The film moves between scenes of Christina’s life growing up in Ireland and her arrival in Vietnam in 1989, 14 years after the end of the war. Different actors portray her as a child, as a young adult, and as an older adult, arriving in Ho Chi Minh City with […]

The human face of evil

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January 1, 2016 Gordon Houser

We are inundated by news of the atrocities of ISIS and other jihadist groups, and many Americans live in an often misguided fear of Muslims. We tend to view these Islamic militants as monsters. Timbuktu is that rare film that is both disturbing and inspiring. Abderrahmane Sissako’s outstanding film Timbuktu paints a different portrait by showing the complex humanity of his characters. This French-Mauritanian film, which originally came out in 2014 but only came to the United States this year, takes its name from the cosmopolitan city in Mali that draws people from many places and where many languages are […]

Slavery By Another Name

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October 2, 2015 Gordon Houser

On Sunday, Sept. 13, Jeanne and I walked from our home in North Newton, Kansas, over to the Bethel College campus to attend a showing of the documentary Slavery by Another Name, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and had its national broadcast on PBS on Feb. 3, 2012. KIPCOR (Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution) sponsored the showing and the discussion that followed. President Teddy Roosevelt looked the other way, not wanting to displease his wealthy supporters. After all, this penal servitude, unpaid labor, was good for business. Slavery by Another Name is a powerful film, […]

Amy

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July 31, 2015 Gordon Houser

The British documentary Amy looks at the life and brief career of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. It shows the perils of celebrity and addiction, which in Winehouse’s case led to her death by alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at the age of 27. Her voice, even her honest, heartfelt lyrics, seem mature beyond her years. We get to witness her rise to fame and her thoughts about her art. Directed by Asif Kapadia, who also directed the fine documentary Senna, Amy uses raw footage taken by friends and family, such as a home movie of her at age 14 singing […]

About The Author

Gordon Houser

Gordon Houser is editor of The Mennonite and writes a blog, Present Tense. He is also the author of a book Present Tense: A Mennonite Spirituality (Cascadia, 2011).

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