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James Cox
Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Carrie Fisher, Kim Marriner, Dylan McDermott, Christina Applegate, Tim Blake Nelson, Janeane Garofalo
Writing Credits:
James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, D. Loriston Scott

Sex. Guns. Money And Murder. Welcome To L.A.

On the afternoon of July 1, 1981, the Los Angeles police responded to a distress call on Wonderland Avenue and discovered a grisly quadruple homicide. The police investigation that followed uncovered two versions of the events leading up to the brutal murders - both involving legendary porn actor John Holmes. You're about to experience both versions.

Box Office:
$5 million.
Opening Weekend
$91.798 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.056 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $26.99
Release Date: 2/10/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary With Co-Writer/Director James Cox and Co-Writer Captain Mauzner
• Interviews with Cast
• Deleted Scenes
• “Court TV: Hollywood at Large”
• LAPD Crime Scene Video
• Photo Gallery
Disc Two
• “Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes”

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Wonderland (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 13, 2004)

With 1997’s Boogie Nights, we got a broadly fictionalized take on the story of porn star John Holmes. Actually, the flick mainly used some elements of his tale as inspiration. For material that purports to more directly examine parts of Holmes’ life, we go to 2003’s Wonderland.

The flick doesn’t attempt a general biography. Instead, it concentrates on the 1981 murders that inspired its title, since these occurred on LA’s Wonderland Avenue. The flick opens on June 29, 1981, as we meet Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth). She thinks her boyfriend John left her and eventually gets picked up by a religious crusader named Sally (Carrie Fisher) who tries to save her. However, John (Val Kilmer) soon comes to retrieve her. After they do coke and bang in Sally’s bathroom, she drives them away and they return to their normal life.

Not that their existence includes much of what most people consider to be “normal”. John comes in and out of their place, and one day he returns in a distressed state for reasons unknown. We soon hear of the brutal murders that took place on Wonderland Avenue, and it seems apparent that John had some connection to them.

Actually, some allege more than just a minor thread to link Holmes to the killings. Druggie and general thug David Lind (Dylan McDermott) goes to the cops to get them on Holmes’ case, as he feels sure the porn star caused the murders. Lind cares because his beloved died in the fray, so he tells Detectives Cruz (Franky G) and Nico (Ted Levine) his side of things.

Lind weaves a tale that involves a robbery allegedly thought up by Holmes. The porn star knew a shady character named Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), the biggest nightclub owner in Hollywood with many alleged crimes at his feet. Holmes is involved with a group of crooks and druggies that includes Ron Launius (Josh Lucas) and Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson). Ron’s stuck with some antique guns he can’t fence, so Holmes proposes that he trades them to Nash for drugs.

This doesn’t go well, and Holmes doesn’t come back for three days. When he returns, his absurd story about what happened infuriates the others, so he lays low for a few weeks. He comes back to propose that the group should rob Nash since Holmes knows where the kingpin hides all his good stuff.

The crew pulls off the crime. However, they give Holmes a smaller cut than he expected, which Lind claims angered John. We see a confrontation between Ron and John immediately prior to the murders, and that convinces Lind of Holmes’ culpability.

The cops explore this tale and eventually bring in Holmes. He offers his own take on events, and the movie eventually adds other perspectives. Essentially the flick doesn’t ever come up with one overriding sense of the truth, though it does lean in some directions more than others.

If you look at director James Cox’s résumé, you’ll not find much on it. His inexperience becomes clear as you watch Wonderland, though not necessarily in a negative way.

Instead, Cox’s roughness as a filmmaker becomes apparent due to the variety of techniques seen in Wonderland. At first I planned to accuse the flick of presenting a real rip-off of Boogie Nights, as it used a lot of the same styles. This seems most apparent in the early party sequence. Wonderland demonstrates the same form of freewheeling hand-held looseness and rock music driven action as Nights and almost feels like an outtake from that flick.

While Cox still engages in some stylistic excesses later in the movie, at least he reins in the obvious inspiration. However, this makes Wonderland feel rather inconsistent, as the changes in tone don’t always make a lot of sense. Sometimes we get things from the perspective of the drugged-up participants, while others seem much more lucid for little apparent reason. The movie flips through styles like Cox picked them from a carryout menu.

Although the film indeed often comes across as unfocused and erratic, it maintains a certain sense of power and it always comes across as intriguing. The flick offers a dense and convoluted story but makes it surprisingly coherent overall. At times the viewer will likely become lost in things, but by the end, it mostly ties together and seems well managed.

I will admit I think the film needed more direct attempts at perspective. In some ways it presents the information and leaves the viewer to decide the truth, but it doesn’t do this in a full enough manner to really allow us to grasp the intricacies. I don’t want the flick to lead me by the hand and spell out the information for me, but some additional attempts at clarity would have made it more useful.

Cox does move the story at a good pace, which helps cover up some of the flaws. Things move by so quickly that we don’t get a chance to absorb the problems. That may sound like a Band-aid approach, but it does serve the movie well.

Wonderland also enjoys a very strong cast. The project enjoys such support that it finds stars like Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garafalo and Christina Applegate in pretty small roles. Across the board, the actors provide good work, though I don’t feel wild about the casting of McDermott. His appearance smacks of an obvious attempt to avoid typecasting. Lind is supposed to be a rugged biker dude sort, and despite the physical accoutrements given to him – scruffy beard, tattoos, head wrap – McDermott never fits the part. He also doesn’t come across as crude and base enough; he still feels like an upwardly mobile lawyer.

Wonderland offers a generally involving investigation of some horrific crimes. The movie lacks great depth or coherence, but it boasts a lively tone and solid actors who help make it work. Occasionally choppy, the film nonetheless provides a pretty powerful punch.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

Wonderland appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture offered a largely satisfying piece.

Sharpness appeared solid. I noticed no signs of softness or unintentional fuzziness at any point in the flick. Overall, the movie came across as nicely defined and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no problems, but I did notice a slight amount of edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, the movie mostly avoided them. It demonstrated occasional examples of specks, but these weren’t terribly significant.

Wonderland featured a fairly stylized palette, so it demonstrated different forms of hues throughout the story. Much of the movie featured shots with a rather sickly green tone or other unattractive hues. Some other shots came across as more natural, while a few went for a fairly sepia appearance. Colors looked solid across the board, as long as we examined them within their stylistic parameters. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without excessive thickness. Wonderland lost a few points mostly due to its light edge enhancement and minor print flaws, but it still seemed pretty solid overall.

Mostly due to its aggressive use of music, Wonderland featured a pretty solid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield definitely favored the score. Those elements demonstrated very good stereo spread in the front and also used the surrounds well to reinforce the music. Effects also popped up from the sides and rear as appropriate and presented accurate placement and movement. Nonetheless, the music offered the best use of the various channels and helped propel the movie.

Audio quality seemed positive. A few lines of speech demonstrated light edginess, and the lines at the party suffered from some weak balance; it became tough to understand what the participants said because the music overwhelmed them. Otherwise, the dialogue seemed natural and distinctive. (The scene that interpreted events from Lind’s heroin-addled perspective were intentionally marred, so I didn’t think of them as problematic.) Effects appeared accurate and tight, with no problems connected to distortion. As noted, the music dominated, and those parts sounded very good. The track was clear and vibrant, and the music showed deep and rich bass. Overall, the audio of Wonderland seemed very satisfying.

As we move to the supplements in this two-disc set, we launch with DVD One’s audio commentary. This features co-writer/director James Cox and co-writer Captain Mauzner, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific piece. For the most part, they prove to be eager and fairly involving participants. They cover a mix of subjects. We get notes about the facts behind the tale as well as some backstory for the characters. They also discuss drafts of the script, the processes used by the actors, production design, and other issues. They seem nicely chatty, though occasional dead air slows down the piece. Nonetheless, they shed some light on various areas and offer a mostly interesting commentary.

When we go to Interviews, we get chats with four of the actors. We hear from Val Kilmer (55 seconds), Josh Lucas (92 seconds), Tim Blake Nelson (51 seconds), and Eric Bogosian (80 seconds). These include some nice introspection and analysis, but their brevity renders them less effective.

Next we find seven fairly short deleted scenes. These run between 21 seconds and three minutes, 31 seconds for a total of 10 minutes of material. None of these seems particularly valuable, though Janeane Garafalo’s drugged-out riff on Fantasy Island inequities is funny.

A quick take on the case shows up in Court TV: Hollywood At Large. This five-minute and 43-second program includes movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews with actors Kilmer, Dylan McDermott, Kate Bosworth and Lucas as well as Dawn Schiller and LAPD detectives Bob Souza and Tom Lange. This brushes through the details and mainly comes across as a promotional feature for the movie, though we do get some interesting insight from Schiller.

After this we find the 23-minute and 38-second LAPD Crime Scene Video. Not for the squeamish, this tape shows some rather banal shots along with gruesome images of the victims. I can’t call this fun to watch, but it gives us a valuable look at the actual crime.

Finally, the Photo Gallery includes 15 pictures from the production. It seems like a pretty lackluster little set.

DVD Two includes only one piece, but it’s a big one. We get the film Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. A 105-minute and 39-second documentary by Cass Paley, this project gives us a mix of clips from various movies, other archival materials, and many interviews. We find notes from LA Times film critic Ken Turan, producer/director Anne Perry, “Swedish Erotica” director Bob Vosse, producer Bobby Hollander, producer and Holmes’ manager Bill Amerson, photographer Jess Sussman, actor Richard Pacheco, director Bob Chinn, publisher Al Goldstein, retired LAPD vice Detective Tom Blake, First Amendment attorney Paul Cambria, publisher Larry Flynt, producer/actor William Margold, actor/director John Leslie, actor Ron Jeremy, Boogie Nights writer/director PT Anderson, actresses Bunny Bleu, Annette Haven, Gloria Leonard, Kitten Natividad, “Aunt Peg”, Candida Royale, Miss Sharon Mitchell, and Cicciolina, agent “Reb” Sawitz, makeup artist David Clark, former LA district attorney Ron Coen, psychologist Dr. Vonda Lia, Holmes’ defense attorney Mitchell Egers, journalist Mike Sager, adult cinema historian Jim Holliday, Sharon Holmes, Dawn Schiller, actress and John’s second wife Laurie Holmes, actor Don Fernando, Holmes’ godson Sean “Duke” Amerson and goddaughter Denise Amerson. We also hear remarks from Holmes himself, most of which seem to come from the Exhausted puff-piece documentary.

Don’t expect much – if any – veracity from Holmes. As we’ll see, he preferred his own myth to reality, so his comments mostly offer a counterpoint to the statements from others. The film covers the background of porn movies and the sexual revolution of the Seventies, the development of the business in that era, Holmes’ impact on the industry and his early days, the growth of his career, his personality, personal life, and history. It jumps around chronologically through about the time in the Seventies when Holmes met Schiller, but after that it follows his life in order. We learn more about his alleged involvement in the Wonderland murders as well as what happened after that.

Wadd offers a fairly splendid examination of Holmes’ life. It pulls absolutely no punches and gives us a gritty and frank accounting. Given the many characters involved – and Holmes’ various personalities – we find many different takes on the man, plus some contradictory opinions. The worst blood seems to come between second wife Laurie and manager Amerson and his kids; those two sides both clearly have a long of dislike for each other. Overall, Wadd is a terrific piece that actually seems more interesting than Wonderland itself.

Not that the main feature isn’t a pretty good flick. Wonderland suffers from some choppiness and stylistic excesses, but it also boasts solid acting and a generally intriguing look at its subject. The DVD features very good picture and sound plus an excellent set of extras highlighted by a terrific documentary. Due to its graphic subject matter, Wonderland won’t be for everyone, but for those with an interest in the topic, this fine DVD package earns my recommendation.

Footnote: this release of Wonderland comes promoted as a “limited edition”. That means the second DVD is only available via the limited version. No one seems to know how limited this is, so I don’t know how long they’ll be on the market, but I thought I’d mention the apparent restricted availability of the 2-DVD set.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7272 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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