A Walk in the Woods

Lost in the woods.

Lost in the woods.

(2015) Dramedy (Broad Green) Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, R. Keith Harris, Randall Newsome, Linda Edwards, Susan McPhail, Andrew Vogel, Derek Krantz, Gaia Wise, Tucker Meek, Chandler Head, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, John Schmedes, Valentin Armendariz, Danny Vinson, Valerie Payton, Stephanie Astalos-Jones. Directed by Ken Kwapis

All of us have a connection to the natural world. Deep down, we pine for it; while most of us will profess to loving the civilized life of home and hearth, every so often we get a yen to go out into the woods and pitch a tent. It reminds us of our connection to this planet, that we are born of it and part of it and that it is conversely part of us. Nothing clears one’s head quite so much as a walk in the woods.

Bill Bryson (Redford) is a semi-retired travel writer who has written some fine books but is about as socially awkward as a 13 year old at a state dinner. He says the wrong things at funerals, cracks incomprehensible jokes that nobody gets and grumps to his saintly patient wife Catherine (Thompson) that talking to people is just something he doesn’t do.

After being upbraided by a smarmy talk show host (Newsome) about having written nothing about his own native country, he chances upon a leg of the Appalachian trail near his New Hampshire home and struck by inspiration. Bryson hits on the idea of walking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine. Catherine takes about as kindly to the idea as she would about having a hole drilled in her noggin. When she sees she can’t dissuade her husband out of the scheme, she insists that he take someone with him.

The trouble is, nobody he knows is willing to go with him. That is until he gets a call out of the blue from Stephen Katz (Nolte), an old friend he had a falling out with a decade or so ago. He’s not choice A for the trip but beggars can’t be choosers so Bill gets himself equipped at the local REI (with Offerman making a cameo as a clerk) and before long Katz and Bryson are putting on their hiking boots.

Katz is, contrary to his self-description, woefully out of shape and is huffing and puffing away like a walrus before he’s gone ten feet. Still, the two manage to make progress although not as much as they probably should. They have to put up with rain, snow, never-ending hills, burying their dookie in the woods, annoying know-it-all hikers (Schaal) and bears. But most of all, they’ll have to put up with each other – and themselves.

Kwapis has a history of creating films that are audience pleasers more so than critical darlings and judging from the scores below has done the same this time out. And what’s not to love? A strong, well-known cast in beautiful settings, that’s for sure. The Appalachian Trail passes through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet and Kwapis takes full advantage of it.

Redford and Nolte have only been in the same film together once before, that being the 2012 drama The Company You Keep and then they only shared a couple of scenes together. It’s a shame they haven’t done more together because they have amazing chemistry together; they banter like an old married couple and play off of each other like the two old pros they are. Their relationship holds the film together.

Nolte, in particular, is noteworthy; gasping like an asthmatic bear and growling in that gravelly smoker’s voice of his. He’s essentially the comic relief, making of Katz a kind of charming womanizing rogue gone to seed, cheerfully evading his responsibilities. Redford by contrast does what Redford does best; being likable even when he’s supposed to be a curmudgeon.

Which brings up a point. Both of these distinguished actors are in their 70s – in fact, Redford is 79 – but the real Bill Bryson was in his mid-40s when he hiked the Trail and so much of the book’s focus had to be changed. The movie spends much more time dwelling on the decrepitude of the leads than the book did on the inexperience of its leads. Lovers of the book (and there are many) might not be too pleased with that. They’ll be pleased that much of Bryson’s comic tone was retained. I haven’t read the book probably in 15 years or so, but my guess is that it was extensively re-written for the screen, so be warned on that score.

Da Queen really loved this movie; the bonding with nature and the friendship between Redford and Nolte really spoke to her; she proclaimed it her favorite movie of the Summer (I didn’t have the heart to point out that it wasn’t released until September 2nd, after the official summer release season had ended) which considering how delighted she was with Jurassic World is quite an accomplishment. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the film but found it to be genuinely entertaining, sentimental and only occasionally descending into schmaltz and cinematically beautiful.

In short, this is solid entertainment which will likely appeal strongly to an older demographic but those who appreciate movies with a heart will also enjoy  it. I do like an occasional nature walk although my condition prevents long hikes like this one but still it inspired in me a desire to walk the Trail myself. It won’t happen, but it’s nice to imagine that it could. If these two can do it, so can I, right?

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery. Wonderful chemistry between Redford and Nolte. Some genuine laughs.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally clunky. Too many codger jokes.
FAMILY VALUES: A few mild expletives and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally, this was meant to be the third team-up between Redford and Paul Newman when the film was optioned in 2007; however, Newman’s declining health and eventual passing prevented that from occurring. Newman would have been cast in the role that Nick Nolte eventually filled.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle Begins!

He’s Just Not That Into You

He's Just Not That Into You

Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long try to out-annoy each other.

(New Line) Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Kris Kristofferson, Luis Guzman, Busy Philipps. Directed by Ken Kwapis.

Establishing a relationship has never been more complicated or gut-wrenching as it is in the 21st century. While the ability of the sexes to interpret the signals of the other has remained the same – woefully inadequate – the means for communicating those signals have grown exponentially. As one character sighs in this romantic comedy, it’s now possible to be rejected by seven different technologies. Romeo and Juliet beset by digital dejection in an Internet age.

Gigi (Goodwin) is on a date with Conor (Connolly), a successful realtor. The date seems to be going pretty well, and as they part Gigi anticipates a call from Conor, thinking there might be a real connection between them. So she waits…and she waits…and still the phone refuses to ring.

Anna (Johansson) runs into Ben (Cooper) at a corner grocery, and thinks they’ve formed a connection. The problem is that Ben is married to neurotic Janine (Connelly), and while he promises help with Anna’s singing career, he is troubled by his attraction to her.

Beth (Aniston) and Neil (Affleck) have been together for seven years. While Beth wants commitment and marriage, Neil is averse to the whole idea of marriage. After all, he is committed to her he supports her in every way and loves her completely. Why do they need any further confirmation of a relationship that already exists?

As Gigi comes to the realization that Conor perhaps may not call, she hooks up with Alex (Long), a close friend of Conor who offers her valuable insight as to the ways of men. She begins to view him at first as something of a mentor, but eventually begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Conor – who had a previous relationship with Anna, still pines for her. Anna, for her part, is friendly with Conor and in some ways leads him on, but focuses on pursuing Ben, after a conversation with her friend Mary (Barrymore), who coincidentally works at a local weekly as an ad rep, servicing Conor’s advertising account. Meanwhile, Beth and Neil have split up as Beth has come to the conclusion that she and Neil no longer want the same things.

Based on a best-selling self-help book, the movie has an excellent ensemble cast and they perform to expectations. Director Kwapis, a veteran of television and big-screen light comedies, manages the entwined storylines nicely, and manages to give all of the storylines more or less equal attention (with the exception of Barrymore, who also produced the movie).

The viewpoint is distinctly feminine. Most of the male characters embody stereotypical male sins – cheating, commitment-phobia, and objectification, to name a few. However, to be fair, the women have their share of neuroses as well. Janine is a control freak who has an absolute phobia of smoking. In fact, when she finds out about her husband’s infidelity, she is much more irritated about the possibility that he might be smoking behind her back. Gigi is a tightly-wound stalker-in-the-making who is so un-self-confident that is almost desperate for a relationship to work, no matter how self-destructive that relationship might be.

The problem I have is two-fold. First, the situations tend to be terribly cliché; there are few surprises and quite frankly, you can see where each relationship is headed without exception. In that case, the characters should be interesting enough to make the audience want to go along for the ride even though there’s no shock as to where they’re headed. The sad fact is, they’re really not, drawn from cookie-cutter issues. Gigi as a character is particularly hard to relate to as she is just sooooooo annoying, and her chosen man Alex is not much better.

Still, there are laughs to be had, and a few insights as well, albeit none that are terribly new or different. The attractive cast does as good a job as possible given the limitations of the script, so you might not find this a complete waste of time. However, guys be warned; there is precious little examination of what truly motivates men to behave the way they do in relationships; rather, this is more of an excoriation of male vices. Most of the women here don’t fare much better, being painted as needy and neurotic; they are defined by the men they’re with more than the people they are. In that sense, this is much more insidious misogyny than any episode of “Married…With Children” than I can recall.

In fact, there are many far better examinations of the ways and means of 21st century romance than this. You’d be better off seeking them out at your local rental store, online or at your video-on-demand outlet.

WHY RENT THIS: An attractive and talented cast performing really well at times. Some genuinely funny moments, but not many.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cookie-cutter characters populate a script riddled with clichés. Estrogen-laden world view that spares little thought to what really motivates men in favor of pointing out their failings. Goodwin and Long are genuinely annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual innuendo going on here and a few heavy make-out sessions, but nothing you wouldn’t see on a TV drama.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Greg Behrendt, the author of the book the movie is based on, makes a cameo as a minister at Beth’s sister’s wedding.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.