Wednesday, September 30, 2015

JGL’s Breathtaking High Wire Walk Between The WTC Towers In THE WALK

Now playing at an IMAX theater near you:

(Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2015)

While watching James Marsh’s excellent Oscar-winning documentary MAN ON WIRE back in 2008, I thought many times that the story of Frenchman Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 could really make for a great dramatized movie.

Obviously I wasn’t alone in that thinking because now we’ve got Robert Zemeckis’ supersized recreation of the event, releasing today only in IMAX theaters (it will enter wide release on October 9), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, and featuring some of the most exquisite and breathtaking visual effects ever rendered on the big screen.

It starts with an extreme, ginormous close-up of Gordon-Levitt telling us his story from the top of the Statue of Liberty with an immaculate view of the Manhattan skyline of the ‘70s behind him. Gordon-Levitt’s French accent may be just barely passable, but his boundless energy and charm make him a great Petit (he was also trained to walk on wire by Petit himself, so there's that). 

And check out JGL's mad miming and acrobatic skills in the early Paris scenes, in which Zemeckis mimics jaunty new wave French films in bits in black and white, and shots in the grainy color textures of that era.

Petit’s life is one of obsessions. First, he’s obsessed with learning how to tightrope walk, under the tutelage of a circus ringleader/father figure named Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley doing his Yoda thing); then he’s obsessed with finding the perfect place to perform his wire-walking act (the towers of Notre Dame cathedral is one early effort)
, and finally he’s obsessed with pulling off what he calls “the artistic coup of the 20th century.”

That is, of course, to illegally infiltrate the World Trade Center, which was still under construction, string a 450-pound steel cable between the towers, and conduct a high-wire walk for the whole world.

To pull it off, Petit recruits a rag tag crew of accomplices for the coup. First, there’s the lovely Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who he has a meet-cute with in the streets of Paris – she’s busking Leonard Cohen songs while he upstages and steals her audience with his shenigans on the same block. Then there’s Clément Sibony as a dapper photographer, César Domboy as a math teacher, who is afraid of heights; James Badge Dale as a savvy electronics salesman, Ben Schwartz (
Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation!) as a New York recruit, and Steve Valentine as Petit's inside man at the Trade Center as he has an office on the 82nd floor. 

The pacing really picks up as Petit’s meticulous plotting, 6 years in the making, gets put into action, helped along by longtime Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri's score which takes its jazzy queue from such ‘70s crime capers as THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3 for the heist-like sequences.

The first half is fine, but as you’d expect it’s the second half involving the staging of the stunt itself that really - forgive me, but it’s right there – reaches incredible heights.

Every shot pops, with not a single moment that’s unconvincing, of Petit’s walk across the air 110 stories above street level, as crowds gather to watch, and policemen pop up on both towers waiting to arrest the performing perpetrator.

Look for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie to get many accolades this upcoming awards season – what these guys did here, helped by an army of digital technicians, of course, is beyond stellar. It's also one of the few 3D films in which the format feels the most necessary.

Now, I have a bit of a fear of heights, so I strongly felt the sensation of being on the edge of my seat – I don’t care how much of a cliché that is – throughout the sky high scenes that form the climax. At the same time, I felt the regret that I had never been to the top of the towers when I had the chance (in 1995, I was visiting my brother in New York and came close to going up, but the lines were too long for us. Sigh).

Like many of Zemeckis’s films, THE WALK is several movies at once: it’s a heist thriller, it’s a high-scaling adventure, it’s a comedy, and it’s a love story – though, one that’s about being in love with a dream. All of these genres collide together into a pure piece of pop entertainment that’s one of the director’s and the year’s best films.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ann Hathaway Is Robert De Niro’s Boss In The Likable Ball Of Fluff THE INTERN

Opening today at a multiplex near me...

THE INTERN (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2015)

The premise of writer/director Nancy Meyer’s frothy follow-up to IT’S COMPLICATED is very simple: Robert De Niro plays a retired widower who becomes an intern for an online retail startup run by a much younger boss played by Anne Hathaway.

In an opening voice-over set-up, De Niro’s 70-year old Ben Whittaker lays out how his retirement has had him struggling to fill time despite taking classes, learning to cook, reading, going to movies, and resisting the advances of Linda Lavin as a fellow aging Brooklynite.

Ben happens upon a flyer for a “senior intern” program at a fashion e-commerce company called About The Fit, so he puts on his best suit, dusts off his 1973 attaché briefcase, and applies.

Ben’s video resumé, which he had to call his 9-year old grandson to get help with, is a big hit and he’s hired, but the company’s extremely ambitious yet very wet behind her ears founder Jules Ostin (Hathaway) isn’t fond of the idea of having him around. To further irk her, and to get the plot going, a snappy Andrew Rannells (Girls) as the company’s office manager assigns Ben to work directly with Jules, but at first she doesn’t give him anything to do.

This changes as over time Ben brings a can do spirit to every task he’s given, and Jules comes to rely on him just like we’d expect to happen. Also like we’d expect, Ben befriends and doles out wisdom to his co-workers played by Adam Devine *, Zack Pearlman, and Jason Orley, and he strikes up a romance with the office masseuse (Rene Russo, who co-starred with De Niro in SHOWTIME back in ‘02).

Conveniently, Ben catches Jules’ chauffeur boozing, so he takes over as her driver for a bit, which allows him and us to meet her stay-at-home husband (Anders Holm*), and her five-year old daughter (JoJo Kushner) at their posh Brownstone (of course it’s posh – every interior in a Meyers movie is posh).

In another all too convenient moment, Ben happens to see Jules’ husband with another woman, which serves as our third act conflict. I guess Meyers figured that Jules’s struggling with whether or not to bring in an older, more experienced CEO to head her company wasn’t enough of a plot point.

Earlier this week, De Niro walked out of an interview with a reporter from the Radio Times because of what he called her “negative inference.” The reporter, Emma Brockes, had apparently pissed him off with a question about how he resists going into “autopilot mode on set.” The question maybe was a little rude, but many critics and fans, myself included, have accused him of walking through a lot of his later day roles, “phoning it in” so to speak. But here, De Niro fleshes out Ben nicely and makes him one of his more convincing normal guy roles. He appears to put as much effort into the part as his character puts into his daily duties.

Hathaway also brings plenty of pluck to her performance, and makes for a perfect Meyers protagonist – a tough, but vulnerable witty woman who is great at her work. Her scenes with De Niro have a palpable tenderness to them, even when they veer towards cheesy sentiment at times.

Speaking of cheesy, the movie overplays its cute kid card with Kushner as Jules’ daughter, and a subplot about De Niro, Devine, Pearlman, and Orley breaking into Jules’ parents’ house in order to delete an offensive email that she mistakenly sent is too wacky for the film’s own good. 

Meyers’ screenplay and direction is sharper than on her previous films, even if the sitcom-ish sensibility still remains. The movie doesn’t really have much to say about workplace relations, but it has an undeniably progressive air about it nonetheless. Underneath the layer of obvious generation gap gags that is.

Filled with the same can do spirit of its leads, THE INTERN is a warm, fluffy film that’s as polished as it is predictable. Sure, it’s lightweight, but its likability factor is through the roof. It made me smile more than it made me laugh, but that’s fine – I’ll take it.

*It’s fitting that this workplace comedy would have two cast members from the Comedy Central series Workaholics.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lily Tomlin Delights & Deserves Oscar Buzz In GRANDMA

Now playing at indie art house near me:

GRANDMA (Dir. Paul Weitz, 2015)

Lily Tomlin’s first starring role on the big screen since 1988’s BIG BUSINESS is a pure delight. Tomlin plays Elle Reid, a no-nonsense 70-something aged lesbian poet, who we accompany through a day of helping her 18-year old granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) raise money for an abortion.

In the film’s opening scene, Tomlin’s Elle breaks up with her much younger girlfriend (Judy Greer), and we get a glimpse of the vulnerability under her tough veneer when we see her sobbing in the shower afterwards.

Then Garner’s Sage shows up, 10 weeks pregnant and cash poor, asking for help, but Elle is also broke, pointing out that she cut up her credit cards and made a wind chime out of the little pieces.

The two drive around Los Angeles in Elle’s rickety old ‘55 Dodge to try and gather the funds for the procedure scheduled for later that afternoon, starting with a stop at Sage’s loser boyfriend’s (Nat Wolff ) where Elle turns his own ice hockey stick against him because he refuses to pony up the dough.

Elle and Sage then hit up Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox as a tattoo artist that owes Elle money, they attempt to sell a stack of Elle’s first editions of feminist classics to Elizabeth Peña in one of her last roles as a crusty café owner, and make an ill-advised visit to one of Elle’s former lovers, Karl played Sam Elliot, who is still a bit bitter about the past.

Their last resort is to turn to Sage’s mother Judy (a perfectly prickly Marcia Gay Harden), a strict corporate lawyer-type, who both Elle and Sage are intimidated by (“I’ve been scared of your Ma since she was five years old,” Elle quips).

Written and directed by Paul Weitz (AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY), who previously worked with Tomlin on the Tina Fey/Paul Rudd rom com ADMISSION, GRANDMA is a punchy 79 minute comedy drama that has not one wasted moment. Tomlin carries the movie beautifully, delivering extremely amusing dry wise-cracks throughout, but her most affecting moments are when her character laughs to herself, remembering something her recently passed long-time partner, said or did. Tomlin’s portrayal of Elle is so lived-in that we don’t need any more back story than that to go by.

Tomlin’s co-stars also get a chance to shine. Garner, who’s had roles in PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, and on the FX show The Americans, brings a fragile yet determined presence to the coming-of-age arc of Sage. Elliot lets his trademark stoicism slide for one of his most nakedly emotional performances, and Greer, despite being in several big ass releases this last summer (ENTOURAGE, JURASSIC WORLD, ANT-MAN, and TOMORROWLAND) actually gets to have a substantial part here as Tomlin’s ex.

GRANDMA may be a small, low budget movie that was filmed in only 19 days for less than $1 million, but it boasts a big-time lead by Tomlin, which is deservedly stirring up Oscar buzz. That would be nice for her to at least get a nomination, but what I really hope it really stirs up is more leads for the lady. It’s incredibly obvious from this that there’s lots of fire left in her belly.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard Talks SLACKER For Film Acoustic

Earlier this week, The Modern School of Film’s series, Film Acoustic, moved its program from the Carolina Theatre in Durham to the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh for a screening of Richard Linklater’s 1991 breakthrough debut SLACKER.

The film was the choice of Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard, who, in the tradition of the series, took part in a discussion after the screening and performed a few songs for the folks in attendance. MSOF founder and moderator Robery Milazzo told the audience in his intro at the Museum’s open-air theater that “this is our first-ever outdoor event,” and that he “absolutely hates watching movies outside,” but that “tonight’s movie is right in the pocket of a movie that screens really well outside.”

Milazzo was right, SLACKER did indeed screen really well, except for the fact that it was really cold that evening. Linklater’s film, which concerns a day in the life of Austin, Texas with the roaming camera going from eccentric character to another, was well received by the crowd, some of who were smarter than me and brought blankets, but I could tell from the vibe that they were more there for Gibbard.

After the film ended, Milazzo brought out his guest of honor with these words: “It’s really amazing that for a movie that quotes Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Madonna, to have with us someone that Spin Magazine called ‘the poet laureate of the young and hopeful.’” The audience applauded and wooed “Professor Ben Gibbard,” as Milazzo called him, as he walked onstage to talk SLACKER, and various other related, and non related, topics.

Here are some highlights:

On why he choose SLACKER:

Gibbard: “It was a movie that I saw when I was going to college in Billingham, and it really resonated with me because I recognized so many of these characters in my friends and myself. Conversations that are happening throughout this movie are the kind of pseudo intellectual college conversations that you have at the time feel really deep, but once you kind of remove from them you recognize how silly some of them were.

But I just love the fact that this movie takes place over 24 hours in Austin, Texas, and it does such a great job of putting forth the minutiae of what happens in a college town. The absurd, but also kind of beautiful moments as well; the humor. It really resonated with me when I saw it and I come back to it every couple of years, and still really enjoy it.

How SLACKER has served as inspiration:

Gibbard: “To come back to that word ‘minutiae’ I’ve always enjoyed focusing on small moments in life and tried to blow them up and make them something larger than they actually were, and I think that in this movie you have all these little vignettes that flow fairly seamlessly as one character passes another then the camera follows them. And, you know, there are obviously some kind of funny, silly moments in it, but there are also some kind of beautiful moments there. 

Like I love that scene with the elderly man walking at the end of the movie, and we’ve actually been using – without permission – the audio from that as an opening track when we walk out on this tour because I just love that. I just love that, it’s kind of a wonderful way that encapsulates the characters in the film by having this older gentlemen at the end talk from a place of authority, and experience about a lot of the smaller moments that have happened throughout the movie. And some way or another, I just think that’s really a beautiful little soliloquy he has in there.”

On the Austin, Texas locations of SLACKER:

Gibbard: “The thing that’s interesting about watching this film now, 25 years after it was shot, is seeing how much Austin has changed. There’s the scene in the little dinner where the woman is like ‘you should quit, you should quit…’ and I remember making a pilgrimage to that diner one of the first times I went to Austin because I really wanted to see it and I walked in and that same guy was working there. This was like 2001...the guy who comes over and says ‘smarten up’ or whatever. I walked in and it blew my mind that he was standing right there, but across the street…

Milazzo: “Did he say ‘keep it down?’ I think that’s what…”

Gibbard: “No, he didn’t – he just kinda looked at me and I walked out. But, no, I remember in the movie as the guy is walking into the diner, you can see it’s just like the skyline of Austin in the background, and nothing, just some warehouses. Now, there’s like a massive Whole Foods and condos, and it’s been interesting to see, you know, as I watch this movie I’m aware of where a lot of it was shot, just how much the city has changed. It’s the same when I see movies that take place in my hometown of Seattle, how much the city has grown and changed.

Milazzo: “We’re here in Raleigh, North Carolina, and there are a lot of those sort of cities – smart cities, smart communities, uh, I guess when you watch this movie, is this an inspiring vision of America? As awful a question as that sounds – is there any melancholy in this change for you when you watch this film?”

Gibbard: “Uh, it’s not really melancholy, I think that these kind of conversations and characters still exist in every college town in America, you know? For me, I see this film and it reminds me of a time in my life where these things were of the utmost importance. 

I look back at that time in my life fondly, that these conversions and these characters and the people that I knew in my own version of this were kind of like folk heroes of my college experience. You know, the townie who worked at the bar, the guy who’s in 15 bands, all that stuff, these people – you knew ‘em. And I think these people still exist, they’re just that age now.

Milazzo: “It funny, if you cast actors here you’d think ‘ah, those people don’t exist.’ But the fact that he used real people brings it to life in this kind of cool way.”

Gibbard: “I actually have an interesting story about that. Years ago, this was 2000, and we were playing a show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we had been warned that the sound guy at this particular club was kind of ornery, but we kind of warmed up to him, we kind of hung out with him, and he seemed so familiar, but I couldn’t place him. He was kind of a heavy set guy, kind of balding. I was like ‘I know this guy from somewhere.’ We were going home later, going back to a place we were staying with this person, and I was like ‘man, that guy looks so familiar!’ And she was like ‘you, know he’s Steve with a van from SLACKER.’ And I was just like, ‘what?’ It was like the first movie star I met. I was like, ‘I can’t believe it!’ I was almost glad that I didn’t recognize him because I would’ve like bothered him all night.”

With a little prompting by Milazzo, Gibbard picked up his guitar and played a few songs between the chit chat starting with “Title Track” off of Death Cab for Cutie’s 2000 album “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.” 

After some strained talk about the writing process (move it along, Milazzo!), Gibbard fittingly tackled “A Movie Script Ending,” from 2002’s “The Photo Album,” took a stab at Nirvana’s “All Apologies” (he started playing the riff then said “I’m not gonna be able to do this”), did a rough but still solid version of “Steadier Footing” (also from “The Photo Album”), and concluded his appearance with a stunningly superb rendition of “I Will Follow You into the Dark” from 2005’s “Plans,” which you can watch a crude video of his performance that somebody recorded on their phone.

A final anecdote, in response to an audience member’s question about what is a favorite song of Gibbard’s that he has returned to again and again:

Gibbard: “It’s not so much because of the lyrical content, and it might seem like a strange choice, but I really believe that “There She Goes” by The La’s is like the most perfect song ever written. It’s a perfect song – it’s short, it feels like you’ve heard it before but you haven’t. 

And someone might hear that song and go like ‘that’s just a light pop song - like, I could write that.’ Well, no you couldn’t…because you would’ve written it if you could. And that entire record is like that for me, but that song in particular, like you know there’s a lot of covers of it in the world, it’s kind of a ubiquitous song, but whenever the original comes on I have this moment like ‘God, this is like an amazing song.’

I had this moment, this is name dropping so forgive me, but years ago, Death Cab was playing a festival in Japan, and Teenage Fanclub is my all-time favorite band, they were playing…it was us, then Teenage Fanclub, then The La’s – they were doing a reunion. 

So it was really crazy, and I’m standing next to Norman (Blake) from Teenage Fanclub, he was like one of my heroes from the time I was 14, and they go into ‘There She Goes’ and he turns to me and says ‘Man, classic pop song, right?’ ‘Yeah!’ ‘It’s crazy that it’s about heroin, right?’ 

And I was like ‘what?’ I never thought of that angle on the song. And it just changed it all for me. This moment where somebody, who’s one of my heroes, was giving me information that I hereto did not have and it’s changing the whole song for me.”

More later…

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brilliant Brian Wilson Biopic LOVE & MERCY Out Today On Blu Ray/DVD

Despite that I largely preferred the Paul Dano parts over the John Cusack ones, Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson biopic LOVE & MERCY is one of my favorite films of the last year. Out today on Blu ray and DVD, the movie features Dano as the young ‘60s “Pet Sounds”/”SMiLE”-era Brian, who’s trying to break free from the control of his abusive father (Murray Wilson played by Bill Camp); and Cusack as the middle-aged Brian who’s trying to break free from the control of his abusive therapist (Eugene Landy played by Paul Giamatti). 

I reviewed the film very favorably upon its theatrical release in my area last June, but I stressed that I was bothered that while Dano was appropriately outfitted and groomed, there was no attempt to make Cusack resemble Wilson. I wrote: “It’s just Cusack with his jet black hair, wearing shirts he’d normally wear, like he just walked on to the set and refused to take part in any hair and make-up nonsense.”

So when I received a review copy of LOVE & MERCY on Blu ray, I was intrigued to dive into the Special Features, especially one entitled “A California Story: Creating the Look of LOVE & MERCY,” to see if Cusack’s lack of proper aesthetic was addressed. The 10 minute featurette has director/producer Pohlad and the production designer Keith Cunningham discussing how they went about capturing three different eras – the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s - via sets and wardrobe, and using real locations such as the actual still-standing studios that Wilson recorded in.

Costume Designer Danny Glicker chimes in about the wardrobe worn by The Beach Boys, Elizabeth Banks, and Giamatti, but never comments on the choice of the fairly modern looking button down shirts Cusack wears, or anything about the man’s part of “the look” of the film.

In another featurette, “A-side/B-side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson,” which is much longer (25 min.), and mixes photos and footage of the real Wilson with interviews with cast and crew, and clips of the film, Cusack’s appearance is touched on by one of the producers, Claire Rudnick Polstein: “We really weren’t that concerned with that they look alike, it really wasn’t about that, it was really more about having the essence of who Brian was.”

There are over seven minutes of Deleted Scenes, all of which are from the Dano sections of the film. Unlike many deleted scenes that are added to Blu ray and DVDs like this, these are actually worth watching. The first, “Brian Meets His Idol,” has Brian fanboying out in the presence of Phil Spector (Jonathan Slavin), who’s an asshole in return (“I’m not much interested in surf bands”). The next, “Brian Talks With His Family,” reveals how the Beach Boys leader broke the news that he wasn’t going to tour anymore. The brief “Brian Looks For a Collaborator” isn’t much, but the last and best cut clip, “Murray Interrupts The Recording Session,” has the blustery Camp doing his meddling thing while the Beach Boys are trying to lay the vocals down on “I Get Around,” and, of course, upsetting Brian.

These deleted scenes reinforce my nagging feelings that maybe the film would’ve been better if it was just Dano as Brian, but I can’t completely discard the Cusack element. Especially when I hear Dano say in one of those featurettes, “I think John did a beautiful job, and I think the juxtaposition is an important part of it too though, ‘how did this person become that?’”

This leaves the film’s Commentary with Pohlad and Executive Producer/Co-Writer Oren Moverman. Pohlad and Moverman entertainingly talk about the process of cutting back and forth between the narratives, and how they worked with the actors, but halfway through I realized that they were never gonna say anything insightful about how odd it was that Dano was made to look like their subject and Cusack wasn’t. I just wanted a stray comment like about how Wilson never wore a leather jacket like the one Cusask wears on one of his dates with Banks – you know, something like “that was just what John was wearing that day,” but no such luck.

Anyway, LOVE & MERCY is now available on home video with some cool special features. It’s one of the best musical biodocs in many a moon, as long as the oddly mismatched Cusack factor is overlooked. I guess, that’s where the mercy comes in.

Final thought: It's kind of funny how Cusack's good pal, and co-star in six films, Tim Robbins, did a much more convincing Brian Wilson in a Saturday Night Live sketch back in 1992. You can watch the sketch, in which Robbin's Wilson is being interviewed by Kevin Nealon's Larry King, here.

More later...

Friday, September 04, 2015

Redford & Nolte Take A Hike That I Liked In A WALK IN THE WOODS

Now playing:

A WALK IN THE WOODS (Dir. Ken Kwapis, 2015)

any critics have been dumping on this movie (it’s at 52% on the Rotten Tomatometer), but I found it be a fairly charming, pleasant, and mildly amusing experience. Admittedly, it’s a corny, predictable, and lightweight mash-up of GRUMPY OLD MEN and WILD, but its leads, Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, play off each other well and generate a lot of warmth together.

Redford, who co-produced, plays author Bill Bryson in this adaptation of the acclaimed travel writer’s 1998 book “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,” and despite the fact that Bryson was in his mid ‘40s when he made the hike while Redford is nearing 80, it’s a role that I had no trouble going along with.

Growing more and more restless in his retirement, as we can see from an awkward TV talk show appearance and an even more uncomfortable moment at a friend’s funeral, Redford’s Bryson is itching for a new adventure. While taking a walk after the funeral, Bryson stumbles upon a section of the Appalachian Trail near his home in New Hampshire and the idea of tackling the 2,100 mile hike and getting back to nature, starts to take root.

Bryson’s wife (Emma Thompson) thinks the idea is crazy, and prints up a stack of newspaper reports of hikers getting killed by bears with a post-it note attached that says “you’re not going alone!”

Bryson calls every friend he has, but nobody is interested in accompanying him. Then he gets a call from an old estranged friend, Stephen Katz played by the famously grizzled Nolte, who heard about the hike and asks if he can go. Bryson reluctantly agrees with the offer, and the two hit the trail which starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia.

Not far into the trail Bryson and Katz meet Kristen Schaal as a judgy, obnoxious fellow hiker who sings Daft Punk songs at the top of her lungs. The two elders are so annoyed by Schaal that they ditch her and even hitchhike a stretch to get ahead of her.

From there on out, the elderly duo encounter food-stealing bears, life-altering mountain views, a blizzard, the jealous shotgun-toting husband of a woman Nolte takes up with in one of the towns along the way (a SIDEWAYS-ish sideline), and Mary Steenburgen, who always seems to pop up in movies like this, as a friendly hotel owner who flirts with Redford.

Unsurprisingly, Nolte and Redford bicker until they bond, and end up exchanging great truths under the stars while they are trapped on a ledge on the side of a cliff under the path. That sort of stuff.

There’s not much visual artistry to the film; it’s workingmanlike cinematography at best (same goes for Kwapis’ direction) by longtime director of photography, John Bailey, but it frames these gruff old guys good enough, even if it doesn’t awe us as much as it tries (or as much as it awes our leads) with its wide stretches of scenery.

Redford originally developed this project as a vehicle for he and Paul Newman – it would’ve been their third film together after their classics BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING - but Newman had the nerve to die before it could be come to fruition (would love to see that version). 

Nolte fits the part of Katz like a glove – he’s boozy without boozing (he says he’s reformed but Redford finds a bottle of whiskey hidden in his backpack), and he goes on the hike to avoid some outstanding warrants back in Des Moines – definitely a character in the actor’s wheelhouse. Plus, Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman’s screenplay adaptation of Bryson’s tome gives Nolte the funniest, saltiest lines like “There are only two men in the world that would sleep with her, and here we are in the same damn town!”

It’s a part that Redford could play in his sleep – the noble accomplished everyman, who uses dry humor as a defense mechanism – but he appears to be having fun here; it’s a welcome fluffy break after his weighty turns in ALL IS LOST and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and it’s much more preferable to his own directed films of late (the preachy LIONS FOR LAMBS and THE COMPANY YOU KEEP).

A WALK IN THE WOODS is a not bad, but not great buddy road (or mountain?) comedy that boasts a couple of likable legends roughing it (and slumming it) likably. If you manage expectations and go in not expecting Neil Simon you should be fine.

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