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



Universal Pictures/Marvel Enterprises 

Directed by Ang Lee

Produced by Avi Arad, Larry J. Franco, Gale Anne Hurd, James Schamus, Stan Lee, Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman

Based on “The Incredible Hulk” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby


Comic book fans.  God bless ‘em.  Somebody better bless ‘em ‘cause they most surely need it.  For me to amplify on that statement we have to go back to the 1970’s.  All the way back to when all there were was TV movies, cartoons and shows based on my favorite Marvel characters like The Hulk, Captain America, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man.  The Dr. Strange TV movie actually wasn’t that bad but the two Captain America movies were pretty poor.  The Spider-Man TV series boasted a Spider-Man that wore a belt and one webshooter on the outside of his costume.  The Hulk TV series actually was very good at times and is still fondly remembered.  When you mention The Hulk to the average non-comic book fan, it’s the TV show they’ll probably remember.

But ever since those dismal days of Made-For-TV movies that looked they were filmed in somebody’s backyards or highly unconvincing sets with actors who clearly were doing this for the paycheck, comic book fans have been bitching, moaning and whining.

They gnashed their teeth, tore at their clothing and prayed for a major superhero movie with a lavish budget for quality special effects.  With an Academy Award winning director and actors who truly cared about the material and would treat it with respect.  With a literate screenplay that emphasized the emotional, dramatic and psychological life of its characters and simply wasn’t punchy-punchy-run-run.

And then they got HULK and they proceeded to lose their mollyfoggin’ minds.

HULK is a movie that polarizes comic book fans.  They either love it or hate it.  The main argument against the movie I hear is that it’s “boring” which I honestly don’t understand.  The Hulk isn’t your usual superhero and there are elements of the character’s backstory that deal with child and spousal abuse, alcoholism, emotional trauma, megalomania, the ethical responsibility of science and its practitioners.  The Hulk isn’t about a guy who puts on a costume and goes out to beat up on the bad guys.  It’s another type of character and needs to be told in another kind of way.  Not that The Hulk can’t be utilized in a superhero universe.  He has.  It’s just that his origin story has to be faithful to the uniqueness of the character and HULK certainly is unique among superhero movies.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) is a bionuclear researcher working on a branch of nanotechnology called ‘nanomeds’ which has medical applications.  It’s a project that comes to the attention of Major Glenn Talbot (Josh Lucas).  Talbot envisions armies of soldiers who can heal themselves during combat using nanomeds.  Bruce isn’t interested.  Mainly because he just doesn’t like the military very much and he definitely doesn’t like Talbot who is most certainly interested in not only Bruce’s research but also his co-researcher and ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly).  Betty father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Sam Elliott) is keeping an eye on all of them.  Betty and her father already have a strained relationship because of Bruce as General Ross has urged her time and again to stay away from him.

Turns out that in this instance, Daddy does know best.  After an accident in the lab in which Bruce is exposed to a insanely high dose of gamma radiation he finds himself in times of emotional stress turning into a seven foot tall, one thousand pound green skinned man-monster driven by rage.  Unknown to Bruce, his DNA has been mutated due to experiments his father David Banner (Nick Nolte) performed upon himself, those experiments uncannily similar to Bruce’s.  It’s the combination of Bruce’s already mutated DNA with the gamma radiation that gives birth to The Hulk.

Let me put it to you in the simplest way I can: you’re not gonna get “Hulk Smash!” in this one.  There is an absolutely wonderful battle between The Hulk and the Thunderbolt Ross led forces of the United States Army in the desert that is taken right from countless Hulk comic books but The Hulk pounding the piss outta the bad guys isn’t what’s at stake here.  You’ll have to wait for the Ed Norton starring “The Incredible Hulk” to get that.

What we have here is a movie about two adults who have been emotionally scarred by their parents.  Their true union is a struggle to heal their damaged psyches.  Both Bruce and Betty are victims of the monstrous egos of their respective fathers.  In Bruce’s case it causes him to turn into the living embodiment of his repressed rage.  In Betty’s case it causes her to be almost uncontrollably drawn to emotionally repressed men who can never give her what she truly needs to contribute to a healthy romantic relationship.

Heavy stuff for a superhero movie, huh?  Sure it is.  But it’s anything but boring and not every superhero movie has to be about punching out the bad guys.  HULK is more about how most of us are our own bad guys.

And directors of superhero movies could learn something from the astonishing visual techniques Ang Lee uses to not so much try to literally duplicate the storytelling methods of comic books but his strategy here seems to be to suggest those methods and not beat us over the head with it.  It’s amazing to watch a director use the split screen technique in a way that is truly different.  He uses pictures within picture, foreground and background merging with each other.  That’s why I never understand those who say that HULK is boring.  It’s a movie that is always moving just through the imaginative transitions from scene to the next.

But bitter waters come with the sweet and as much as I like HULK I have to agree with those of you who hate the Gamma Dogs sequence.  First of all; Gamma Dogs?  And second, the way it’s filmed at night it’s difficult to tell what’s going on.  And while Nick Nolte is one of my favorite actors I watch this movie and can’t help but wonder what movie did he think he was in.  And that ending is absolutely incomprehensible.  Mark Bousquet in his excellent review  of HULK says that the movie should have ended when The Hulk is transformed back into Bruce by the calming presence of Betty Ross and falls into her arms.  And he’s absolutely right.  We get another twenty minutes of Nick Nolte ranting and raving and trying to explain to Bruce what his deal is.  And there’s another nighttime fight except this one takes place in a lake where we really can’t see what the cuss is going on.

This is a movie where I can’t find fault with anybody’s acting job.  Sam Elliott is the definitive Thunderbolt Ross.  Jennifer Connelly continues to show why she’s one of the most dependable actresses working today.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen her turn in a bad performance.  Eric Bana makes for an interesting Bruce Banner.  He doesn’t play him as a wimp or as a weakling.  His Bruce Banner is a guy who has been dealt some pretty hard knocks by life ever since he was knee high to a knee and it’s taken his toll on his emotional make-up.

I’ve long given up trying to get comic book fans to see HULK through my eyes.  They hate it, they’re gonna hate it and I have come to terms with that.  I enjoy HULK and put it on the shelf with movies such as “The Rocketeer” “The Phantom” and “Speed Racer” which most people don’t like but I feel as if the filmmakers made those movies just for me.  I like to call HULK an art house superhero movie.  I’ve heard various critics call it a superhero movie for people who don’t like superhero movies.  Bottom line is this: HULK isn’t for everybody but I am glad it’s for me.

138 minutes