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|Index||26 reviews in total|
The Wendell Baker Story will never be listed as movie classic. It will
not score at acting awards, and it does have a profound message. That
said, it manages to entertain, make us laugh and smile, and provide
through enjoyment without insulting our intelligence, and without
resorting to endless car chases, fire crashes, or silly special
What we have here is old-fashioned movie entertainment solid acting, an engaging story, and all of the basics done solidly: costuming, direction, lighting, editing, and, especially, music.
Both Luke and Owen Wilson are more than competent in their respective roles as a light-weight con man and a conspiring old home administrator/head nurse. Indeed, I saw a little more acting talent here than in Owen Wilson's other recent attempts, such as Behind Enemy Lines.
While Owen and Luke's name may be at the head of the credits (along with their brother Andrew, who is the film's Director), the best performances come from Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassell, who play playful, but sincere and believable residents of the old age home where Luke Wilson's character works, and which Owen Wilson's character runs. Alas, the same cannot be said for the legend Kris Kristofferson, whose roll comes off as predictable and trite, with the same artificial "I am wise and serene" facial expression done far too many times.
The story is easy enough. Wendell Baker (Luke Wilson) spends his time scheming his next (read first) fortune, planning all kinds of shady and illegal schemes. Baker and his friend (played by Jacob Vargas) get caught providing fake Texas identifications to illegal immigrant farm workers. He ends up in a federal jail in Texas, where he gets along well and does not seem to miss his girlfriend, played by Eva Mendes.
Baker is eventually paroled, and ordered to work at a "retirement hotel." While little happens at the retirement place, Baker does not learn of an ongoing to scheme to ship seniors to Oklahoma, so that the administrators can collect their pension checks and sell their medicines on the black market. OK, so it is not Shakespeare. It is light, it moves at a good pace, and Wendell becomes more and more liked by the audience.
If one looks, there are messages to be had. We are reminded that senior citizens have passions and sex drives, that the people pouring across the border from Mexico largely just want to work and get by, and that all of us deserve a second chance. Bets of all, we learn this by being happily entertained by a fun, easy-going movie.
I love the Wilsons as much or more than anyone, but it doesn't look
like any of them tried too hard on this film to make it work. I just
saw the world premiere at the Paramount and the crowd was wild for it.
I on the other hand, along with all of my friends thought that the
movie lacked a lot of what critics call believability.
The characters weren't quite paper thin, more like cardboard, and there were about 20 of them. Every time Wendell's charm wained immediately another character would show up to make him look all the better. Every time Wendell had a problem another character would show up to help him. Sometimes characters just showed up for the hell of it.
It was a fun movie, I laughed a lot, especially at Will Ferel's bit role. Austin, my city of residence, is also the backdrop which makes everyone feel nice. It seems though that the Wilson brothers were a little too proud of Austin, TX. At one point near the beginning Texas is mentioned, then he turns the corner in his car to show a TX license plate, then another shot as he drives into the distance and a huge Texas flag flutters above.
I don't want it to sound like I hated it, but I really wished for more. Luke didn't seem to work out everything quite as well as he could have, he even threw in some random voice over to help the plot hobble along. If you are looking for a fun movie that should have maybe starred Burt Reynolds circa 1972 then this is your movie, if you are looking for a tightly formed narrative then look elsewhere.
I saw the Wendell Baker Story last weekend at the Vail film festival and thought it was a charming, funny, truly enjoyable movie. It was very different from Luke Wilson's work with Owen Wilson & Wes Anderson, but in a great way. The quirkiness of Anderson's films was evident, but there was an added tenderness and empathy between the characters, which says a lot about the quality of the script, the direction, and the acting. Luke Wilson was very appealing in the title role--his face is so expressive! As always, Owen Wilson & Will Ferrell were hysterical. I'd recommend this movie to anyone who likes not only the Owen/Anderson combination, but to anyone who likes romantic comedies. (I must mention, and I hope this doesn't sound derogatory, the scenery in the film made me want to visit Texas for the first time ever.)
I just saw The Wendell Baker Story at what is its third screening, at
the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville.
Although, as stated in the prior comment, this movie will be no cult nor mainstream classic, it is highly entertaining. For a comedy, it is considerably light: the humor is mostly situational.
I personally found Wendell Baker's greatest success in the developing of the secondary characters as foils. The movie does not have opening credits, instead only introducing the title. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to see many high profile actors in roles fitting well within the film. In the post-screening interview, Luke Wilson discussed how this choice for no opening credits was as an "album cover" and that, with the focus directly on the introduction of an Austin Texas feel.
The acting in the film is generally good. Highlights for me were the performances of Grant James and Kris Kristofferson. I was, unfortunately, disappointed in Eva Mendes' delivery of her character. I feel the 'girlfriend who 'the guy' loses' cliché could have been as fresh as the other foil supporting characters.
The film has many beautiful shots on location in Texas, although the editing at times is choppy (granted the film is still not finished). The music is absolutely wonderful: the folky rock feel contributing in subtle persistence to the southwestern feel of the film.
I enjoyed this film. It was not profound... do not go to this movie to see another Royal Tenenbaums. The film is a comedy, but it is neither dark nor slapstick. It very much reminds me of Sideways in that both take advantage of a specific local color create a more personal and more relaxed movie. As such, while not often was I laughing, the ever-present humor kept me entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Kris Kristofferson, Seymour Cassell & Harry Dean Stanton carry this little film on their able backs. They are hilarious. Harry Dean Stanton in particular is brilliant in his part. The Owen brothers are usually good but in this they're mediocre, even though Owen Wilson relishes his role as a 'villain'. Will Ferrell has fun in a small, but pivotal role. It's a silly film with a silly plot, you'd be forgiven for forgetting within five minutes of seeing it. Eva Mendes,though luminous, doesn't have much to do with her role and is criminally under-used. The script is weak and the dialogue inane. The cinematography is pretty though but does not make up for a bad film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most people know Owen Wilson. Many people know Luke Wilson. Few people
are probably familiar with Andrew Wilson. He's the hand with the BB in
it in The Royal Tenenbaums. He pops up from time to time in Anderson
movies and other movies with the Wilsons in them. But maybe he's a bit
more camera shy and doesn't want to be an image on the screen, so for
the most part he hasn't followed the same path as his brothers. Now,
apparently, he's directing. Cool! This is probably the hardest type of
movie to review. Simply stated, there's absolutely nothing wrong with
it, but it isn't very good.
The imagery is nice. The story is pleasant, but predictable. The humor I get, but it's kind of slow and isn't really memorable. Character development feels added as an after-thought, but at least it's there. It honestly feels like O Brother Where Art Thou? meets My Name is Earl without the skill of the former or the humor of the latter. It's a very non-specific movie, which is why I feel very non-specific about it.
I'd state that as an entertainment medium, it's worth a rental, but that it probably won't be on shelves for long. In the meantime, Luke and Andrew Wilson show enough skill in directing that perhaps either or both of them can go on to make some much more interesting movies in the future. For now, though, I wouldn't really recommend this movie to anyone in particular as it doesn't really feel like it has much personality.
Once upon a time movies were for entertainment. They made you feel good about life. They were visual fairy tales that ended with the line ---"and they all lived happily ever after." That's what this movie is to me. Doesn't require a degree in psychology or a doctorate in human behavior. It just tells the story of a guy who messes up, then has an epiphony and decides to make it right. He helps others along the way without putting his personal agenda first. Anyone who goes along with his philosophy ends up getting rewarded in the end. And after all, isn't that what fairy tales are supposed to be about? There is enough heartache and sorrow in life without using it for entertainment purposes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Simple. That is an appropriate summary of "The Wendell Baker Story." It
was written and directed by Luke Wilson, who also plays the title role.
And, it comes across more as a simple story and vanity project than it
does a feature movie. Shot in and around Austin, Texas, it is a story
of a small time con artist who gets a chance to go straight after a
prison term, and perhaps re-win the affection of his one true love.
Luke Wilson is Wendell Baker, who makes fake Texas I.D. cards just across the border into Mexico. When he gets busted, he spends a few years in the Huntsville prison, where he has a knack for making friends and being helpful. Bored, he reads Conrad Hilton's book and, when up for parole gets a chance to work at a "retirement" hotel.
This "hotel" is being mis-run by Neil King (brother Owen Wilson) for his own benefit and, when certain residents get to be a burden get shipped out to a "farm" in Oklahoma. Wendell decides that he will rescue these poor should and expose Mr King for what he is.
Two of the more interesting characters in the "hotel" are Seymour Cassel as Boyd and Harry Dean Stanton as Skip. Kris Kristofferson is Nasher, who turns out to be someone totally different from what others think.
Eva Mendes is Doreen, who grew up knowing Wendell, and as the movie starts is Wendell's girlfriend. But she gets tired of waiting for him to "find" himself and moves on.
It is obvious that Luke Wilson wrote the script to be meaningful in places about relationships, but to me it came across as shallow. A mostly entertaining 95 minutes, but in the end not much of a movie. Nothing memorable.
SPOILERS: Nasher turns out to be a pilot, and he flies them to Oklahoma to retrieve the men that had be "Greyhounded" there. After, he disappears. With the help of two 16 year old girls they had met at a convenience store, Wendell, Boyd, and Skip get the cops onto King and his assistant. Then, Wendell finds out that Nasher really was a wealthy oil and hotel magnate who is requesting that Wendell run his flagship hotel in Austin on Lake Travis. There Wendell finally gets Doreen back.
This is a nice movie that packs some laughs & entertainment as well as
an inspiring message. Luke Wilson plays the protagonist Wendell, a
seemingly clueless dreamer whose "capitalist ventures" always land him
in hot water.
This movie carries a great message about what it takes to succeed as a human being. In particular, the line in the title of my review (spoken by Kris Kristofferson) applies to Wendell. If you like movies about people who stay fresh & optimistic despite life's hard knocks, this is a good one to watch. Other films that delve into the same theme are "Little Miss Sunshine", "Chocolat", "The Marc Pease Experience" and the classic film "Zorba the Greek".
"The Wendell Baker Story" features a lot of veteran actors whom you may not recognize at first, such as Harry Dean Stanton (who played the leading role in "Paris Texas" and also a memorable role in "Alien"), Seymour Cassel (who got an Oscar nomination for his role in the 1968 film "Faces") and my favourite of the lot: Kris Kristofferson (one of the best musician-turned-actors I've ever seen).
Unfortunately, some powerful scenes featuring these actors were cut from the final version of this film. I suppose it was to give the movie more of a snappy comedic appeal instead of carrying a heavier vibe. But you can still see these scenes in the deleted material on the DVD.
The film, as it was released, balances itself squarely between comedy and heart. In other words, it's not a laugh-a-minute riot, nor is it a film that makes you stop & ponder your place in the universe ...though it could have gone either way. I suppose you can take it at your own pace. Me, I would've liked it to be at least a half hour longer & feature more of the dramatic scenes that were cut.
The music is a real treat and lends a nice, rustic Texas vibe to the whole show. Peppered throughout the film are songs by Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, etc. Oddly enough I don't think there was anything by Kris Kristofferson. But his excellent performance on screen is enough to satisfy any fan.
As played by Luke Wilson, Wendell Baker is the kind of character
authors like to refer to as a "lovable rogue" - a smooth-talking scam
artist with a tongue as nimble as the pen of a scribe (to borrow a
phrase from scripture, if I may be so bold). The trouble is that a
good-hearted guy can run afoul of the law for only so long before he
risks losing the woman he loves (Eva Mendes) and before he is finally
forced into taking a long, hard look at his life. Thus, once he's
paroled from prison, Wendell decides to go straight by taking a job at
a retirement home (he's been duped into believing that this is a first
step on the road to a career in hotel management) run by a sadistic
administrator (Owen Wilson) and his toadying staff. There's a little of
the feel of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as the con man leads the
put-upon inmates of the "asylum" in a well-coordinated rebellion
against their oppressors.
The chief attraction of "The Wendell Baker Story" is the opportunity it affords us of seeing the Wilson brothers appearing together in the same movie - and what a treat it turns out to be. Luke has written a script filled with the kind of dry, wry wit that has been the hallmark of both of their performances over the years, and their scenes together crackle with understated cynicism and humor (Luke co-directed the feature with yet another brother, Andrew, making this a family affair in the fullest sense of the term). The movie is also blessed with an amazing team of supporting players, including Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel as spry oldsters who find a supportive helpmate in Wendell Baker; Kris Kristofferson as a mysterious, stoic resident who is harboring a carefully guarded secret about his past; Will Ferrell as the grocery store owner who is Wendell's chief rival for his now ex-girlfriend's affections; and Eddie Griffin who serves as chief henchman for the home's scalawag of a director.
Their performances and the laidback tone of the humor compensate for the occasional dry spots and the fact that the movie itself doesn't really add up to all that much when all is said and done.
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