*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott
screenplay by James Cox & Captain Mauzner and Todd Samovitz & D. Loriston Scott
directed by James Cox
by Walter Chaw A collision of vérité with the sort of Requiem for a Dream grind-cut quick-edits that have produced some of the worst films of the last couple of years (case in point: Spun), Wonderland sets out to tell the true story of 1981's Wonderland Murders, which left four scumbags dead and porn king John Holmes--King Scumbag, as it were--implicated in the lead pipe nastiness. It's a regurgitation in so many ways of so many things: neo-Boogie Nights, neo-noir, neo-Val Kilmer's own strung-out performance in the superior The Salton Sea--and therein lies the problem, as Kilmer is altogether too likeable an anti-hero, typecast as the strung-out simpleton too good-looking to be at the bottom, too drunk on himself to be anywhere else. A section where the passage of time is represented by a montage of TV GUIDE listings provides the only spark in the midst of this spastic spectacle, demonstrating a knowledge of its cathode tube parentage as cannily as the use of Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" tune that defined the MTV-made hit, dancing on the edge of art and porn. It happens early, it raises hopes, and then Wonderland runs itself well past the point of caring.
Lisa Kudrow appears with a fake chin as Holmes's estranged suburbanite wife Sharon, and Kate Bosworth phones in a "serious" starlet turn that seems to require a few onscreen bladder evacuations (gritty!). Christina Applegate makes a cameo in which she's almost impossible to see or swathed in bandages, and Natasha Gregson Wagner, Natalie Wood's daughter, has one line and blows it. Kilmer is a grinning emblem of the '80s capitalist mule the same way he was the glowering death rattle of the flower-power generation in The Doors--fine, but so what when the vehicle doesn't do much to decorate the driver? Drug consumption is heavy, but like everything else in the film (the sex, the violence), it's made curiously chaste by the "hipness" of the frenetic direction. There's an essential disingenuousness to pictures that sex up the ugly at the expense of any real thoughts about addiction, family, betrayal, murder, sex, pornography--in a film about the possible involvement of a porn king in a quadruple homicide, there's a notable lack of anything particularly controversial. More than a film flirting with unwatchable, the music video sexiness of Wonderland is dangerous.
The story is told three separate times from three separate points of view: the first that of David Lind (Dylan McDermott), biker/murderer with the heart of Byron (he confesses to avenge his lady love); the second Holmes's rambling blah-de-blah; the last some crazed amalgam of Sharon's post-Holmous confessions, police reports, I guess, and anonymous conjecture. The lack of focus less about democracy than avoiding taking a stand, all the tap-dancing is defeated anyway by a series of end cards that are repetitive and superfluous besides. By the time the film's over, we're well into wondering what it was about this story that the filmmakers thought they were doing. Porn, murder, drugs--all the ingredients are there for an interesting story, no question (and in fact, there've been competing Holmes projects out there for years); the real art of Wonderland it turns out is how tidily, and in record time, it manages to beat the interest out of its subject. Originally published: October 24, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Lions Gate presents Wonderland on DVD in a "Limited 2-Disc Edition" with Wonderland and its dedicated extras on the first platter and the 105-minute Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes (see below) on the second. Wonderland's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is easy on the eyes, though areas of pitch black tend to expose compression artifacts. The rollicking Dolby Digital 5.1 mix takes a cue from Boogie Nights in creating a wall of music around the film frequently pierced by heightened, swirling sound effects; it's clichéd but satisfying from a home theatre standpoint. Director James Cox and co-screenwriter Captain Mauzner, who have such similar voices I wondered if it was one person putting us on, endow the film with a feature-length commentary track full of large gaps of silence. It's a generally unilluminating session with the pair besides, save the revelations that Robert Towne suggested retooling the script to structurally resemble Rashomon ("Basically an old Japanese movie") and that Val Kilmer wore John Holmes's actual wedding ring in the film.
A section of seven deleted scenes is interesting for the fact that it keeps secret the moment, oft-mentioned in pre-release materials, where Kilmer's character beat the shit out of Kate Bosworth's--don't want to go making a cokehead porn star out to be anything but a teddy bear now, do we?--and includes what proved to be Janeane Garofalo's only opportunity to shine: a hilarious monologue on how frustrated Tattoo must have felt living amongst the tourists of "Fantasy Island". Showing up in too-short interview snippets are Kilmer (1 min.), Josh Lucas (2 mins.), Tim Blake Nelson (1 min.), and, most lucidly, Eric Bogosian (1 min.); Kilmer appears again in "Hollywood at Large" (6 mins.), a CourtTV segment that crassly doubles as a news report on the Wonderland murders and an extended commercial for Wonderland. (Interestingly, the face of the real Dawn Schiller, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Courtney Love, is not blotted out here as it is in Wadd and other previous exposés on the subject.) A lean photo gallery plus hidden trailers for Wonderland, the Wonderland CD, and Prey for Rock 'n' Roll join the original "L.A. Crime Scene Video" (which, at 24 minutes, is difficult to watch as much for its tedious length as for its grisly content) in rounding out the disc. Originally published: August 19, 2004.
WADD: THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOHN C. HOLMES
**/**** Image B Sound B
directed by Cass Paley
by Bill Chambers When Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, members of the press were given stickers of the famous snapshot in which Holmes's 13" member is concealed by a pillar of hands, and it's interesting that this photo looks far more chaste on screen than it did poking out of our mailboxes: For all its taboo subject matter and provocative language, Wadd is a piece of reportage--and now that we've entered a new golden age for documentary-making, its straightforward clips-and-interviews style just doesn't cut it. The film covers the span of Holmes's life from birth to death; his handlers, his wives, his girlfriends, and his directors all weigh in on the enigma that was this Midnight Cowboy of the Valley, who died of AIDS in 1988. That other porn legend Ron Jeremy provides a chilling account of Holmes's eagerness to infect women in the industry with the HIV virus (Jeremy is the only one with the guts to point out that, while Holmes's manager tried to stop him from performing, he never went so far as to warn his victims), but since this is a small part of the story's fabric, it quickly steps aside for the next "Biography"-style anecdote. Wadd is the kind of documentary that ends up saying everything and nothing. Originally published: February 9, 2004.