Hammerle On... 'A Walk in the Woods', 'Meru', 'Jimmy's Hall'

September 23, 2015

bob hammerle movie reviewsA Walk in the Woods

While I must admit that I went expecting very little, director Ken Kwapis’ “A Walk in the Woods” wrapped its emotional arms around me from the very beginning and wouldn’t let go. Sure, it is likely to appeal directly to those over 60, but it serves as a reminder to younger members of the audience that they must pursue adventures during life’s short journey.

Hammerle_AWalkInTheWoods.gifBased on the book by the brilliant writer Bill Bryson, it follows the attempt of two aging, old friends to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. The trail is a daring 2,180-mile journey from Georgia to Maine, where danger lurks around every turn regardless of skill or training.

Robert Redford plays Bryson while Nick Nolte does a fantastic job as his old friend, Stephen Katz. Rebelling at a life where funerals become far too frequent, Bryson hooks up with his lost friend after his very smart English wife (a small but glowing role by Emma Thompson) agrees to the journey, but only if her husband has company.

Naturally, these two old friends have a lot of catching up to do, and their dialogue is both spontaneous and repeatedly funny. Living in Iowa as he tries to outrun traffic warrants, Katz summarizes his life to Bryson in a phrase that should be engraved on his tombstone, “I spent the first half of my life getting drunk and chasing p--sy and I wasted the second half!”

Our two traveling companions encounter repeated trouble ranging from black bears to accidently rolling down a cliff face where they are left stranded on a ledge that seems to leave death at the front door. They also meet some crazed fellow travelers, including both an irritating young woman (an unforgettable performance by Kristen Schaal) and a rather large woman in a laundromat who Katz quickly tries to seduce.

More to the point, critics of this film have missed its significance. Redford is perfect playing Bryson, bringing warmth, intellect and charm to every moment he is on screen. While I haven’t read the book forming the basis of this film, I have devoured “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (2003), “At Home: A Short History of Private Life” (2010) and “One Summer: America, 1927” (2013), and I fully admit being a huge Bryson fan.

This film is about the experiences of life and the need to pay attention to reading whenever you have the time. Aging is obviously unavoidable, and it is reflected in a wonderful scene where Redford and Nolte are given a quick ride in a Mustang where two young lovers occupy the front seat. When the two of them engage in a little sexual interplay while driving, Nolte looks at Redford and says with a bit of lament, “God, I wish I was 20.” Redford responds, “Hell, I wish I was 50.”

Let me also mention that the scenery along the trail is at times beautiful beyond description. My wife and I just returned from a short stay at Lake Placid in upstate New York, and we had similar views from several areas, particularly on Mount Defiance overlooking Fort Ticonderoga. It was a breathtaking experience, and I can only lament that I wish I was 50 again.


Hammerle_Meru.gifThink of how you would consider Columbus, Cortés or those on Shackleton’s great adventure in the Antarctic. All of these guys looked death in the face as reflected by Captain Cook’s demise in Hawaii, Magellan’s meeting his maker in the Philippines and Hudson’s sad end in what would come to be known as Hudson Bay.

“Meru” is a documentary that reveals the dedication and psychological insanity involved with mountain climbing. It involves small guys who dare to do the near impossible. Focusing on a mountain of the same name in Northern India, the film follows three climbers, Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk and Jimmy Chin, who conquered this 21,850-foot rock wall several years ago.

The renowned author, Jon Krakauer, frequently appears with commentary. In addition, interviews with the climbers themselves reveal a vocation that has led each one to the edge of death. Furthermore, several close associates died in heartbreaking fashion over the years.

This is an engaging, terrifying movie where our adventurers film every step of the climb. Even had some perished on the way to the summit, their last vision would have encompassed a magnificent panorama that few people will ever see. Magellan, Captain Cook and Henry Hudson would be proud.

Jimmy’s Hall

Hammerle_JimmysHall.gifWith “Jimmy’s Hall,” director Ken Loach gives us an enchanting look at Ireland in 1932. Ostracized 10 years earlier by a country that felt that his building focusing on athletic events, music and education was far too challenging to the government and Roman Catholic Church, James “Jimmy” Gralton (Barry Ward) has returned with a bit of a vengeance.

There are a number of wonderful performances by unknown actors, and it is great fun to watch the Irish dance and sing in Gralton’s reopened hall. In particular, there is a moment when he is dancing with an old love who married in his absence, and you are not likely to see a more compelling romantic scene in a film this year.

However, the real strength of the film flows from Loach’s courage to have his camera capture the authoritarian rule of the Roman Catholic Church. As you hear many political figures in our country condemn the Muslim religion, it is worth remembering that it was the church that provided the backbone during the infamous Inquisition that resulted in the vicious execution and deportation of Jews and Muslims from Spain, France and Italy in the 16th century.

This is a spirited film that allows the viewer the joy of watching the little people challenge the wealthy and influential who control government. You can only thank God that money interests in the United States do not influence our elections. Then again, maybe God isn’t listening.•

Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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