Wonderland DVD: Review By justincase

  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
In July 1, 1981, a grisly quadruple homicide was committed in Los Angeles on Wonderland Avenue. Ron Launius (Josh Lucas), Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson), Barbara Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner) and Joy Miller (Janeane Garofalo) were brutally murdered, and Ron's wife Susan (Christina Applegate) was left in critical condition. The police investigation that followed uncovered a seedy world of drugs and violence and highlighted the players, including ex-con David Lind (Dylan McDermott), nightclub impresario Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), porn legend John Holmes (Val Kilmer), his estranged wife Sharon (Lisa Kudrow) and his teenage lover Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth).

Wonderland didn't even register at the domestic box office, passing barely noticed to video release on this jam-packed 2-disc DVD set. My guess is that the film will have performed amply on video, despite the nearly non-existent theatrical run.

First of all, I have to ask:

"Does anyone else think it is strange that the director of the film that chronicles events in the life of the top male porn star (who also happened to measure his manhood at an ample 13.5 inches) -- just happens to be named James Cox?"

Now that I have that out of the way...

Wonderland is like that grisly car wreck that you can't help but stare at on the highway. It's a collision between reality and fantasy that is so compelling, mainly because of its basic truth, that you just can't avert your eyes. John Holmes (known by many as Johnny Wadd, his primary serial character during his porn career) led a life so sad and pathetic, underneath the veneer of his skin-flick success, that you just have to feel sorry for him -- to say nothing of his wives, girlfriend and extended family.

As Wonderland begins, we see the desperate spiral that Holmes' life had become in the early 1980's -- riddled with cocaine, heroine, petty theft and and a cast of seedy characters right out of the deepest underbelly of Hollywood. Cox (Wonderland Director) weaves a tight and compelling tale bouncing along through several days and from various perspectives. His editing is dizzying, but effective, using various techniques to time and perspective shift without disturbing the continuity of the film. In the end, we're left with what feels like the whole story as to what led to the murders and a good idea of by who and how they were committed.

The movie is packed with talent, including Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas -- and many others who blend into the story and the scene so effectively, that you won't even recognize them (Christina Applegate, Janeane Garofalo, Dylan McDermott). Kilmer can be really hot or really cold. In this film, he turns out what I thin is one of his best performances. He really gets into the role and is John C. Holmes. Perhaps you won't really realize just how effective he is until you delve into the special features of the disc and watch Kilmer's interview and the full reel on Holmes and his life -- told by those who knew him (the entire 2nd "bonus" disc). Bosworth, McDermott and Lucas are also amazing in the film and really take you to the world in which they dwelled.
This DVD (set) is packed with features. As many of you who have read my coverage of various DVDs will know, I generally don't care one bit for features. That is generally less true when the film in question is either a true story or based on a true story.

The list of features here includes:

(Listed items):

* Audio Commentary - James Cox (Director), Captain Mauzner (Writer), Val Kilmer (Actor)

* Short Film By James Cox

* Deleted Scenes

* LAPD Crime Scene Video

* Photo Gallery

* Autopsy Report

* CourtTV Hollywood At Large

(Unlisted items):

* Interviews

* John Holmes' life as told by those who knew him (2nd disc, may be the "short film by James Cox", but it was nearly 2 hours so... not sure if this was just mislabeled or what)

I finished up the film after 11:00pm. I started on the special features on the first disc at that point. I started with the LAPD Crime Scene Video. All I can say is sh*t. When I was young (probably under 14), I witnessed a car accident so horrific that I couldn't avert my stare. A semi lost its brakes and destroyed the lives of the occupants of 4 other cars as it litterally careened over them, crushing them into mounds of steel and body parts. This LAPD video reminded me of that accident. This is circa 1981 video footage (no mini-DV handicam work here), so the quality is what you'd expect, but the detail with which the forensic team and the videographer cover the crime scene and the lifeless bodies will leave you spellbound (unless you have a weak constitution). It is a little long, though, so watching with judicious use of the fast forward function on your player will make it much easier to get through. There is a lot of detail here that is interesting for a few minutes but definitely gets too detailed for viewing.

Next, I checked out some Interviews with Kilmer, McDermott and others. These were interesting, but at the same time -- just the kind of junkett material you'd expect, but it was pretty interesting to hear Kilmer talk about his perspective on Holmes and the role and how he got into it.

I watched the CourtTV Hollywood At Large piece and thought it gave some decent background information.

The capping acheivement here, though, was the bonus 2nd disc feature on John Holmes, cut through interviews with those who knew him. His wives and girlfriend, his manager, his directors, fellow actors (and actresses), LAPD detectives from vice and homicide and many others contributed to this piece. For nearly 2 hours, I sat spellbound, again with the same magnetism that holds onlookers to a trainwreck, by the sad and misguided life of John Holmes. You learn so much on this disc about Holmes, his life and career, the murders, his later life and his death -- that you might wish you knew less by the end. After all, we're not talking about some big A-list Hollywood hotshot here. This guy was a geeky, skinny, loser with a 14 inch "tool". Nonetheless, this 2nd disc is almost every bit as compelling as the film, itself.
I enjoyed the film immensely. Many of the performances were exceptional, the story was riveting, the direction and editing top-rate.

Blind buy? Not for most of you. This has the "library value" of being able to show this to your curious friends and family without having to go rent it. Most, however, will be satisfied with the $3.99 at Blockbuster and never need to call it their own. The only problem is that you'll probably not be able to spend the over 4 hours it will take to plough through all the special features and if you, like me, enjoy delving into the "truth is stranger than fiction" stories -- you'll want to have the flexibility to do so with this disc. Maybe you better opt for Netflix, although I'm not sure they'll send you both discs?

This movie probably isn't for everyone. It's not mindless eye-candy. For that, check out Gothika or The Rundown. This is a serious and somber film and the truth of the story makes it all that much darker and more depressing.

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