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Wonderland (2003)

  Directed by: James Cox
Written by: James Cox, Captain Mauzner, Todd Samovitz, D. Loriston Scott
Starring: Kate Bosworth, Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas, Dylan McDermott
Links: Wonderland on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Based on True Story

This movie gets: 8.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 53rd of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Solid" - a review by pearly

The disclaimer at the end of Boogie Nights (1997) stated that it was a work of fiction, however, there's no denying that its story has many similarities to the one told in Wonderland, which is based on the true story of John Holmes.

Holmes was a porn star in the 1980s who had an extremely large penis, and supposedly had sex with thousands of women during his career. However, unlike Boogie Nights, Wonderland doesn't focus on this part of his life. Instead, it begins as Holmes' porno career is drawing to a close. He is amusing himself with drugs, and nice young girlfriend, and some rather unsavoury friends. And it is around this time that Holmes becomes an intimate part of a multiple murder. Wonderland attempts to explain the circumstances surrounding his involvement.

Aside from the fact that some of the things that happen in Wonderland remind you of similar things that happened in Boogie Nights, the two films are completely different. Wonderland is a much more serious affair; you can tell this even from the darkness of its whole look. There's a big air of importance to it, where Boogie Nights was a lot more about trying to have fun with the whole late 70s / early 80s vibe: the big hair, the outrageous outfits, the kinds of situations porn stars get themselves into. Wonderland is trying to tell the real story of what happened on Wonderland Avenue in 1981.

Val Kilmer stars as John Holmes. This fact reminds me of what Kilmer is good at: impersonating real people. He did it all those years ago in the (imaginatively titled) The Doors (1991), and he's back doing it now. Kilmer must have a malleable face or something, because he's able to do a pretty good job of looking like someone else. And maybe it's because of this skill, but it seems to me that he does a better job of acting in these types of roles too. After not having seen him do anything much for the last few years, I saw him in both this and Spartan (2004) within a week and a half of one another, and he is much, much better in this (he is also helped by the fact that this is a far superior film).

Besides Kilmer, Wonderland is billed as having a fairly impressive bunch of cameos. It's true, there are quite a few cameos, but I wouldn't really call them an impressive bunch. There's Carrie Fisher, Janeane Garofalo, Natasha Gregson Wagner, even Paris Hilton gets a look in. And in the slightly bigger roles, there's Christina Applegate, and an almost unrecognisable Tim Blake Nelson. And then there are the main protagonists, listed as stars above. A fair few names, but, I think you'll agree, none of them all that amazing.

Having said that, Wonderland is a pretty decent film. I'm a sucker for a "based on a true story" when done well, and this one held my attention and interest throughout. It's ably acted (I even liked Lisa Kudrow), and action-packed. It's a little more straight down the line than my usual tastes, but solid nonetheless.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 16 Jul 2004

"Whoever called this 'Boogie Nights 2' is an idiot" - a review by em_fiction

The porn industry has become a popular subject among films. It's almost become its own genre, in the same respect as, say, the drug genre. Wonderland is the story about the man with the inches; one of the most infamous names in porn history: John Holmes.

Wonderland isn't a biopic; it doesn't focus on the career of Holmes, like Boogie Nights (1997) did with Dirk Diggler. It's the story about the infamous incident that occurred during Holmes' retirement, known as the Wonderland murders. The film's plot breaks down as this: police are called to investigate the aftermath of a brutal quadruple homicide on Wonderland Avenue, and there they find David Lind (Dylan McDermott), an ex-con whose girlfriend Barbara (Natasha Gregson Wagner) was a victim. The police take him in to retrieve the story behind the carnage. The recollection is basically about Holmes (Val Kilmer) persuading big-shot con and Wonderland regular Ronnie (Josh Lucas) to commit a lucrative robbery at the home of powerful underworld figure Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian) through Holmes' connections. Of course, what started off good ends up pear-shaped.

Later on, the police catch up with Holmes, who gives his own recount of the story. His side of it generally retains the same skeleton as Lind's story, except with a few tweaked details here and there, just to make Lind appear more guilty and him more innocent. The rest of the film basically dwells on one question: who's telling the truth? What really happened?

Wonderland was quite good. I mean, definitely good enough to consider underrated. It deserved a much wider release than what it was given, because it is a very interesting story, solidly built on true events. John Holmes isn't the most threadbare personality to be played in films so it was fascinating to see the kind of life he lead. Ironically, it wasn't very surprising: sex, drugs, violence, crime, rock 'n' roll... well, you wouldn't expect much else from a former pornstar who's had as many sexual partners as he has had days alive. I'm not sure whether you were meant to like Holmes, or whether you were meant to think of him as a big dick (no pun intended), but director James Cox keeps Holmes' portrayal objective, although continuously flickering.

The characters are handled with very sharp directing, which made up for a script you couldn't really consider tip-top. The acting, though, was fantastic. Val Kilmer, less prominent than he used to be, portrays Holmes with a very accurate performance. Dylan McDermott, normally a good guy (e.g. The Practice), pulls off his very shady character convincingly, as does Josh Lucas. And Kate Bosworth, who plays Holmes' teenage lover, also makes a fine appearance. The only actor I had a problem with was Lisa Kudrow. Well, it's not that I have a problem with her personally, it's just that knowing her so well as a comedienne (Friends, duh), I just couldn't take her seriously. I had the same problem with Tom Arnold in Animal Factory (2000).

Wonderland is a very tasteful but graphic depiction of this disturbing story. There's no denying one thing: the film is very arty. Cox uses all sorts of nutty filmmaking styles to enhance the visuals, and as a result the film is quite pleasing aesthetically. At times, the artiness grows a little too big for its own shoes, but fortunately nothing overly pretentious. Wonderland is a very decent film, and one worth checking out.

em_fiction gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 8 Jul 2004

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 8.00
Lowest rating: 8 (by pearly, em_fiction)
Highest rating: 8 (by pearly, em_fiction)
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