Review: Lars and the Real Girl

There’s something irrevocably odd about Lars Lindstrom. He seems to be the consummate loner. Completely willing and able to see people no more than he needs to, while always being friendly to those he does see. He’s a good worker and a church-goer. He lives in a run-down garage next to his parents old house, where his brother and wife live. He seems in no hurry to find a girlfriend, but as he tells the nice lady at church, he’s not gay.

And one day, Lars receives a very large package. That evening, he knocks on his brothers door to report–with a wide grin on his face–that he has someone over. Relieved as they are, his brother and his wife willingly offer to let the girl stay in their house. They even have new towels she can use to bathe.

It’s when they finally meet Bianca that they’re appalled to learn that the Brazilian emigre isn’t real, but an inanimate doll. Worse still, she’s clearly meant primarily to fulfill the sexual pleasures of lonely men like Lars.

And so it begins. I could go on, but I’d likely end up gleefully–and poorly–reporting the whole story. There’s no question that Lars is, as they used to say, touched. But whether for good or ill, to what effect on him and the small New England town in which he lives, I’ll not say.

I’ll merely say that Lars and the Real Girls is one of those stories I could tell, from first explanation, I’d be rather enamored with. The posing of difficult philosophical questions–what is reality? what is living? what is loneliness? what is community? what is maturity?–through the device of mild absurdity is one of my oldest favorites.

If, unlike me, you find the whole idea rather pointlessly absurd, I cannot speak to your view of the film. It’s unquestionable that the film requires more than one suspension of disbelief to be taken quite as seriously as it takes itself.

But if you can take the leap and accept Bianca as a real girl, you’re in for a rather enjoyable ride. A ride that offers for your consideration whole reams of questions about what it means to grow up, what it means to be responsible, and what it means to be real. Lars and the Real Girl doesn’t explicitly offer the answers to these questions, but the way it asks the questions is better than most things I’ve seen before.


Review: Bloggingheads

I’ve been faintly aware of for about 18 months, and a loyal “viewer”–more on those quotation marks in a minute–for about six months. Bloggingheads is a talk show with little production value but constantly compelling guests. Most episodes are about an hour long from end-to-end and features little more than two heads presented side-by-side talking to each other. The most movement you generally see on screen is heads bobbing during the course of the conversation, and some holding of books. There are no graphics, and rarely anything interesting to see.

But talk shows shouldn’t be about production quality and really shouldn’t rely on eye-candy. Dedication to those ideals makes Bloggingheads a place dedicated to interesting conversations about relevant (and interesting) topics. Surely those turned off by politics will be mostly bored by Bloggingheads, but most of the commentators are interesting and thoroughly knowledgeable about the topic they discuss.

As you may reasonably expect from the name, most Bloggingheads contributors are bloggers, and many are of the political variety. If one has spent much time in the political blogosphere at least a few names and faces will be familiar. If you’re unfamiliar with the personalities, take my word that they’re mostly interesting and intelligent.

To the “viewing” question: one could legitimately ask why–other than it’s inspiration as an alternative to cable news channels’ talk shows–Bloggingheads does video at all. As was noted, rarely is much of interest presented by the conversants’ faces, and almost never are the visuals necessary for comprehension of what’s going on. After all, the show is produced by two people taping themselves talking on the phone, with neither able to see the other. Acknowledging that reality, the show is available as an audio-only MP3 podcast, my preferred method of “viewing.”

It’s hard to address the contents of the show themselves, as so many episodes are produced in a week, with such a variety of topics and tones. There are some standards however. On Fridays, a left-leaning blogger and a right-leaning blogger discuss the topics that have lit up that “sphere”  in the past week. On Saturdays, two science personality–usually journalists, but sometimes scientists or even philosophers–will discuss topics including their latest writings or experiments. On Sundays, Mark Goldberg discusses UN-focused international affairs topics with everyone from activists, to ambassadors, and reporters. On Mondays, Will Wilkerson usually discusses new books with their authors on the libertarian-leaning “Free Will.” And recently, the sites founders, Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright, have gotten back into the habit of talking to–and yelling at–each other about mostly-mainstream political topics, usually on Thursdays.

That’s a small sampling of the content available. And there’s no doubt that it’s a lot of content. In a given week at least five hours content will be posted. And some of it will contain little more than “the narcissism of small differences.” And some will be punctuated primarily by two people hurling invective across massive divides of misunderstanding. And some will be dedicated to other minutia about which I simply don’t care. It can sometimes be too much for even the most time-rich viewers to watch loyally.

But these problems are minor compared the to unique qualities of the project. It’s certainly better–if less up-to-the-minute–than anything you’re likely to encounter on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. A show that features intelligent people having civil discussions about interesting topics? I’ll do my best to find time for that.


Review: The Story of Stuff

Let me be clear from the outset: I think that The Story of Stuff, a web video starring Annie Leonard and aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of mindless consumption, is an admirable project with an even more admirable goal. And were I a few years younger I may have even felt it was important or inspiring. Today, I find it to be incredibly annoying.

The Story of Stuff makes the same errors that I find so vexing about environmentalism in general. Though most activists don’t like to admit it, activism is a field marred by unrealistic idealists who imagine that but for some tragic flaw the world would be an entirely different place. For most environmentalists that bogeyman is named “big business,” “corporations,” or “the government.” These forces are the reason people act in ways they shouldn’t, for it is the bogeyman who rapes the land, makes loads of junk that people neither need nor want, and then shoves that stuff down their throats. Soon after, he makes them throw that stuff away in the least responsible way and buy more of the same stuff they didn’t want in the first place.

This is a convenient and understandable story, but that’s doesn’t make it right, and that certainly doesn’t make me any more willing to tolerate it. It’s a message laced with helpless victimhood and painful pessimism that sees the world in total crisis.

And though you wouldn’t know it from watching The Story of Stuff, we are not in the middle of a hopeless crisis from which there is no way out. We are not idiot machines who’ve subverted our will to that of the bogeymen.

Surely the world’s got its fair share of problems. Global warming has still not been adequately addressed. There are places in the world where it is still acceptable to put workers in harm’s way working with hideously dangerous chemicals or working in terribly dangerous mines. Places where clear-cutting is accepted and slash-and-burn tolerated.

But I don’t see The Story of Stuff as the proper response to any other these problems. The deeply cynically video is more likely to make me pull my hair out than to make me an activist or “no impact man.”

Because I can’t manage to fit my problems with the video into a cohesive paragraphs, a few of my biggest gripes:

  • The video’s presentation of the government/corporation relationship is comically insulting to both hardworking politicians and honest businessmen. This is not to say that all members of both groups fit that description, but I loathe when people go out of their way to deny the work of either. Showing the government polishing the shoes of a bloated “corporation” may be how you perceive reality, but it’s an immediate turn off to any and all that disagree.
  • Not all collection of natural resources is done by clear cutting, strip mining, or general raping of the land. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of it still is, but denying that some companies are working hard to be sustainable and responsible is an insult to both reality and those responsible stakeholders.
  • Not everything about manufacturing is “toxic.” Make no mistake, I think there are plenty of dangerous chemicals in the things we produce, but you’re playing fast-and-loose with reality if you’re going to say that manufacturing is the simple practice of putting toxic chemicals onto stuff to produce toxic products.
  • Why oh why are you bringing up George Bush? What relevance do his boneheaded proclamations have to do with anything?
  • Americans in the past were not wiser and more earth-friendly by choice. We’ve not been made into mindless consumers by a shadowy cabal hell-bent on making people consume as much as they can. People like to have things. When they can have things cheaply, they’re likely to take that opportunity to have a lot of cheap things. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it’s human nature.

Mostly, I’m just disappointed by all of this. And it’s not just about The Story of Stuff either. Similarly egregious things are done everywhere in the “environmental movement.” Its default mode seems to be a deep pessimism coupled with a pervasive alarmism that stifles action.

There are big problems facing the world today. And that’s a great reason to offer a lot of practical things that people can do to cope with the broken system you see. But The Story of Stuff instead offers only one final minute packed with buzzwords that the average viewer can neither understand nor implement.

I dislike being so deeply critical of anything, but it’s the only way I know to express my deepest disappointment.


A Review of this Review

You could feel, almost as soon as you’d read the title, that this was one of those ideas that was going to be a little too clever for it’s own good. One of those things that at first brush sounds rather clever, but fizzles after about eight sentences when it shallowness becomes clear.

Surely writing a review of the review that you’re writing is a clever conceit, there’s no denying that. But it has the very real pitfall of being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The review is inherently trapped by the basic idea and judgment that began it. If in the first paragraph the review was condemned as mediocre, the rest of the written piece must then be mediocre.

By the same token, if the initial judgment was that the idea was a work of genius, there would be an almost insurmountable level of expectation that would make it almost impossible to fulfill, and thus to write the rest of the review.

Most reviews are written after the work under review has been completed and polished. Not this one. This one is being reviewed as it’s simultaneously being written. Thus the quality of the review that it presently being written is based on the quality of the review that’s presently being written. It’s a sort of recursive review that feeds on itself indefinitely, unable to rise above it’s initial assessment of itself.

This review is further impeded by the fact that it cannot ever assess the work holistically, but must, in each paragraph, judge only those previously written. This obvious limitation could be taken as emblematic of the echo chamber that’s created by a small circles of elite intellectuals endlessly reviewing each others works. Feeding endlessly on the works of each other, the act of reviewing itself becomes recursive.

In this way, the review suggests a Dadaistic contempt for the very act itself. Unfortunately, the suggestion is neither borne out by thorough examination nor accepted public consensus. When an idea lacks either wide acceptance or textual support, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to provide at least a smidgen of evidence for their premises and thus their conclusion.

It somtimes feel unfairly dismissive to see something dismissed as “too clever by half,” but here the phrase is apt. Though it begins with an interesting idea, the review quickly fizzles for want of a more thoroughly thought-out execution. Though one can understand that the form itself would seem to limit this possibility, that seems a more cogent argument for abandoning the form than for excusing it’s myriad flaws. If it’s impossible to do it well, perhaps it shouldn’t be done at all.


Review: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a book I knew by title long before I took the time to read it. I should also note that I think the question posed by the title is one that’s is critically important to ask of me and people like me. People who are, for example, able with little effort to do well in relatively-good public schools, go to a university, and graduate with little or no debt.

I suppose I should have known that a great title doesn’t make a great book, but I forgot. I also suppose I should have realized that Dr. Seuss is not exactly one to talk about the privileges I have had, but I forgot. So I found myself an odd mix of disappointed and satisfied when I finally took the chance to read the book.

Did I Ever Tell You… proceeds about the way you’d expect a Dr. Seuss book with that question in the title would. The narrator begins by telling about when he met a man in the Desert of Drize who “sang with a sunny sweet smile on his face:”

When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unluckly than you!

From there, we of course proceed through a litany of terribly unfortunate people forced to do terribly scary or unfortunate things. All, of course, accompanied by the dynamic and colorful illustrations for which Dr. Seuss is so well known.

But all of it, as well-executed as it is, as much as I love the idea, left me disappointed. Surely there’s something to be said for my having held too much anticipation for too long to be quite satisfied with a children’s book, even one by Dr. Seuss.

I know it’s silly to criticize a children’s book for being too simplistic and diversionary, but that’s the problem I find myself having with Did I Ever Tell You…. The reality, I suppose, is that I don’t know how lucky I am. That there exists a single children’s book that asks one of the most essential questions that most Americans–and really most in the “first world”–need to grapple with at some time is a marvel. And for that alone, I should be at least a little satisfied. And I’m certain that should I have children, they will be repeatedly subjected the book, however imperfect I find it.


Review: Born Into Brothels

Born into Brothels is about children growing up in a red light district in Calcutta (now Kolkatta), India. What I wasn’t expecting is the extensive amount of outside intervention that is really the story of the film. Some would see this as an intolerable rebuke of the documentarian’s principal directive: to document. This is to say nothing of the always-controversial prospect of paternalism, for which the film could also be blamed.

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to make a documentary who’s primary goal was to show that regardless of geography, color, language, or wealth, people all over the world are essentially and primarily people. That we all, every one of us, has problems and faults that can be understood by all other people. For the first half of the film, I wondered if Born in to Brothel‘s goal wasn’t the same as that. For better or worse, in aggregate it’s about much more than that.

Arguably, the main character of the film isn’t the kids, or any specific kid, but the woman the children call “Zana Auntie.” Zana Auntie is never explicitly discussed in the course of the film, but by her accent and color I would hazard a guess that she’s British. What is clear is that she’s a photographer living in a red-light district in Calcutta who becomes close with some of the children there and decided to teach them about photography.

Through the first half of the film, one could mistake this for the film I always wanted to make. But the second half becomes much more about the goal of Zana Auntie to get the kids out of their neighborhood and what she sees as a dead-end life.

Here is where the specter of paternalism enters. Though the kids and their parents do from time to time appear genuinely interested in getting into a boarding school and away from their seedy neighborhood, it looks as if Zana Auntie’s really the only one pushing forward on this goal. Whether or not that, or anything, should be regarded and criticized as paternalism is not the topic of the film, but an interesting question in this context.

Without giving it all away, Zana Auntie faces an uphill climb to help these kids. Regardless of their sometimes troubled family lives, there are the added problem that poor everywhere face: an uphill climb to navigate the bureaucracy in their favor. This is made even worse because with mothers who are prostitutes nearly all schools want to avoid the kids. Criminal parents and what in America are called at-risk youths aren’t exactly the kind of pupils most headmasters seek.

Regardless of that whole story, the kids are indeed charming. They’re that mix of percosious and shy that makes most eight to twelve year olds either charming or a handful. Among them, the unquestionable star is Avijit.

Avijit’s father seems to be addicted to hash and generally appears to be a good-for-nothing, but Avijit assures us: “I still try to love him a little.” This and other similar lines cut through boundries and simply state what it means to be human. Perhaps it’s just me, but trying to “love him a little” is something I know well.

There’s no denying my affinity for the film. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s undoubtedly good. Like the picture’s the children take, some bits are unbelievably good and others are disappointingly flawed. On the whole, I can’t think of anything restraining me from recommending that you see Born Into Brothels as soon as you can.


Review: Lake of Fire

Lake of Fire is filmed in black of white. It’s worth noting that like all films we term “black and white,” its actually rendered in various shades of grey. And Tony Kaye’s documentary about abortion in America is careful to show that the issue’s history and moral questions are not black and white.

Lake of Fire is also an epic. At over two and a half hours and packed with the grizzly extremes of both basic positions on the issues, it’s probably not for everyone. Views of aborted fetuses, especially those of around three months, are hard to see. So too is it difficult to see some of the most cold-blooded and calculated doctor-killers to emerge from the context of the religious right. But at no time does Mr. Kaye’s long-in-development documentary judge either of these troubling extremes.

Kaye’s style is a form of extreme naturalism that, wisely I believe, eschews narration and other forms to impute meaning on the events that it unfurls before the audience. Where Kaye stands on the issue is completely and mercifully unclear. It thus goes without saying that those looking for a defense of their position on the issue will find the film grating.

Everyone from the most extreme perspectives on the right and left are seen. Noam Chomsky, the famous leftist, mostly stands to raise questions. The always-difficult Peter Singer is there assert that yes, a fetus is a person, but a lesser one because it has no expressed desire to live. (Regardless of the logic of the statement, when first heard Singer’s cold rationalism is jarring.)

From the right, there’s Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry. And the coldness and certitude of the convicted doctor-killer Paul Hill can’t be missed. Perhaps most surprising to me was that Norma McCreevey–the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade–was there. And she’d become a card-carrying member of the pro-life movement. Maybe I was two young or inattentive when such a thing was news, but I was rather shocked.

Much of the film was shot around the peak of the turmoil of the early Clinton years. Were I to fault the film, which is truly artful and tender in it’s handling of a difficult issue, it’s that footage from different eras tends to run together. It can be hard to tell what events and interview are from the 1993-1996 era and which were shot when the film was resurrected around 2005. It’s minor problem that does little damage on an issue known for dead-lock and stasis, but it can be a distraction.

On the whole, it’s a great film and a difficult one. If there’s a central thesis, it may be that no stance on this issue is unassailable, no position safe from reasonable and difficult questions. The issue is fraught with moral dilemmas for all people and all positions on the issue, and Lake of Fire makes that point abundantly clear. The film’s comfort with the ambiguity of the issue can be hard to take, but it’s also just what the issue requires.


Review: Raining McCain

In her 1964 essay–if one can call an enumerated list an essay–“Notes on ‘Camp,'” Susan Sontag delineated what she called the Camp style. Though nearly every example she gives is obscure to me, the essential traits of camp are clear: it’s exaggerated, it’s methods overwhelm its message, and it thereby becomes a parody of itself.

Raining McCain” (playable at right), is the most delightfully bad music video I’ve seen recently. And is the quintessences of camp.

Taking off on the idea of the the Obama Girl, who herself played with elements of camp, “the McCain Girls” have created a video so campy as to be perceived as parody or satire. I’m rather confident that it was neither, and in that lies it’s brilliance.

The video laden with elements that seem too comical to be true. The effects, especially call out for attention. Of the three McCain girls, the left-most is notable primarily for her outfit. Making the mistake of wearing colors too similar to the green screen on which the after-effects were laid, she regularly and unintentionally fades into and out of the background.

Other special effects are so silly as to require attention. At one point, the disembodied head of Senator McCain bounces around the screen behind the singing girls. At another point, while full-bodied McCains are falling from the sky, the lead singer takes the opportunity to douse her face in her favorite presidential candidate.

The singing too, of a rewritten version of “It’s Raining Men,” is problematic. Not only are the girls not given the benefit of the technology used by professional singers to improve harmonizing, but there are also notable times when they seem to forget the words. The effect is damning in a video that already feels campy.

All of these reasonable mistakes combine to create a video more funny that serious. Whose message is largely lost in the over-wrought and flawed execution of the concept. And which has gotten ever-increasing attention for its flawed execution and not it’s political messages. Unsurprisingly, the commenter seem rather confused as to rather the videos serious or satire. That, then, is perhaps the state of camp today.

As Ms. Sontag said,

One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying.

The commenter’s mistake is made because in the last few decades fake camp has proliferated. One need only remember the recent Snakes on a Plane or the older True Lies to understand the proliferation of intentional camp.

But these are, indeed, less satisfying. Something that sets out to be “campy” is automatically cursed by its self-awareness. It comes across in the reception, which even for the relatively well-executed True Lies was mixed.

This is what makes “Raining McCain” so interesting. In an era where we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be genuine, serious, and deeply flawed, here come three woman to show us the glory of truly naïve camp. I, for one, am very grateful for them.


Review: For the Bible Tells Me So

For the Bible Tells Me So, a recent documentary by Daniel Karslake is an interesting beast. Through at least the last twenty minutes, my eyes were wet and my nose was running. And though that’s surely a sign of something that’s emotionally resonant, I’m not without reservation in recommending it.

After the obligatory footage of traditional views of homosexuality, the film introduces a number of people. People who are easily understood as the ones we’ll soon find out are gay. There’s Gene Robinson, the man who has become the Anglican church’s first openly gay bishop. There’s Jake Reitan, who was raised in a Lutheran home. And Chrissy Gephardt–the daughter of Dick Gephardt, who was raised Catholic as per her mother’s parents wishes. And there’s Tonia Poteat whose parents are both ministers–if their faith was made clear I’ve forgotten it.

All of this goes through the typical patterns of denial, grief, acceptance, and love. And as I said earlier that did make me quite emotional even if it was a bit schmaltzy. And I enjoyed the lesson in liberal Bible scholarship that the film’s bank of scholars and theologians offer in a gentle and friendly way.

But at some points the film overextends this gentle friendly discussion of liberal Christianity and love and gets so preachy as to be off-putting. The first example is a clip–among the literally hundreds of clips from everywhere used in the film–from The West Wing. Despite being a fan of that show, Aaron Sorkin’s smug dialogue is hardly gentle. A fictional President Bartlett berating what has to be seen as a fictional Dr. Laura about the other wacky things the Bible says aside from Leviticus 18:22–the clip’s on YouTube–is not exactly a natural fit with the detached gentleness that gave me such high hopes for the film.

This sin would be completely forgiven, did the film not then do the same thing again. Dropped in the middle of the otherwise live-action film is friendly cartoon in the style reminiscent of of The Fairly OddParents and narrated by that deep, in-every-cartoon voice of Don LaFontaine. It’s purpose: to answer the question “Is homosexuality a choice?” (The clunker of a clip is also on YouTube.) Though the point may need to be made in the film–a proposition I would tend to doubt–the way it’s made disrupts the whole flow of the film.

Nor does it help that the narrator gives a stern talking-to to an ignorant straight boy named “Christian,” who is flanked by two hip-looking and knowledgeable gay people. The whole thing, aside from feeling deeply out of place, can be easily interpreted as condescending.

And that sin reduces to the film to the one thing it didn’t need to do: comfort those already on the “right” side of the issue. To say that those ignorant people–who don’t know that Sodom and Gomorrah, as the film ably points out, probably had nothing to do with homosexuality–are really uneducated and need to be smartened up and rehabilitated.

One of the films many intelligent talking heads made the point perhaps as well as I can. The Right Reverend Richard Holloway warns that we should be careful about being “prejudiced against the prejudiced.” And if the film–and these segments in particular–are guilty of one sin it’s that they have the distinct feeling of being just that.

There’s certainly value a film that encourages those on the right side of any fight to keep fighting. My hope for For the Bible Tells Me So–and it’s stated goal–was that it could do more than that, that it might sway people who condemn homosexuality to if not change, at least think critically about their views. Having watched the film, I think it could do that, but has handicapped itself unnecessarily. Surely those who agree with the film’s message of love and liberal Christianity will be moved, but I fear that those who disagree may bristle at a few of the film’s rather ham-handed and strident bits. Certainly For the Bible Tells Me So is a good and perhaps necessary film, but I fear it’s not a great one.


Review: Gone Baby Gone

Though I’m not in the habit of review relatively recent and well-known movies (that reason is articulated here), Ben Affleck’s directorial debut in Gone Baby Gone was so unexpected that I couldn’t ignore it. I, like the vast majority of people following along, have at times dismissed Mr. Affleck as a talentless hack who got lucky and didn’t deserve his fame. If Gone Baby Gone accomplished nothing else, it put such thoughts to rest in my mind.

Gone Baby Gone is about ugly things, the seedy underbelly of crime and criminality that so many people and films seem drawn to. But what exists in it is something deeper and more textured not only than I expected, but than I thought a crime movie could be.

Where it’s different than other crime movies is this: rather than giving us a clear resolution of justice or injustice triumphant, it asks baldly what justice means? Is it better, the film asks, for a good outcome that comes through unsavory means or a unsavory outcome that comes through righteous means?

And I’d have to argue, honestly, that neither Mystic River nor The Departed–both set in Boston and dealing with a similarly seedy underbelly–was so adept at raising and dealing with such important philosophical issues. Then, perhaps, they weren’t blessed with the skeptical part of my brain constantly asking if or when Mr. Affleck would make an obvious mistake.

The fundamentals of this whole conflict are hard to illuminate without exposing too much, so I’ll do my best to give you the beginning of the plot and leave aside the ending. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is a native of the depressed Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. With his girlfriend, played by Michelle Monaghan, he’s hired to tackle a missing child case. His participation is neither invited nor welcomed by the police, who seem convinced that they knows better how to tackle the case than this renegade private investigator.

But Mr. Kenzie knows his neighborhood and it’s characters better than the police, and he rubs his liaisons the wrong way on that point. Here, I must stop myself from elaborating the rest of the twisting and intricate plot.

I should also offer the warning that I’m a sucker for poetic lines. And the films beginning, a thesis statement of sorts, had me from the first beat. It’s contents:

I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they’d accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.”

Whether you respect or loathe Mr. Affleck, I must strongly recommend that you make sure to give his directorial debut a try. It’s not an easy or a uplifting film. It’s a questioning one, but these are worthy questions and asked by a well-executed story.