Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/11/22

The past as prologue. After accidentally crash-landing in 2022, time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) teams up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) on a mission to save the future. That’s about sums up in a time capsule the plot of The Adam Project, Reynolds’ latest action flick dropping on Netflix today. Directed by Shawn Levy (Free Guy), the stellar cast also includes Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Catherine Keener and Zoe Saldaña. My review follows the trailer below.

IMHO: The Adam Project boasts a strong cast, essentially sympathetic protagonists the audience will root for, an interesting (though familiar) premise, good pacing and a heartfelt themes that include the importance of expressing love and gratitude, as well as an echo the faith concept of a father whose love is reliable, unconditional and endures forever. All that said, the film could have done with a bit less glibness from its characters.

While it’s true that a movie like this should avoid too much self seriousness, the smart-alecky comments, particularly between the adult and child Adams of the title, as well as their shared scientist father Louis (Lou?) Reed (Ruffalo) whose time travel theory inadvertently sets in motion the future crisis that needs to be averted, have the also inadvertent effect of taking me out of the story and (unnecessarily) reminding me that I’m watching a movie. Some humor, of course, is called for in these fantatastical-type films but, on some level, you want to suspend your disbelief and the snarky banter here begins to feel forced and fake. As the elder Adam says to his younger self later in the film “Let’s just talk like normal people, okay?”

Jennifer Garner has probably the most sympathetic and grounded role in the film as Ellie Reed, the Adams’ mother who the time-hopping script first introduces us to a couple of years after Louis’ death. In mourning of the death of a man she truly loved and doing her best to keep it together for her son, her character is sympathetic and has a sense of humor that is written in a way that seems appropriate for her situation. She’s the realest character in the movie.

Zoe Saldaña plays Adam’s loving future wife who is, of course, also a kick-ass warrior against the minions of Maya Sorian, the treacherous antagonist played by Catharine Keener. They’re both fine in their fairly cartoonish roles.

Also on the note believability, most of  the action scenes play too much like choreographed music videos that don’t convey any real sense of urgency and pulse-pounding suspense the story calls for. On the plus side, young Walker Scovell is very  believable as a young Ryan Reynolds and, like Reynolds, possesses an easy charm that could carry him into adult stardom.

The bottom line: Overall, the PG-13 film works on an escapist level that the whole family can enjoy – though I’m sure some parents would have preferred if some of the moderately coarse language and suggestive references were left on the cutting room floor.

Fathom Events looks to have a hit with Man of God. The upcoming theatrical biopic has proven so popular with advance ticket buyers that the specialty distributor has added a second screening date for the award-winning movie that tells the inspirational story of Saint Nektarios (October 1, 1846 – November 8, 1920). A second event showing has been added to the film’s docket which means you can see it in theaters on both Monday, March 21 (the original date) or on Monday, March 28th (ticket info here).

For those unfamiliar with him, St. Nektarios’ popularity provoked jealousy among the clergy in Alexandria and, as a result, he was defrocked and expelled from Egypt. In contrast to his religious “superiors,” Nektarios cared for the poor, taught peasant girls to read and write, and performed miracles. It is said that, upon his death, Nektarios’ undergarment was removed and as it fell upon a paralyzed man in the hospital bed next to him, the lame man miraculously arose to walk. Nektarios was recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1961. His feast day is celebrated on Nov. 9.

The Man of God cast includes Aris Servetalis (The Waiter) as Nektarios, Alexander Petrov (Attraction) as his friend and supporter Kostas and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) as a paralyzed man he has a miraculous encounter with. The movie is written, directed and produced by Yelena Popovic. My review of the film follows the trailer below.

IMHO: On the other end of the seriousness spectrum from The Adam Project, Man of God is a well-crafted and powerful example of a faith-themed biopic that never for a minute slips into the realm of the treacly. The character study of a man who is totally sincere in his faith – and how that faith impacts those around him – is totally believable, helped by dialogue that rings true for the characters. Writer-Director-Producer Yelena Popovic really knew the story she wanted to tell and stayed true to it.

The film deftly explores the natural tension between faith and reason particularly in the scenes between Nektarios and the head of the school he is assigned to. The headmaster, who has honest problems with Nektarios’ overt religiosity, is presented sympathetically and the discussions between the two essentially good men are among the many highlights of the movie. Of course, Nektarios’ religiousity is born of a sincere desire to draw closer to God and serve the people – and his focus is not on rules but on kindness and forgiveness.

Also interesting is Nektarios’ interactions with the religious leaders of his time who don’t quite know what to make of a guy who actually practices what they preach. In some ways Man of God is sort of an exploration of Cancel Culture from an earlier era – as the powers that be more or less did the best they could to ostracize him, including by character assassination. The film makes a strong statement about how power – both in the religious and political arenas – corrupts. Nektarios is a saint who stood against that corruption without, as he warned others, becoming what he opposed. When his friend Kostos confides in him that, if he had suffered the same abuse by authorities that Nektarios endured, he does not think he would be able to maintain his faith. Nektarious’ responds “Woe to me if my faith depends on men.”  That, to me, seems like pretty good advice to us in this corrupt age.

Of particular note also is the moving scene between Nektarios and Mickey Rourke’s paralyzed man. When Nektarious says to the nearly despairing sufferer “Maybe God has a surprise for you” it’s a message to anyone in the audience who may be feeling defeated. Hold on. Miracles – big and small – happen. Dare to believe. All things are possible with God.

The bottom line: The performances, beginning with Aris Servetalis as Nektarios, are universally spot on and, overall, the unrated film does not include a single false note. Highly recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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