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Saturday, September 27, 2003


Written by Neve Campbell and Barbara Turner
Directed by Robert Altman
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

I remember coming out of a movie theater about a decade ago thinking, man, Robert Altman is still able to get it done. The movie was The Player and Altman was already approaching 70. I didn’t think I’d say the same thing 10 years later, but I still say it now. The Company is Altman’s latest. A non-narrative look at the Joffrey Ballet Company in Chicago. Part documentary—part not. He’s taken a few actors and mingled them in with the real dancers to give the audience a glimpse into the life of a professional dancer.

The “story” focuses on Neve Campbell, who is the one who got this project off the ground, and who is also an accomplished dancer herself, but the movie is not about characters, the movie is about dance, specifically that modern/ballet hybrid that the Joffrey Ballet is known for. Never before has Altman let his stories take such a back seat like this, but he’s somehow been able to make the backdrop the focus and still keep me interested. There are quite a few well-photographed dance numbers featured in the film, some seem to comment on things going on in life of the focal character, Ry (Campbell), and some don’t, but all of them are worth watching for the sheer artistry of the performances.

I think Altman is able, with the help of the non-actor cast, to convey that sense of unequaled dedication and perseverance that dancers have for their art. Theirs is a communal life, sequestered backstage and always sharpening their craft, and their personal life often suffers for it. But still, this is their job, some people drive a cab, these people turn their bodies into works of art and do seemingly impossible and beautiful things. Then they go bowling, where they are as awkward as anyone else.

Malcolm McDowell plays the flamboyant director of the company, Alberto Antonelli, who rules with a velvet fist: smooth, smarmy, often changing his mind on a whim--but what he says goes. McDowell’s character is reminiscent of Anton Walbrook’s Boris Lermontov in the king of ballet movies, The Red Shoes, although not quite as classy. He’s the puppet master holding the strings, subordinating the wishes and dreams of any single dancer to the particular needs of each show. The dancers are tools, if one breaks (an ankle, say) she is simply and unceremoniously replaced by another—the show must go on. Altman even seems to be doing the same: subordinating the story to the shows themselves.

As I said, there is no story to speak of, but it does tend to drift to Neve Campbell once in a while, who begins dating a chef played by James Franco. This small side-story features very little dialog (a jarring change from Altman’s habit of overlapping dialog in large groups of people) and is told visually in little vignettes, and told well. I found the relationship to be very sweet. We’d like to see Ry and Josh work out, but Ry is married to her profession, which may spell doom in the end.

The ending came a bit too soon, I could have gone a little longer, but that’s better than the alternative. I’ve been tossing around the idea of seeing a ballet, and this film has moved me a little farther toward the idea.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


Written by James Cox & Captain Mauzner,
Todd Samovitz & D. Loriston Scott
Directed by James Cox
Starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Josh Lucas, Dylan McDermott, Ted Levine, Kate Bosworth
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Truth is stranger than fiction--well, normally it is, anyway. A movie about a bunch of drugged-out hippies who rob a rich and well-known Hollywood nightclub owner, only to have him retaliate by having them brutally murdered, is not all that unique of a plot. I mean, it’s not unfamiliar territory for Hollywood, even when it’s based on a true story. That’s what I was thinking as Wonderland began to roll.

Wonderland is based on the real events that took place at an apartment complex on Wonderland Avenue in the Hollywood Hills in 1981. Four people were found dead-- savagely beaten to death. Police described the scene as one of the most gruesome crime scenes they had ever seen. The hook? Well, one of the key players in the story of the Wonderland Murders was none other than John Holmes, a.k.a. porn film detective “Johnny Wad”, star of somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand XXX films during the ‘70’s. John (Val Kilmer) was an instant star, mainly because a certain part of his anatomy was longer than a standard ruler. But Wonderland the movie takes place after all that, when Holmes’ “stardom” is already fading while his drug use, mainly cocaine and crack, is approaching epic proportions.

As the film began, I was thinking: This isn’t really all that interesting of a story…but then the mechanics of the film began to take center stage. Wonderland is told in the style of Kurosawa’s Rashomon where the same bits of story are told from several different viewpoints; this is the key to enjoying the film. Each segment is filtered through a different character and each, of course, tends to whitewash their role in the whole affair. Each character has a similar account of the story but diverge when it comes to their involvement in the actual killings. Each character has a different take on Holmes as well, appearing as a cool hipster in his own recounting of the story, or as a child-like charmer in the eyes of his girlfriend, and a tragic lost love in the eyes of his wife. Val Kilmer does a good job getting these different facets of Holmes across. The rest of the cast holds up their end, but it’s really Kilmer’s show.

It’s interesting to note that ultimately no one ever really went down for the murders. Holmes was acquitted, Eddie Nash, the target of the robbery and supposed mastermind of the retaliatory killings, wriggled out of the net, but did end up doing a little time for conspiracy to commit the murders. He was released early, however, for health reasons and is a free man today. Holmes died in 1988 of AIDS making it less likely that the full story ever really be learned.

One of the more interesting relationships in the film is that of Holmes and his teenage girlfriend, Dawn Schiller (Kate Bosworth), and his estranged wife, Sharon (Lisa Kudrow). Sharon and Dawn are good friends even though Sharon is still married to Holmes, and the three seem to enjoy one another’s company in a strange way. Sharon and Dawn are still good friends to this day.

The film rates fairly high in style, the kinetic and dynamic editing coupled with a damn good soundtrack helps to smooth out some of the rough spots. It is quite violent in places, and, strangely enough, barely any sex. Strange, considering the focal character’s background. Ultimately I found the film to be fairly compelling, mainly because of Kilmer’s performance, but it does suffer a bit from the lack of focus that this style of storytelling often falls victim to. I generally find it harder to connect emotionally with non-linear plotlines because normal timelines are interrupted, affecting that flow you need to really empathize with a character as you watch their story unfold.

The multiple-viewpoint story construction helps crystallize this idea of perception and truth and the cloudy interaction of the two. As we try to piece each person’s picture of the events together for some coherence, as the jury must have had to do in the courtroom, the truth seems to elude us as it must have eluded them—and it continues to do so today.