Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Wonderland (2003)

WonderlandThis film gives you two points of view of the Wonderland murders. One from Dylan McDermott and one from Val Kilmer (as John Holmes). I think the sheer brutality of these murders are enough to captivate, but the film basically goes nowhere. You don't learn anything about Holmes other than the fact that's he's a major drug addict. The film has nothing to do with porn or sex. It's a true crime movie that just never really gets off the ground. The second disc is a documentary on Holmes himself. That is the better disc. It gives you an in-depth look at the life of a guy with a practical-joke sized piece of anatomy. This documentary is far more interesting than the film Wonderland.

There is a 25 minute crime scene police video included as well. It is as graphic as graphic gets. The bodies are still there as the police carefully document the bloody scene. I assume it's there for shock value. Don't let your kids anywhere near this.

There are two different releases of this out there. One is the movie (with, I think, a few extras) on one disc; the other is a two-disc set which includes the documentary "Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes". Watch the documentary FIRST, as "Wonderland" will make a lot more sense and be ten times more enjoyable if you do. That said, "Wonderland" is a fantastic, gritty film that I can count as one of my all-time favorites! Val Kilmer is so good as porn star John Holmes, you won't believe it. Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott, and EVERYONE in the cast is outstanding! Watch for a cameo by Paris Hilton as well. Everyone chews the scenery in this realistic film that went unnoticed in theatres but is becoming a cult classic thanks to the magic of DVD! I can't recommend it any more highly!

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I felt that this movie was unfairly bashed by newspaper critics. I got the impression that none dared venture anything positive once a consensus had been established.

I was so curious about this affair after reading the Rolling Stone article years ago that I saw this movie when it was first released in theaters; I wanted to see if it corroborated the article. So did it? That's the movie: two different versions of the heist are presented --John Holmes' and David Lind's. It's one thing to hear a story, but something else to see it enacted. John Holmes' version was amusing to see enacted because it made his lies obvious; some things could not have happened as he told them (ridiculous) and the audience laughed on those. Toward the end is a chilling Roman holiday of a murder scene that I believe, all things considered, is as close to the truth as we will come. For example, I believe it was Deverell who answered the door, and I am convinced that Holmes was there and probably coerced into participating in order to implicate him and thus prevent him from turning against Eddie again by testifying.

This two-disc set also includes omitted scenes, a Crime TV segment, and telling interviews with Sharon Holmes, Dawn Schiller, and people who knew Holmes from "the industry." There are photos taken of the victims when they were alive which I found very interesting, just to see what they looked like. The LAPD crime scene video was not as hard to take as I had expected, mostly due to the then-poor quality of video tape (it has come a long way since 1981 and this will jog your memory); three of the four just look like they're sleeping except that their hair is caked with blood. There are also interviews with some of the actors. I didn't know who Josh Lucas was before seeing this; his performance was outstanding.

Read Best Reviews of Wonderland (2003) Here

In the 1970s, when pornographic movies became increasingly available to mainstream consumers, John Holmes (1944-1988) parlayed his supersized endowment into stardom. Those who knew him well describe him as likeable but somewhat dim; when his stardom began to fade he had nothing on which to fall back, and he became just another drug-addicted has been, trading on what was left of his dubious celebrity for a line of cocaine here and a line of cocaine there. In 1981 Holmes tended to bounce between big-time drug dealer Eddie Nash and a group of smaller-time dealers who lived on Wonderland Avenue in Los Angeles--and found himself greatly over his head.

Police described the Wonderland murder case as the most gruesome murder scene since the 1969 Manson family killing spree. Although theories differ in details, they are consistent in outline: Holmes set up Nash for robbery by the Wonderland dealers; Nash responded by having Holmes set up the Wonderland dealers for a mass hit, carried off by people weilding pipes. Four people died, one survived with serious injuries and without memory of the attack. The 2003 film WONDERLAND attempts to portray both the crimes and the conflicting stories that Holmes, Nash, a Wonderland insider, and others gave during the course of the investigation.

Val Kilmer is unexpectedly convincing as the whining John Holmes, unable to focus beyond the next score, coming up with one silly idea after another. Lisa Kudrow is particularly memorable in the role of Holmes' estranged wife, Sharon; Kate Bosworth equals her as Holmes' current girl, Dawn Schiller. Although the movie is littered with cameos that actually tend to distract--Paris Hilton and Carrie Fisher, among others--the supporting cast is also quite fine. But the script, editing, and overall concept lets them down: it begins well and finishes well, but the middle portion of the film is weak and the overall movie lacks emotional or psychological depth.

WONDERLAND's characters are not likeable, and director and co-writer James Cox doesn't even attempt to find a means of bringing us inside their heads and lives in a way that makes them understandable, much less sympathetic. The film instead attempts to jump from character to character and idea to idea while also sliding back and forth in time--and in the process never quite stays in one place long enough for you get a firm grip. Everything does eventually link up, but all the same you'd better not blink too often as the movie plays out: if you do, you'll be lost when the final credits role.

The film is also plagued by a lot of hand-held-camera cinematography, presumably in order to convey the drug-laden atmosphere through which the characters move; there are also quite a few graphics, split screens, and so on. I find that a little of this goes quite a long way, and between the camera tricks and the constant shifts WONDERLAND looses focus and at times becomes a little wearing.

Even so, WONDERLAND still manages to be an interesting film, the sort of film that you wish had been undertaken by a great artist instead of director and co-writer James Cox, who would be most gracefully described as somewhat unpolished. There are at least two DVD issues of the film, one that is the film alone, another which also includes a documentary on John Holmes that is actually more interesting than the movie itself; if you have to pick between the two, go with the latter. Recommended, just don't expect too much.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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I appreciate the guts of the producers of WONDERLAND to bankroll this movie, since it is not the kind of mainstream stuff Hollywood usually finances these days. Almost all of the characters are sleazy scumbags, drug addicts and criminals. The main character is porn's first superstar John C. HOLMES (convincingly played by Val KILMER)at the end of his career, a pathetic loser, manipulative, pimping his young girlfriend and due to his drug habits hanging out with the wrong guys.

It is a bit tricky to give a brief plot synopsis for this one without giving too much away, but I'll try it anyway.

WONDERLAND is a true crime story about the horrifying murders that occured on July 1st, 1981 in a house on Wonderland avenue in LA and left four people dead and one woman seriously injured. The victims were beaten to death with lead pipes. One of the residents, who was not present at the time the killings occurred, turns himself in to the police and tells the cops a story involving drugs, the robbery of a nightclub owner named Eddie NASH (terrific performance by Eric BOGOSIAN) and XXX movie star John C. HOLMES. Questioned by the cops, HOLMES gives his version of the story. Needless to say it is very different...

I won't tell more about the plot, just add that it is terrific.

All actors deliver powerhouse performances. Aside from KILMER and BOGOSIAN, I particularly liked Josh LUCAS as criminal Ron LAUNIUS. The movie is also exceptionally well shot. I also like to give kudos to the scriptwriters for their efforts.

The DVD also has great extra features. There are some brief interviews with actors Val KILMER, Josh LUCAS, Eric BOGOSIAN and Tim BLAKE-NELSON. There are seven brief deleted scenes, but none would have added much to the film had they been included. Another extra is a photo gallery, but it is nothing to write home about. Then there is a short documentary about the Wonderland-murders called COURT TV: HOLLYWOOD AT LARGE. As a true crime fan my favorite among the extras is the 20 minute original crime scene video from the LAPD. We see the horrifying crime scene, while a homicide detective comments ("We are now in the residence, the first level living room area, wherein the first victim was found. Apparent bloodsplatterings are evident on the walls and on the sofa located on the west wall of the living room.") Not for the squeamish!

The second DVD contains a feature-length documentary about John C. HOLMES, titled WADD. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN C. HOLMES. There are lots of interviews with XXX stars (Annette HAVEN, Kitten NATIVIDAD,...) and snippets from HOLMES films. (Note that it is the R-rated cut of the documentary, so the included scenes from HOLMES films are softcore.) Suffice to say, the documentary (as well as the WONDERLAND main feature) are not for the easily offended.

Two thumps up for this DVD!

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