Friday, March 30, 2018

Montana governor visits set of ‘Yellowstone’ TV show 15, 2017

In this Dec. 7, 2017 photo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, foreground from left, appears with actor Kevin Costner, production designer Ruth De Jong and writer-director Taylor Sheridan in the lodge at the Chief Joseph Ranch during a visit to the set of the television series  “Yellowstone” in Darby, Mont. The series is set for release in June. (Kurt Wilson/The Missoulian via AP)
In this Dec. 7, 2017 photo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, foreground from left, appears with actor Kevin Costner, production designer Ruth De Jong and writer-director Taylor Sheridan in the lodge at the Chief Joseph Ranch during a visit to the set of the television series “Yellowstone” in Darby, Mont. The series is set for release in June. (Kurt Wilson/The Missoulian via AP)

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — Actor Kevin Costner welcomed Gov. Steve Bullock last week to the set of the new cable TV series “Yellowstone,” much of which is being shot at the Chief Joseph Ranch.

In the main living room of the lodge, decorated for the set with historic Navajo rugs hanging from the balconies and Remington bronzes on the tables, Costner and Bullock, along with writer/director Taylor Sheridan, discussed the pros and cons of filming in Montana.

Costner, looking relaxed in blue jeans and a dark sweater, said filming “Dances with Wolves” in South Dakota and “Field of Dreams” in Iowa changed the way those states are perceived. He called the new series “a postcard for Montana.”

“What a cool state to be the governor,” Costner said. “If something like ‘Yellowstone’ has a way of highlighting, being somewhat of a dramatic love letter to your state, we’ll be successful. The writing for it is superior.”

“But how’s the acting?” Bullock replied with a grin.

“Well, I’m being sent home right now,” Costner joked. “Actually, my community is on fire. But I do think something like ‘Yellowstone’ can change people, making it so they want to go here.”

Costner has a home outside of Santa Barbara, California, where the Thomas fire has charred more than 96,000 acres and two new fires broke out last week.

Joking aside, both Costner and Sheridan noted the economic boost “Yellowstone” is bringing to the Bitterroot Valley as well as Montana overall. The Montana Department of Commerce estimates the production has paid about $100,000 in labor, plus another $1.45 million for lodging, supplies, props, location fees and other expenses — including $25,000 for filming scenes in the Capitol.

“We spent $500,000 on hotels and car rentals,” said Perri Eppie, the publicity coordinator for “Yellowstone.” ”We’ve even stolen a few of your people and brought them to Utah,” where some interior shots are being filmed.

They’ve hired at least 63 people as drivers, technicians and production assistants, and an untold number of laborers to build fences, redo the corrals and arenas, and become extras for filming.

One company they hired was Rocky Mountain Homes in Hamilton, to add a front porch to the 100-year-old log home with river rock accents, because Sheridan decided he wanted the main entrance to be on the north side of the house. The company had to dig a large trench 6 feet down for the foundation, then build the deck.

“We asked them how long they thought it would take, and they said four months when I first asked,” said Ruth DeJong, the production designer. “I said ‘That’s not how we operate’ and they had it done in nine days. They were amazing.”

Last Thursday, the grounds were buzzing with activity as Eppie took members of the press and state officials on a tour of the filming site. ATVs ferried people and equipment around, while riders put horses through their paces.

According to a press release, “Yellowstone” chronicles the Dutton family, led by John Dutton (played by Costner) who controls the largest contiguous cattle ranch in the United States.

“Amid shifting alliances, open wounds, and hard-earned respect, the ranch is in constant conflict with those it borders — an expanding town, an Indian reservation, and America’s first national park. Far from media scrutiny, it’s a violent world of poisoned drinking water and unsolved murders. Yellowstone is an intense study of the modern West rife with land developers, energy speculators, assorted politicians, estranged family, and tribal players. Within this pentagon of interests, land lust is insatiable and love is weaponized.”

“We had a real bear chasing some characters — they ended up roping him,” Eppie said. “We also had six wolves out here” as part of the show.

Sheridan, who is a Wyoming native and perhaps best known for the recently released movie “Wind River, said he came up with the idea for “Yellowstone” and started writing it in Livingston in 2013. DeJong was looking for a site to shoot it in the Paradise Valley when she stumbled upon the Chief Joseph Ranch.

“I wrote a show where I wanted to be, and that wasn’t in California, but in Montana,” Sheridan said. “So I came up with a story line I thought was relevant.

“I could have shot this anywhere else, but I couldn’t find this anywhere else. . I decided to make a financial sacrifice to come here.”

The solitude and scenery was part of that incentive, but the lack of tax credits provided in other states, as well as the remoteness of the location, was a challenge. Sheridan said he’s willing to testify before the Montana Legislature about the power of tax incentives for filmmakers.

“I took a funding hit to come to the state for this, so anything I can do to sweeten the pot would be great. But you’re stuck with me now,” Sheridan said, grinning. “But for the next one, and the next one .”

“Yellowstone” will air on the Paramount Network, which will replace the cable channel Spike in January. The show, which has filmed off and on in Darby, Helena, the Crow Reservation and Utah since August, will return to the Bitterroot in March to shoot some final scenes before airing this summer.

Depending on reactions to the show, they just might be back for a second season.

“It’s special to be here and do what we do,” DeJong said.


Information from: Ravalli Republic ,

‘Chappaquiddick’ Focuses Viewers On The Young Woman Ted Kennedy Left To Die

March 27, 2018
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In his 1990 GQ profile of Sen. Ted Kennedy, the late Michael Kelly quotes a Boston Herald writer: “It isn’t really considered summer in Cape Cod until the senator drives on the sidewalk for the first time.”
Whether good or bad, everyone has an opinion of Ted Kennedy. He remained tabloid fodder until late in life, and was always surrounded by controversy. There was no incident more controversial than when young Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in his car in the summer of 1969.
The incident was surrounded by inconsistent stories, lack of evidence, and wavering public opinion. Almost 50 years later, the new film “Chappaquiddick” explores one version of what may have occurred that night.
Any dramatized account of the Kennedy family comes with a certain amount of risk. For a filmmaker, it would be easy to create caricature versions of the New England “royal family,” over-villainize them, or flatter them too highly. Even after almost half a century, it is nearly impossible to tell a mostly unbiased account of any front-page story involving a member of the Kennedy clan.
John Curran’s “Chappaquiddick” accomplishes its goal of telling the story of the notorious events of July 1969 while showing an admirable level of focus and discipline. The movie weaves through the tale cohesively, with un-embellished recreations of the events, making no assumptions about what has never been proved.
Riveting Portrayals of Well-Known Americans
Jason Clarke’s portrayal of Ted Kennedy is applause-worthy. Without need for extensive narrative, he presents us with a mid-thirties Kennedy full of deep conflicts about his legacy, the expectations for his future, and his inability to make even one good decision. While aware of his level of privilege and protection, he is mostly ungrateful, simply expecting everyone near him to do everything they can for him. Disappearing into his role, Clarke shows us a Ted who never quite evolves into the villain we expect, just an overgrown spoiled child.
Clarke is supported by a tremendous cast, including Kate Mara as the ill-fated Kopechne, who worked for Bobby Kennedy and attended a party with Ted on that evening. Mara gives Kopechne rich dimension, a voice, a story, and a soul, finally showing us a woman who was more than just a name attached to a tragedy.
Family patriarch Joe Kennedy, who was near the end of his life by the summer of 1969, is played by Bruce Dern. Dern has few lines, yet gives one of the more memorable performances of the movie. A one-time political giant, who was at this point barely able to speak after a massive stroke, still struck fear in the heart of his last son by uttering only single words of disapproval.
While the subject matter is quite dark, the film contains an element of humor. As the days go on following the accident, you are forced to find humor in the more absurd moments. Jim Gaffigan and Ed Helms, two comedy heavyweights, play Ted’s two closest allies. Both actors give solid performances, particularly Helms portraying Joe Gargan, who is more than a little conflicted about protecting his fatally flawed cousin.
We’re Finally Free to Scrutinize This Incident More Closely
Avoiding commentary and speculation about Kennedy’s widely criticized behavior toward women in the years following the incident at Chappaquiddick, the film achieves its goal of telling only the story of the events of the night, and the immediate response. It is by no means a flattering portrayal of the senator, and it asks viewers to judge him only by the incident in question. It leaves you wondering whether you would be able to look past a murky and highly suspicious drowning death involving the last surviving brother of America’s most famous family.
Principal photography for this film took place in 2015, before #MeToo and the recent spate of sexual misconduct allegations against many powerful men. It seems almost certain that, if Ted Kennedy were still living, his name would have come up during this conversation of inappropriate behavior toward women.
Even without that context, “Chappaquiddick” paints a picture of a Ted Kennedy who hasn’t quite achieved the level of “scoundrel,” but you can certainly see how that would be his future. However, it never assumes an inappropriate relationship between Kennedy and Kopechne.
Accepting that certain elements of the evening will forever be a mystery, writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan committed as primary source material to the 763-page inquest released in 1970. They penned a thrilling screenplay that was brilliantly brought to life by director Curran. Partially filmed on location on Chappaquiddick, the film offers little visual of glamour and wealth on Martha’s Vineyard, instead using cool beiges and blues, never letting viewers escape the thought of Mary Jo trapped underwater hoping for a rescue.
Ellie resides in New York City, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

It’s Right and Necessary to Let Boys Be Boys

What Jordan Peterson understands and Swedish preschools do not

March 27, 2018

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When you spend time with boys and girls, one of the first things you notice is that they’re generally profoundly different. I say generally, of course, because there are exceptions to every human behavioral rule. All girls aren’t the same. All boys aren’t the same. But there are general truths, and those who view the world with honest eyes can see them every day.

I sometimes think back to the week I spent a few years ago chaperoning my daughter’s eighth-grade class trip to Washington, D.C. It was like shepherding two different colonies of humans. There was the girl group — quiet, dutiful, occasionally tearful, but handling their drama via text message and social media. Then there was the boy group, best described as a rolling, nonstop low-level brawl. They were constantly pushing, grabbing, and mocking. One could often discern the best friendships by finding the guys who most aggressively attacked each other, verbally and physically.

The patterns — though less pronounced, since everything is less pronounced outside of middle school — persist throughout life. Boys are stronger than girls. They’re more physically active, less willing to sit still. They’re more aggressive. In many ways, their very nature rebels against the increasing emphasis on order and quiet in American schooling. There is less room for play. There is less room for conflict. There is less room for boys.

At this point, no serious person can argue that boys as a group aren’t facing profound challenges. No recitation of statistics about the composition of boardrooms or the ranks of computer programmers (representing high-achieving outliers) can change the fundamental fact that boys by the millions are falling behind. Boys by the millions are lost. They’re losing ground at school. They’re more than three times as likely to commit suicide. They’re more than twice as likely to die in an opioid overdose. They’re almost seven times as likely to be a victim of gun violence.
Much of the cultural and ideological war over masculinity boils down to two competing concepts — channeling or transformation. The traditional — or channeling — view says that this male nature, more aggressive and physical, represents neither virtue nor vice. It just is. The necessity is to train a young man to channel his essential nature to virtuous ends, to give him a meaningful purpose that resonates with his core identity and sense of self. To oversimplify (and paraphrase a key scene in American Sniper), wolf or sheepdog? Make the choice.
The channeling philosophy requires male role models. It requires a father or (second-best) a father figure who can guide and train a young man as he grows. At best, the the father shows and tells. He models the values and behavior he wants to see in his son, and he affirmatively teaches him why he lives the way he does.
Two recent stories — one in Vox and one in the New York Times — show the importance of masculine purpose and masculine modeling to male flourishing. In the first story, Arizona sociology professor Jennifer Carlson notes that, for men, becoming a “citizen protector” underlies a core part of American gun culture. It provides a sense of distinct value in a culture that is increasingly devaluing masculinity in education and commerce. Here’s Carlson:
Neither aggressive criminals (the “wolves” in gun culture parlance) nor meek victims (the “sheep”), gun carriers see themselves as valiantly straddling a moral space of heroic violence. They are sheepdogs. This citizen-protector ethic redefines men’s social utility to their families.
I don’t agree with everything in Carlson’s piece, but she touches on real truth here. To make a man a protector is to give him purpose. To deny him the means of protecting his family is to undercut that purpose.
The second piece discusses a fascinating and discouraging long-term study of the disparate outcomes of white boys and black boys. It turns out that black men tend to have worse outcomes than white men even when they both start their lives rich and relatively privileged.
There was, however, a limited exception. There were a few neighborhoods where black men did just as well as whites. These communities generally had less racial discrimination, recorded lower poverty rates, and shared this crucial characteristic as well:
Intriguingly, these pockets — including parts of the Maryland suburbs of Washington, and corners of Queens and the Bronx — were the places where many lower-income black children had fathers at home. Poor black boys did well in such places, whether their own fathers were present or not.
In other words, the presence of a critical mass of fathers had a positive effect even on boys who didn’t have a father at home. This is an astonishing commentary on the power of male role models. With that in mind, look at these stunning statistics:
There it is. The fatherhood crisis in two terrible charts. Those who understand the fundamental nature of young boys and their fundamental need for men to show them how to live understand instantly the roots of the challenge for young black men.
Let’s contrast the channeling model, which places a premium on masculine purpose and masculine role modeling, with the transformation model — a fashionable view on the social left. According to this view, traditionally “male” characteristics such as rambunctious play or aggression are often little more than “gendered” constructs, and even if they’re partially biological they can be overcome through training and conditioning.
Traditional masculinity, thus, is toxic to its core. Male role-modeling (to the extent it models traditional masculinity) is also toxic. Men can and should learn different ways of being.
My friend Ben Shapiro discusses a radical version of transformation in a piece today on National Review. A Swedish preschool has “cleared the room of cars and dolls. They put the boys in charge of the play kitchen. They made the girls practice shouting ‘No!’” A glowing New York Times story described the social experiment this way: “Science may still be divided over whether gender differences are rooted in biology or culture, but many of Sweden’s government-funded preschools are doing what they can to deconstruct them.”
It would be a mistake to overemphasize the cultural reach of the transformation model. Boys’ negative outcomes are due to absent fathers far more than to social radicals (though the transformation model has certainly contributed to the mistaken notion that women can generally raise boys just as effectively as men can), but it’s no exaggeration to say that the gender radicals are aggressive, and that their ideas are gaining increasing acceptance in all levels of Western education and in the culture at large.
It’s the momentum and energy of the transformation model that explains much of the hostility, for example, to Canadian professor Jordan Peterson. He first came to fame by aggressively pushing back against the new gender orthodoxy in a series of viral videos, but he’s reached entirely new levels of influence by reaching (mainly) young men with a message of strength and purpose.
His book 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos is powerful for numerous reasons (I reviewed it for the magazine here), but two stand out for these purposes. First, Peterson offers a philosophical rebuttal to the transformation model of masculinity. He rebuts the notion that masculinity is either a social construct or something to be socially engineered away. Yet he also — through his stories and (crucially) through his personal example of resisting leftist bullying — acts as a role model for young men who too often lack a meaningful masculine influence in their lives.
In other words, he’s not just providing a purpose; he’s showing what a purpose-driven life looks like. That’s not to endorse all the things that he says (I’m hardly an expert on all his writings and all of his hundreds of videos), but it’s to describe the actual, real-world effect of his work. It’s why he gives men hope and helps provide meaning.
There’s an old, oft-abused saying, “boys will be boys.” To the extent that it excuses destructive or oppressive behaviors, it’s pernicious. But it’s also a statement of fact. Boys will be boys, with all their physicality, aggression, and exuberance. The task of a nation and a culture is to channel that nature to virtuous ends and to applaud the proper development of their distinct masculine identities. That’s what good fathers do. That’s what Peterson does. In the battle against social transformation, I pray their voices win the day.
DAVID FRENCH — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Film Reviews: 'Paul, Apostle of Christ'

'Paul, Apostle of Christ' Portrays the Early Christian Church at its Most Fragile
March 21, 2018
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“Paul, Apostle of Christ” comes from Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Affirm label, an offshoot that has produced such Christian-themed dramas as “Heaven Is for Real,” “Soul Surfer” and “Risen.” Less interested in blunt proselytizing than more open-ended explorations of faith and its challenges, Affirm films have gratifyingly avoided the kind of pietistic Sunday-school pageantry that characterizes so many motion pictures of the genre.
Written and directed by Andrew Hyatt, “Paul, Apostle of Christ” is no exception. A portrait of the titular Christian convert and leader of the early church as he faces imprisonment and martyrdom at the hands of Roman oppressors, this absorbing drama benefits from lush production values (it was filmed in Malta) and first-rate performances from a cast of seasoned actors. Inspired by the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles, the story focuses on Luke (Jim Caviezel), a Greek physician and colleague of Paul’s in setting up early Christian communities, as he visits his incarcerated friend, desperately recording his final words of wisdom while Nero’s forces torture and murder their brothers and sisters outside the prison gates.
Hyatt includes flashbacks of Paul’s famous conversion, from tormentor of Christians to a believer, while on the road to Damascus. Those sequences are filmed in a milky, filtered light and slow-motion haze that threatens to drench “Paul” in Hallmark-card sentimentality. But when the action returns to Rome, the movie becomes far tougher and more intriguing. Despite Caviezel’s dazzlingly white teeth — not to mention the fact that he quotes the same Jesus on the cross that he played in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” — the actor is convincing as a man of both reason and belief. James Faulkner brings sonorous authority and deep sensitivity to Paul, whose insistence on following Christ’s most essential commandments — to love God, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself — is both gentle and uncompromisingly courageous.
In a polyglot production that easily accommodates French, British and Irish accents, Olivier Martinez plays Paul’s captor, a man whose belief in his own Roman gods is being rattled by the fatal illness of his daughter. But next to Faulkner’s quietly affecting portrayal, the most compelling passages of the film take place in Rome’s embattled Christian quarter, where a frightened and rapidly fraying community is wondering whether to stay and fight or escape to rebuild. As Aquila and Priscilla, the nominal leaders of the beleaguered insurgents, John Lynch and Joanne Whalley deliver nuanced, fully inhabited performances that resonate with propulsive urgency and zeal.
“Paul, Apostle of Christ” is clearly well timed with Lenten reflections on sacrifice, service, suffering and responsibility. But it offers an equally relevant — and inspiring — portrayal of principled steadfastness and spiritual integrity in the face of a petty, corrupt and tyrannical leader. In that sense, and appropriately enough, “Paul, Apostle of Christ” offers both solace and a bracing, even revolutionary, challenge.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some violence and disturbing images. 107 minutes.

SDG Reviews 'Paul, Apostle of Christ'

Steven D. Greydanus
March 22, 2018

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“I expected more,” muses Mauritius, the Roman prefect of the Mamertine Prison, critically eying the frail, bald-headed, bewhiskered prisoner standing unsteadily before him.

Perhaps Mauritius is looking for some sign of the charisma and commanding presence that would mark a powerful leader of an infamous cult blamed for burning half the city — or possibly something to warrant the rumors of the prisoner’s supernatural powers and otherworldly character.

Either way, Mauritius wouldn’t have been the first to be less than impressed by the unimposing figure cut by Paul of Tarsus. (Per 2 Corinthians 10:10, Paul seems to have had a rap for being less powerful in person than his mighty letters would suggest.)

The year is A.D. 67, about a dozen years into the notorious reign of Nero, widely deemed responsible for the Great Fire of Rome and said to have scapegoated Rome’s Christian community, not just for the fire, but for hatred of humanity.

For this they were tortured and executed in heinous ways, including being nailed to crosses and set ablaze at night. (The depiction of the persecution is drawn from the Roman historian Tacitus; an opening title tacitly supports the late folk etymology of Nero’s human pyrotechnics giving rise to the term “Roman candle.”)

Paul, Apostle of Christ offers a compelling account the last days of St. Paul — played with gravel-voiced authority by James Faulkner (Game of ThronesX-Men: First Class) — in a dungeon in the Mammertine Prison, facing execution for treason. It’s not the unmade epic about the life of Paul of Tarsus many would like to see, but what it is is worthwhile in its own right.

Writer-director Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace) interweaves Paul’s story with two secondary story strands, one concerning Rome’s underground Christian community and the other involving the prefect Mauritius (Olivier Martinez) and his family.

Tying the story strands together is Paul’s old traveling companion, Luke the physician (Jim Caviezel). St. Luke slips quietly into Rome to visit Paul in prison and to bring from him some word of encouragement and guidance to the Roman Christians and the larger Christian world, in the process becoming entangled with Mauritius and his family.

The most dramatically and thematically interesting material emerges from the agonized deliberations of the Roman Christians under the de facto leadership of the missionary couple Priscilla and Aquila (Joanne Whalley and John Lynch), who are companions and fellow workers of Paul (mentioned as such several times in the New Testament).

Conflicting impulses divide the community: Should they remain in Rome, as light in the darkness? Should they seek a warmer welcome elsewhere? Or should they join other Romans opposed to Nero and oppose his tyranny by fighting fire with fire?

Even Priscilla and Aquila are split on whether to stay or go; there are no clear answers here. As for the question of fighting, when speaking to the community Luke strenuously repudiates this as contrary to the way and teaching of Christ — but when he talks to Paul about the horrors inflicted on the believers, he finds his conviction wavering. Though decisively rejected, the prospect and the plausibility of violence in the name of Christ is treated with a level of complexity welcome in such a film.

All of this means trouble at work for Mauritius; there’s also trouble at home. His wife, Irenica (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), is anxious about their daughter’s dangerous illness and worried that her husband may have incurred the wrath of the gods through lack of devotion — or deference toward his sectarian prisoner.

The prospect of a brutal but thoughtful pagan official with a seriously ill family member in a film like this raises the distinct possibility of a miraculous cure and a dramatic conversion. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, these possibilities are actually floated onscreen, which again suggests that the filmmakers may be thinking at least somewhat outside the box. 

The conversations between Luke and Paul, which eventually lead to the sequel to Luke’s Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, form the central arc. Paul recounts vignettes from his life to flashbacks of his early religious training and murderous opposition to what he sees as the heresy of Jesus' followers to his shattering Damascus Road encounter with Jesus Christ and his healing encounter with Ananias.

Luke and Paul have a comfortable relationship easing at times into good-natured banter, though it’s clear that Luke regards the “Old Man” with a species of awe, since everything Luke knows of Jesus has been mediated through Paul’s life and preaching.

If anything troubles Paul, it’s the weight of trauma he still carries from his early crimes as a persecutor of the Church. The stoning of Stephen (André Agius), the killing of a Christian child and other enormities weigh on him, heightened by visions in which he sees his victims standing silently as if bearing mute witness against him. The wordless resolution of this theme is perhaps the film’s most memorable and effective stroke.

Hyatt uses impressionistic slow motion for these visionary sequences, blended with flashback memories, breaking up what is otherwise a largely conversational film shot mostly in dimly lit interiors penetrated by atmospheric beams of light. (The most striking lighting effect involves a pagan offering made to a Roman deity — perhaps Asclepius, the god of medicine — represented as a vast disc-shaped visage like Rome’s famous Bocca della Verità, with bright beams blazing from its eyeholes like laser vision, ready to smite unworthy worshippers.)

At times the nonlinear storytelling leads to some ambiguity regarding the timeline. Some viewers might be confused by a reference in a closing scene to Paul’s two years under house arrest (with which the Book of Acts concludes). The reference is to Paul’s first Roman arrest before the Great Fire, a much less serious affair. (What’s especially tricky is that Paul’s surroundings in this scene are consistent with a house arrest, but the lodgings are not his own and two years don’t pass in the last minutes of the film.)

One oddity is the absence, even in dialogue, of other apostles, notably Peter, whose martyrdom in Rome is generally thought to have coincided closely with Paul’s. Presumably Peter would have been imprisoned like Paul or else with the underground Christian community, yet there’s no mention of him.

Hyatt is Catholic, so the silence about Peter in Rome — or even Linus and Clement, among his first successors as bishops of Rome — seems an odd missed opportunity. (On a subtle note, all the Roman Christian men have beards, which suggests that they’re probably mostly Jewish Christians with an occasional Greek like Luke. I would have liked to see a few clean-shaven Latin faces.)

Shot on a budget and a tight schedule in Malta (where Gladiator and Troy, and more recently Risen, were shot), Paul, Apostle of Christ is remarkably authentic-looking. The screenplay is intelligent and thoughtful, with only occasional missteps, ranging from an occasional poorly chosen phrase (like Luke’s “thoughts and prayers”) to a late moment in which a character who has suffered a trauma more dangerous than Paul’s floggings is up and about far too quickly.

Paul, Apostle of Christ is dedicated to all who have been persecuted for their faith. This potentially raises a sticky point.

Jesus warned Christians to expect persecution, and from his own crucifixion until today the Church has never been without opposition. Today, in fact, Christians around the world are being persecuted as never before. Yet at times the memory or idea of persecution has outstripped the reality.

After the legalization of Christianity by Constantine, Christians often looked back on the early centuries of the Church as a period of constant, ferocious persecution by one Roman emperor after another. In reality, with notable exceptions (including the persecutions of Nero and especially Diocletian), persecution was generally sporadic, haphazard and not state-sponsored. (Some skeptical historians have even questioned the Neronian persecution, though its historicity is accepted by most scholars.)

In our day, global persecution notwithstanding, American Christians are generally far less aggrieved than many of us are inclined to think. It’s easy to imagine many comfortable viewers watching Paul, Apostle of Christ as if it were not only a story of our heritage, and one that resonates with the experiences of suffering souls around the world, but a mirror of our own experience.

On the other hand, the film’s clear repudiation of violence in the name of Christ, its repudiation of efforts to seize the reins of power by any means necessary, and its theme of seeing enemies as human beings are especially welcome today. Sometimes in the effort to resist evil one risks becoming what one opposes, or worse. Paul, Apostle of Christ suggests that it’s always better to suffer evil than to be brought to its level in resisting it.

Steven D. Greydanus is the Register’s film critic and creator of Decent Films.

He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

Follow him on Twitter.

Caveat Spectator: Some bloody and gruesome images, including images of burning bodies and a scene depicting the execution and immolation of a live victim. Teens and up.

C.J. Box delivers slow-burn environmental thriller in new Joe Pickett mystery

, The Republic
March 23, 2018

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Wyoming's favorite "range rider" isn't sure where one case ends and another begins in C.J Box's new slow-burn thriller, "The Disappeared."

Game warden Joe Pickett is summoned by the state's newly elected governor to resume his role as an unofficial investigator, this time to find a wealthy British tourist who vanished from an exclusive resort and hasn't been seen in weeks.

But from outset, the case is different, politically charged. Pickett has always been protected from the fallout of his inquiries. Now he feels exposed and threatened, as if he's being set up. He's told in no uncertain terms that his future rests on the outcome. He just isn't sure what outcome the governor and his fixers expect.

So begins the 18th Pickett novel, one of the most deliberate and sure-footed in the series. In many ways it is a roots novel, a throwback to the earliest Pickett books, with its environmental themes and overlapping plot lines.

It is a surprise coming on the heels of last year's brutally efficient "Vicious Circle," a book built on unrelenting suspense with a stripped-down story of murder, revenge and reaction. It put Pickett and his family in the jaws of a slowly closing trap.

Here the threats are subtle, the mystery more compelling. The damage is not so much physical as emotional. Pickett's family might not be in mortal jeopardy, but his existence— his identity as a game warden and his ability to provide for his wife and daughters — is no less threatened.

"The Disappeared" showcases Box's versatility. He manipulates readers like a no-limit hold 'em pro: drawing them in with the classic mystery staple of a missing heiress, then raising on the blind with contemporary Western issues while never hinting at what he's got in the hole.

And you better watch those hole cards.

The story is backdropped by the extreme locales of the Upper North Platte River, from the poverty-stricken hamlets of a post-coal, post-fracking economy to the ultra-rich resorts where societal elites pay top dollar to play cowboy at exclusive dude ranches. 

"The Disappeared" opens with a disturbing set of images. The night man at a small sawmill, paid to tender the disposal of sawdust inside a 50-foot beehive burner, is waiting for a secret delivery. He's taking kickbacks to stoke the fire above 1,000 degrees and then walk away from his post. When he returns, he tries to ignore the sweet, organic smell belching from the chimney.

Pickett is dispatched to Saratoga, about 20 miles south of Interstate 80 in the dead of winter. Ostensibly, he's there to take over operations for the district game warden who quit his post without notice or forwarding address.

But his assignment from the governor is to quietly find out what happened to Kate Shelford-Longden, who vanished after leaving the exclusive Silver Creek Ranch. It seems everybody in town has a theory on what happened to "Cowgirl Kate," as the British tabloids dub the missing public-relations director. Clues, however, are non-existent.

Pickett doesn't do politics. His straight-ahead style and Dudley-Do-Right manner clash with the bureaucratic subterfuge and power plays of elected office. Pickett's reluctance to do the governor's bidding is offset only by the opportunity to see his oldest daughter, Sheridan, who is working as a wrangler at Silver Creek.

Sheridan brings Pickett a new set of challenges by way of Silver Creek's charming head wrangler. Readers, along with Pickett and his wife, have watched their three daughters grow up over the past two decades. Their relationships resonate with authenticity and, in many ways, give the books their heart. It's no surprise to find Pickett grappling with his oldest daughter's adulthood.

Enter into all of this uncertainty Pickett's enigmatic and sometimes violent friend, Nate Romanowski. The special-forces veteran is also struggling with change, slowly coming in off the grid and into semi-legitimacy with his new falconry-for-hire business.

But Nate's still got conspiracy theories. And just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean there aren't powerful forces aligning against you. He shows up at Pickett's hotel with a concern about eagle-hunting permits. He wants to know why the federal government has stopped issuing permits that allow falconers to hunt with eagles. 

And he thinks Pickett is the one who can get the answer, or at least use his influence with the governor to free up permits. Pickett tries to dissuade Nate of any illusions about his leverage with the governor.  

But Nate knows one way to put the governor square in Pickett's pocket: Solve the case. He agrees to help help find out what happened to Kate in exchange for Pickett's help on the permits. Pickett agrees, with one hard rule: "I'm serious about not busting any heads."

Nate agrees until he doesn't, and then it's time for his .454 Casull revolver, quite literally, one of the most powerful handguns in the world. No offense, Dirty Harry.

As Nate beats information out of mountain meth dealers, Pickett focuses on the ranch, the missing warden and the disappeared tourist. 

Box, who along with his wife owned an international tourism marketing firm, layers his story with an insider's knowledge of the Western economy and the dude-ranch industry.

He also clues us into a slice of British fetish life via websites that cater to women who want "authentic" cowboy experiences. Call it Cowboy Tinder. Who knew this could be a thing? 

Box lets us ride side-saddle with Pickett and Nate as they take us into the high country in pickups, on horseback and on snowmobiles. We get to explore a year-round trout fishery on a natural spring, go to a huge wind farm that makes a dubious promise to deliver jobs to Wyoming and power to California, and stumble into remote cabins that serve as ramshackle love nests.

All of these trails converge at the smoking makeshift crematorium, where a casual killer is determined to protect an ugly secret.

Will you be surprised? Pickett probably says it best: "Yup."


KSCJ: Interview: C.J. Box -