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John Holmes is so famous, he's infamous (as the Three Amigos would
say). This is a Rashomon-like story about the events surrounding the
Wonderland Murders of the early 1980's, in Los Angeles. The story is
pieced together from the retelling of a few of the participants. There
is story from the friend's perspective, namely David Lind (played by
Dylan McDermott). He is a participant in the robbery assault at Eddie
Nash's place (Eddie Nash is a infamous drug dealer - and is the suppose
to be the same character Alfred Molina played in Boogie Nights) and is
heavily into the drug scene. There is John Holmes' perspective (played
by Val Kilmer), which makes him out to be a pawn stuck between two
kings (with a severe case of cocaine cravings). There is also the
patchwork recollections of John's wife (Sharon - played by Lisa Kudrow)
and his girlfriend (Dawn - played by Kate Bosworth) that fill in the
spaces between the two stories. It is basically the same time frame
that we are looking at, just each character's version. The only thing
that is missing is the perspective from the dead people.
Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights portrays John Holmes as a slightly heroic character, with a tragic yet comedic karma. He is a caricature of a real person. He was more of less, a mixed up kid that got what he got through his "large" endowment. Director James Cox turns the comedy off and makes this episode in John's life into a nightmare for all of us watching. The details of the real life murders make this movie even more eerie.
Val Kilmer took what he learned of Jim Morrison, from the Doors, enhanced the performance for the Salton Sea, and then further enhanced that to bring us the deterioration of John Holmes through cocaine. All of the actors pull off very realistic looking portrayal's of cocaine junkies. Josh Lucas' performance stands out as one of the best in the movie. He plays Ron Launius (I think this character is suppose to be the same as the Thomas Jane character from Boogie Nights). Ron was the leader of the gang, loved having John Holmes around as a novelty and had a cocaine craving like sharks enjoy blood. The cocaine use seems so realistic as to make one think. Did they really use Splenda ??
Where Boogie Nights has a bubblegum pop feel to it (lots of color and 70's nostalgia), Wonderland is dark. The action is fast and furious, with a lot of jumps. It is twitchy and grainy. There is no comedy, just a never ending pace, as if the director is trying to put us into the nervous, fast paced, edgy cocaine high to make us feel what the characters are feeling. This is a graphic movie. It has one of the most intensely violent scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It actually shows the murders themselves (through the eyes of John Holmes at first and then from a third person perspective). It is so graphic, it looks like police evidence of a crime. I had to pause after this scene and remind myself this was just a movie. This movie is definitely not recommended for everyone. I recommend it as a good alternative to Boogie Nights, for those interested in the other sides of John Holmes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found "Wonderland" to be an excellent movie. What it does so well is
place a marker on the people who were involved in that massacre (both the
victims and the murderers). It also illustrates the slow and fatal decline
of John Holmes from his post-porno world to the beginning of his death from
AIDS, and this was the best role I ever saw Val Kilmer play. Eric Bogosian
also plays his part well, and this is the best I have seen him since "Talk
This movie also has a soul for the period, and made me remember that time of my life (I was away in college at the time). It is rare that this good a movie comes out.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this movie.
I've read many negative reviews of this movie and finally got a chance to
see it on DVD. To be honest I really don't know what the problem with it
It's a decent murder mystery thriller, shown from various points of view, from an eccentric cast of often drugged out potential killers/suspects, including the late porn king, John Holmes. Please read the plot synopsis for the exact details of the movie's plot - I wish to contribute more to a review than a synopsis.
Many reviewers went so far to give this movie their lowest rating due to violence but I really don't see it. MANY modern movies were worse - Saving Private Ryan was ultimately more violent than this movie, which often relies on implied blood stains than actual brutal slayings (the murders depicted in this film were done with lead pipes, afterall).
I was enthralled with both halves of the movie - the first showing John Holmes as a hopeless cash hungry drug addict, and the second half showing his side as a minor conspirator in a senseless bloodbath. The movie has excellent acting, even though Dylan McDemorant looks more than a bit out of place in his biker-esque personia and goatee'ed bad boy personality.
The soundtrack was also awesome - a fantastic mix of 70's B-side rock and obscure pop, spread out over a couple of hours in all the right places ala Boogie Nights.
I didn't expect Val Kilmer to make a convincing John Holmes, but I found
myself forgetting that it wasn't the porn legend himself. In fact, the
entire cast turned in amazing performances in this vastly under-rated movie.
As some have mentioned earlier, seek out the two-disc set and watch the "Wadd" documentary first; it will give you a lot of background on the story which will be helpful in appreciating the movie.
Some people seem unhappy about the LAPD crime scene video being included on the DVD. There are a number of reasons that it might have been included, one of which is that John Holmes' trial for the murders was the first ever in the United States where such footage was used by the prosecution. If you don't want to see it, it's easy to avoid; it's clearly identified as "LAPD Crime Scene Footage" on the menu!
One of the most disturbing and tragic periods in American history
began. The members of the Summer of Love culture, at the end of the
seventies and onset of the 80's, were eventually too old for love beads
and all night parties and evolved back into mainstream life, whatever
that meant. For those who could not out grow their youthful and
sometimes irrational exuberance, their's was the culture of Wonderland.
A love for drugs and a sense of entitlement coupled with a distaste for
authority, values and "the establishment".
The sixties were a time of revolution and violent change that tore the American "house" apart. Once the battles were over, we all had to deal with the aftermath of the carnage. The characters in the Wonderland house are icons of the misfits of the Seventies; part biker, part hippie, part crook, all outcast. No ideology to express, just a sense of dissatisfaction with everything and allegiance to nothing. Ron, Billy and David fancy themselves as some sort of Robin Hoods with dope. They talk of love and behave violently; they take from the rich and sell to the misbegotten; they steal from everyone.
Holmes and company are the end result of a strange collision of anti-matter like sex, and drugs and rock & roll, when the lab technicians get bored and move on.
The film is skillfully directed and paced and captures the frenetic world of the drug fiends in their element. The fact that Holmes is a porn star is almost irrelevant. That story was told in "Boogie Nights". This is a story of a transitional and forgettable era.
I once read an article by Jonathon Ross about John Holmes, and in it he
described a pathetic figure whose celebrity status in the arena of porn
deteriorated into a life of drug abuse, betrayal, gang involvement and
murder...oh, and his eventual death due to Aids. What a great premise for a
I enjoyed Wonderland and was gripped all the way though.It was Holmes' dependence on drugs that meant he was eventually dropped from the porn industry, he could no longer perform or 'get it up'. From there his life spiralled and this is where Wonderland starts.
The story is not only presented in a very factual way, ( nearly every police statement and event occurred as shown ), but the pace in unrelenting and the acting convincing. Kilmer does a good job on Holmes - a bit like his Jim Morrison, he gets the druggie, spaced out feel just right.
The re-telling of events through different perspectives is also impressive, if not original and although there is no real tension in the film this is not a criticism. This is not supposed to be a suspense film or a thriller, it is much better than that. It is a true account of lives which interest us and which most of us have difficulty comprehending - apologies to drug dealers, murderers and porn stars.
When the actual murders occur they are brutal and dramatic, interspersing real footage of the murder scene into the action. Gory and fascinating, and i'm sure most of you do the pause or slow-mo run after.
I'm a sucker for information being handed out at the end of films and Wonderland doesn't disappoint. We find out about all the main protagonists and of course we all know what happened to John. Full credit to the director, I was waiting for this film to be made since 1988 and am not disappointed!
Val Kilmer... Love or loath him, sometimes he gets under the skin of a
character and pulls out a performance that makes you go 'Hey! This guy is a
GREAT actor!' He did in the leather pants of Jim in The Doors and he's done
it again in the leather underpants of John.
Revolving around the fall and fall of uber porn king John Holmes, Kilmer strutts to his knees as we unravel one of the biggest murder mysteries hollywood has never solved for over twenty years, with Holmes the key suspect to a brutal Manson-style slaughter.
What Kilmer does so effortlessly is exhude the low-life of the celebrity, the do anything to anyone craving that overwhelms anyone who had it and then lost it. Go see him, you'll know what I mean.
May 2004, Wonderland is fairly new in the UK. Brilliant film of a brutal true story. If you know LA from the early 80's, you will appreciate how well it is captured. The use of the elements which make up its gritty cinematic style is original, amplifying the experience and bringing the viewer very close to actually being there. The use of a disjointed 'Pulp Fiction' style time line allows exploration of the uncertainty concerning what really happened, while the direction and performances of the cast command attention, especially Val Kilmer as John Holmes; an Oscar for sure if I were handing them out.
John Holmes was the worlds' biggest porn star in all senses of the
world, however after the fame came a basic life of drugs and crime to
get by. One such job was a robbery and murders at Laurel Canyon in
1981. With the police investigating the violent aftermath of the
robbery, they take in David Lind who tells them a story of how Holmes
set up the whole job and how the planned robbery of 'The Arab' turned
out to be a robbery of kingpin Eddie Nash, leading to Nash's revenge
killing of the gang except Lind. However, bringing Holmes in for
questioning they get told an entirely different story.
With an intriguing and stylish trailer, I was looking forward to the film and, despite it coming and going quickly in the cinema I managed to catch it on DVD. I'm not sure of the true John Holmes story and, after this film I'm none the wiser about the truth or even basic facts. The film plays with the truth in the same way as Rashomon (or for fanboys Hero) does, having the same story told several different ways by different characters. In a way this does enough to keep the story moving and keeps it interesting enough to watch, with the brutal 'truth' being a very difficult scene to watch, however as a total story it is unsatisfying. Attempts to bring in issues around John's relationship with Sharon felt too rushed and didn't work, likewise his relationship with Dawn wasn't very well handled. With four writers on the job, it is easy to see some of this as compromise but this doesn't excuse it. With so many half-delivered characters and threads in the film it is forced to do about 7 or 8 text cards at the end to explain what happened to everyone while this was interesting it does show the failure in the film that these things should have been better woven into the film; as it was it felt like it had left more than half the story until these cards.
However, side issues aside the main plot about the job really does work very well and the Rashomon approach does work well to keep the interest a straight telling would have lost this element and also made for a less engaging film. If the characters had been better and the attempts at wider themes and subjects had actually worked better than they did then this would have been a much better film, but this is no Boogie Nights and the attempts at a bigger picture simply don't come together. This is not the fault of the cast though, as they all do pretty well even if some of them are given practically nothing to work with. Kilmer is good with what he has and, when allowed to, manages to bring really sorrow to Holmes in a convincing manner.
Bosworth isn't so good and I never bought her once certainly her performance made the jump to Dawn's actions 6 months after this story ended seem impossible and I got the feeling that she had just played it all wrong.
Kudrow takes yet another step away from Friends and who would have thought that she would be the one to carve out a career outside of her character? She is given precious little time but she matches her makeup and comes across as hurt and weary. Nelson and Lucas are both good but I was more surprised by McDermott, who was good and almost unrecognisable. Fisher's involvement is a mystery to me and her early scene could have been removed without any loss. Bogosian fits his character perfectly and Garofalo is in there if you look hard, but again you have to wonder why she bothered. Paris Hilton turns up as a ditzy blonde bimbo trading on her looks a role that didn't seem to be too much of a stretch for her in the few seconds she was on screen (why the film cheapened itself with her involvement is beyond me).
Overall this is an interesting and engaging film that works well as a crime thriller crossed with a Rashomon telling. However the attempts to open the story out and involve wider issues from Holmes' life pretty much all fall flat, leaving the film feeling half-cooked and rather unsatisfying, with a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up as the final credits wait to roll.
Worth seeing but not as good as it really could have been.
Cox's 'Wonderland' is about the gruesome Wonderland murders
(obviously!) that took place in the early 80s. The murder case itself
was never solved and remained a mystery. Sadly, the movie does not do
much to to cast light on it but there are hints indicated what most
likely has happened. It is more of an interesting account rather than
an actual story where one event is told from the perspective of
different characters: Ex-porn king turned junkie John Holmes (Val
Kilmer), his girlfriend Dawn Shiller (Kate Bosworth), his estranged
wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow) and David Lind (Dylan McDermott).
'Wonderland' is quite well shot, with the chaotic camera-work and slick editing, use of music and visuals and effective sound. It is very graphic and includes real photographs from the crime scene. It does manage to create the feel of the early 80s that ended the craziness of the 70s. Val Kilmer seems to be an odd choice to play John Holmes. There is no physical resemblance. As a stand alone he acts well but does not have any nuances of Holmes. His portrayal of Holmes is inaccurate to say the least. Kate Bosworth is quite alright. I didn't find the love story between the two that engaging. Dylan McDermott does not seem to be completely in character. In spite of having a small role, Lisa Kudrow delivers the best performance. It was very nuanced and natural. Josh Lucas does alright but at times he seems a little too loud. There are several more familiar faces.
Before watching the film, I had very limited knowledge of the notorious murders but after seeing the movie, I did more research and understood how gruesome and horrifying it was. 'Wonderland' tries to portray the event in an accurate way but those who are looking for a closed ending will be disappointed. As I stated earlier, it does give a hint as to what most likely happened.
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