Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Forgotten Movies - THE WENDELL BAKER STORY

Considering that SXSW is currently in the process of wrapping up (and I am not fucking there!) I was thinking back to some of my previous jaunts to one of my fave festivals and was reminded of the opening night screening of SXSW 2005 (a good, but not great year), Luke and Andrew Wilson’s THE WENDELL BAKER STORY. It’s only been 2 years and yet this film has pretty much sunk into movie oblivion, despite plum co-starring roles for Luke’s brother Owen and every man’s favorite hottie, Eva Mendes. Yes, Seymour Cassel, Harry Dean Stanton and Kris Kristofferson are in the film, too, but seriously, dude, Eva Mendes. I mean, come on, she’s hot! Did you see her on the cover of Shape last month? Yowza! What was I talking about? Oh yeah, THE WENDELL BAKER STORY…

So anyway, it wasn’t my first film of the fest that year (the atrocious low budget sci-fi shitburger CL.ONE was) but it was a big show, of course, since the Wilsons are local boys and the film was shot in and around Austin . The screening was at the luxurious Paramount Theater, which was packed to the gills with cast, crew, local celebs and festival goers and everyone had themselves a good time. The film is a pleasant, laid-back little flick, not the greatest film in the world but not a disaster of any kind, with Luke playing a likeable con man (is there any other kind?) just out of prison and placed in a work program that puts him in a dilapidated home for seniors run by the shifty Owen Wilson and Eddie Griffith. Here he befriends several of the residents, tries to win girlfriend Mendes back and goes up against Owen when he learns he’s been stealing from the residents. There’s a lot of nice Austin scenery (applause would follow the appearance of local landmarks) and fine photography from Steve Mason and if you’re looking for something pleasant and unsurprising then this will do ya just fine. I’m especially glad I saw it because I got to shake hands with Harry Dean Stanton in the lobby after the show. Wouldn’t you? If for no other reason, THE WENDELL BAKER STORY deserves my respect.

However, it’s not like I’ve been harboring a desire to see the film again since that night. In fact, it’s pretty much left my consciousness. It’s one of those “Oh yeah, I saw that movie” kinda things. Off and on I’ve wondered if it was going to see a release of any kind and I’d never hear anything. It didn’t even play any other major festivals after SXSW, just 2nd tier ones like Nantucket and Wisconsin and was released on DVD early last year in parts of Europe . So I just figured that it would get the same fate over here, but now I’ve heard that ThinkFilm has picked it up for a limited release in May with a DVD soon to follow. I’m a little surprised it’s all taken so long, considering that there are some major names in the cast and that it’s a decent flick, but that’s what’s happened. THE WENDELL BAKER STORY will probably do OK on disc and cable and who knows, it may gain a following, but when you think about it, it’s pretty lucky that this is happening at all. Certainly this film had a better chance of getting a release than most of the other films that play festivals and never get picked up, but that’s a fate that keeps happening again and again and it’s a little scary, actually. I’ve seen countless numbers of films at the various festivals and markets I’ve attended over the years that have yet to gain a release here in the U.S.; some I’ve liked, others I haven’t. The U.S. is probably much better off by not having CHURCHILL: THE HOLLYWOOD YEARS pollute the shelves of your local Blockbuster, but you’re definitely missing out when you can’t see Panna Rittikrai’s astonishing action epic BORN TO FIGHT, Harry Cleven’s fine thriller TROUBLE or the hilarious Danish CG animated film TERKEL IN TROUBLE except in import DVDs and crappy bootlegs. It's one thing for a film to get made, see a release and then fall through the cracks to become a forgotten film - like BLUE WATER, WHITE DEATH, which I recently wrote about here - but for a lot of films to never see a release at all is definitely a little sad, even if it deserves such a fate, such as the lame Steven Soderbergh-produced low budget sci-fi drama ABLE EDWARDS. There's a new breed of forgotten films out there; more orphaned films than anything else, they need to find a home in one way or another but they never do. Seeing these films at these one-time screenings is one of the great things about the festival scene, but also one of its sad parts. I'm sure Luke Wilson doesn't see it like this, but THE WENDELL BAKER STORY is lucky to get a release at all.

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