A Walk In The Woods



Route One Films/Wildwood Enterprises/Broad Green Pictures

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Produced by Robert Redford/Bill Holderman/Chip Diggins

Screenplay by Rick Kerb/Bill Holderman

Based on “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson

I suppose I must be getting old. I remember the day when a new Robert Redford movie was considered a major theatrical event. And a movie teaming him up with Nick Nolte? Hey, that’s news right there. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because it sure seems as if this movie almost snuck right by me. I vaguely remember seeing a trailer for it sometime during the summer but let’s face it, with all the trailers they show you before a summer movie (I swear that the showing of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” I attended, there was an even dozen trailers) it’s easy to forget.

But no matter. The main point is, I saw it. Did I like it? Well before we get into that, allow me to quote myself from my review of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Ahem. Here goes; “I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out in the evening or the afternoon to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.”

Okay? Because A WALK IN THE WOODS is a movie specifically geared toward that age group. Now I’m not saying that younger movie goers wouldn’t appreciate or like this movie if they gave it a chance but there’s a whole lot of things going on here that you can relate to better when you’re 50 or 60 than you can when you’re 20 or 30, is all.

Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has built up an impressive career as a writer of humorous travel books while living in England for about 20 years. He returns to America and lives quite well and peacefully with his wife Cynthia (Emma Thompson). While attending a funeral we’re shown that despite his age, Bill is still somewhat socially inept and uncomfortable around people. Maybe that’s why he suddenly takes it into his head to hike The Appalachian Trail. It goes for 2,200 miles through 14 states and is famous for the many hikers who attempt to hike the entirety of the trail. Only around 10% of those who start out actually finish. Bill intends to finish. He also wants to go by himself but Cynthia puts both feet down. The only way Bill is going to go is if he takes somebody along.


Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) an old friend who offers to come along. Bill hasn’t talked to him in years. Not because he’s mad at him or anything like that. They just simply drifted apart. But apparently, thanks to a scrapbook he’s kept all these years and luridly wild stories Stephen is more than happy to share with Cynthia, he and Bill had a pretty adventurous partnership for a while there.

Bill and Stephen set out on their last great adventure together and it soon becomes apparent to Bill (and hilariously to us) that Stephen isn’t as good a shape to go on this hike as he said he was. He’s got bad knees and his breathing sounds as if his lungs are made out of burlap. And if that wasn’t enough, Bill finds a pint of bourbon hidden in Stephen’s backpack and wonders if he’s got a boozer on his hands that is going to hinder his finishing the hike. Not that Bill is a model companion either. He’s got his own dysfunctional emotional issues that distance him from people and it says something about the man that he doesn’t seem interested in finding out why.


Despite all that heavy stuff, this is very much a buddy comedy and I can see why Robert Redford bought the rights to this book as this would have been the perfect third film for him to co-star with Paul Newman, forming a sort of unofficial trilogy. But sadly, Mr. Newman passed away in 2008. However, Nick Nolte makes a more than amiable and acceptable co-star. Indeed, he shamelessly steals every scene he can get away with and once again reminds us that he is as adept at comedy as he is at drama.

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film,

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film, “A Walk in the Woods.” The movie releases in U.S. theaters on Sept. 2, 2015. (Frank Masi, SMPSP/Broad Green Pictures via AP)

I can’t really say that there’s a compelling story here or even much suspense in wondering if Bill and Stephen will finish their hike. Mainly we get truly beautiful and astonishing views of the Appalachian Trail as the two men walk. Along the way they meet some interesting and eccentric characters such as Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) who is convinced that everybody else in the world is dumb and boring except for her. Mary Steenburgen shows up as a hotel manager who sends Bill clear signals that she’d like to provide him with the sort of room service the other guests don’t get. Stephen has a laundromat love affair with the plus-sized Beulah (Susan McPhail) that is definitely more than he bargained for. Nick Offerman also shows up for what is little more than a cameo but he does more with that than most actors do with 30 minutes worth of screen time.

So should you see A WALK IN THE WOODS? If you’re a fan of Robert Redford and/or Nick Nolte, absolutely. They have a wonderful rapport and chemistry that makes me wish they’d done some work together when they were younger. The story is a light one and designed to do nothing more than require you spend some time with two old friends reconnecting with each other and themselves. It’s fun to watch and that’s good enough for me.

Rated R: Be advised that the R rating is for language alone. The “F” word gets a mighty healthy workout in this one.

104 Minutes

Primary Colors


Universal Studios

Directed by Mike Nichols

Produced by Mike Nichols, Jonathan Krane and Neil Machlis

Screenplay by Elaine May

Based on “Primary Colors” by Joe Klein

A lot of you reading this review won’t remember the controversy and hullabaloo when PRIMARY COLORS hit the screens back in ‘98. The book it’s based on was originally credited to “Anonymous” as it is in the movie’s credits.  Written by political journalist/columnist Joe Klein, the book and movie were both supposedly based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. And after watching John Travolta and Billy Bob Thornton doing dead-bang near perfect impersonations of Bill Clinton and James Carville it’s hard to argue against that.  But even if you don’t know a dodgamn thing about Bill Clinton or his presidency, PRIMARY COLORS works as a spectacularly insightful political drama/satire/comedy on all levels due to the exceptionally strong work of the amazing cast. Sure, there are a few serious bumps along the way but on the whole, PRIMARY COLORS is a Must See Movie about American politics.

Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is the idealistic grandson of a 1960’s civil rights leader.  He’s involved in American politics in small ways until he’s practically kidnapped into the presidential campaign of Senator Jack Stanton (John Travolta).  Henry’s extremely reluctant to take the job of Campaign Manager until he sees Stanton interact with the public, especially at a meeting with the students of an adult illiteracy class where Stanton brings everybody to tears with the story of how his Uncle Charlie won the Congressional Medal of Honor but didn’t have the courage to admit he couldn’t read. Uncle Charlie will also be influential in other ways later on in the story I dare not reveal.

Henry is totally swept into the campaign by Stanton’s trusted circle: his wife Susan (Emma Thompson) political strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) Spokeswoman Daisy Green (Maura Tierney) and Howard Ferguson (Paul Guifoyle). And they hit the campaign trail which takes them all in directions none of them ever imagined a presidential campaign would take them. Mainly because Jack’s inability to keep it in his pants. One scandal piles on top of another as one of Jack’s mistresses comes forward with tapes of their romantic conversations. And if that wasn’t enough, one of Jack’s friends informs Henry that his 16 year old daughter is pregnant and claims Jack as the father.  To counter all this, Henry, Daisy and Richard bring in Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) to dig up the dirt on the Stantons and clean it up before it can be used against them. Libby has special qualifications for the job as she is a firm political ally of the Stantons and has known them since they were all radical college students.  But Libby suffers from the same disease as Henry. They both have what Richard calls “Terminal TB” They’re both True Believers in Jack Stanton and that belief may be more dangerous than anything else…

Believe it or not, despite my description, PRIMARY COLORS is actually very funny at times. And it worked for me because it made me feel as if I were really getting inside the heart of a political campaign and seeing how it operates.  I liked the scenes where it showed that while Jack Stanton is out shaking hands and kissing babies, it’s his staff that is actually making the pivotal decisions for his career. I liked the scenes where Richard walks into a room and immediately lies down on a bed or couch and fields questions from the other staff members and formulates strategy as if it’s something he was born to do.  I liked how Henry struggled to hold onto to his core values and principals even in the face of such blatant manipulation of public opinion and perception by not only his staff but everybody else involved in the presidential race.

Adrian Lester I knew from the British crime drama “Hustle” and was pleasantly surprised at seeing him in this movie. His British accent and manner slips through at times but he’s good at being our eyes and ears into the Stanton campaign. Maura Tierney is just as good as Daisy Green but then again, Maura Tierney is good in every role I’ve seen her play. Supposedly there was an interracial love subplot between Daisy and Henry that got cut and I can understand why. We see a couple of scenes with the characters together in bed and that’s all we really need to know because the real love affair these characters have is with politics and not each other.

And every time I see this movie I fall in love with Emma Thompson.  She’s simply amazing and totally into the role. I don’t think she’s going so much for a straight-up and down Hillary Clinton impersonation as she is trying to get us to understand the mindset and drive of women who link their destiny to that of men like Jack. The genius of the movie is that we never get a scene with Jack and Susan alone where we get to hear what they discuss in private, away from advisors and press and I like it that way.

But it’s John Travolta and Kathy Bates who clearly walk away with the movie.  As Jack Stanton, Travolta plays a man who is so full of charisma that people fall over themselves to just be in his presence. It’s a performance that just leaves me amazed every time I see it because Travolta does such a good job of disappearing inside of Jack Stanton. And he makes Jack Stanton his own character.  Sure, we see Bill Clinton in there because that’s who it’s supposed to be but Travolta puts spins on the character and I appreciate that he did so in order not to make Stanton a caricature.

And Kathy Bates as Libby is the soul and conscience of the Stantons.  She has a marvelous scene near the end of the movie where she shows Jack and Susan pictures of the three of them when they were young and idealistic and thought they could change the world. And then she begs them to make the right decision. They don’t.

So should you see PRIMARY COLORS? Absolutely yes. It’s a movie full of laughs but it’s also a movie full of seriousness. It feels honest and it feels real. It also feels joyous and sad. It gives hope and then takes it away.  I’m the first person to scoff at a movie that claims to be based on real people or events but somehow I got the sneaking suspicion that PRIMARY COLORS at times comes uncomfortably close to the truth of how politics in America really are.

143 minutes

Rated R