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Check out ‘Z for Zachariah’, ‘A Walk in the Woods’, but pass on ‘Hitman’

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in “A Walk In The Woods.”
Robert Redford and Nick Nolte in “A Walk In The Woods.”

“Hitman: Agent 47”

A new year is all about renewal, starting over. Some things deeply need renewing. Other things are best left alone. That’s why it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to see this reboot of the 2007 film based on the video game series. In 2007, it was a high-octane action flick and a transitional role for Timothy Olyphant, who was coming off of HBO’s “Deadwood.” This time, Olyphant is replaced by Rupert Friend, from Showtime’s “Homeland,” but the action hasn’t changed much. The cast is also basically the same – drop in another exotic actor in Hannah Ware, throw in an ass-kicking Zachary Quinto for the fanboys. Writer Skip Woods pens another tired plot that’s crafted around genetics. Debut director Aleksander Bach paints by numbers as he films a dozen close-ups of actors looking bored as they hammer out one-liners like it’s a bad job. This is far from a hit – pass.

“A Walk in the Woods”

This film was supposed to be the third pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, but Newman died before the film could get made, and he was replaced by the unlikely Nick Nolte. Based on Bill Bryson’s nonfiction book about two old friends hiking the Appalachian Trail, although Bryson was in his forties when he hiked the trail, both Redford and Nolte are in their seventies, and the film is transformed into the pitfalls of two old dudes out on the trail. Redford is witty, and Nolte is red-faced. Director Ken Kwapis’s bread and butter has been irreverent TV shows like “The Office” and “Happyish,” but he teams with writer Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3” and “Little Miss Sunshine”), managing to hold onto the gist of Bryson’s story while losing some of the gentle subtleties that made the book a sweet coming of middle-age. Yeah, yeah – I know, the book is always better, but the movie is still worth a watch.

“Z for Zachariah”

On the surface, this story is about three survivors after a global disaster, but there are much bigger ideas underneath. Because it’s also a love triangle, some of these ideas are obvious – jealousy, desire and obligation. But there are other more subtle themes explored – faith, race, innocence and isolationism. Director Craig Zobel (“Compliance”) knows how to make the most out of his surroundings and uses score, setting and lighting to precisely pervade the mood and plot. Perhaps Zobel’s most effective tool is his three-person cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) takes on this little role with epic humanity. Margot Robbie (“Focus”) acts as the machinery that keeps this plot turning, literally and emotionally. And Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) manages to coexist while seducing the audience. There are moments when the plot lags, but the strength of the direction and actors push it from A to Z – worth a watch.

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