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Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

This is nearly as strange a double feature as the day I saw THE POWERPUFF GIRLS MOVIE and ICHI THE KILLER. I hope Capone hasn’t been permanently scarred...

Hey, Harry. Capone in Chicago here with the double-bill to end all double-bills. The cinematic equivalent to eating a bowl of piping hot soup with an ice water chaser, if you will. Despite the fact that the 38th Chicago International Film Festival is well under way (my reports are coming soon), I managed to squeeze in a couple of very different early morning screenings in between festival outings. Now actually, one of these two movies (guess which one!) is a part of the festival (I believe there are a pair of screenings this coming weekend) but I saw a pre-festival screening elsewhere.

So here they are...


There are few things more fun than demystifying celebrities in a public forum; just ask the producers of the “E! True Hollywood Story.” But Bob Crane was one guy who didn’t need much help having his celebrity luster tarnished. Crane went from popular L.A. radio host to the most popular man on television in “Hogan’s Heroes” to washed up actor and sex addict in a relatively short time frame. He also went from church-going husband and father to womanizing amateur pornographer (with himself as start most times) remarkably fast. And his rise to stardom and fall into the hellfires of debauchery are amazingly chronicled in AUTO FOCUS, the brutal and stark naked (literally and figuratively) new film by Paul Schrader. Schrader is a hit-and-miss director (AMERICAN GIGOLO, LIGHT OF DAY, PATTY HEARST, LIGHT SLEEPER, AFFLICTION) and a more-hit-than-miss writer (screenplays for TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, MOSQUITO COAST, CITY HALL, and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD), but AUTO FOCUS is clearly one for the hit column. Working from a script by Michael Gerbosi, Schrader has told on the finest films ever made about a Hollywood downfall.

But Schrader’s work on the film would have meant nothing without the astonishing performance of Greg Kinnear as Crane. I completely forgot what the real Bob Crane looked like while watching AUTO FOCUS. Kinnear owns this part, and I can’t imagine he’ll ever do anything better in his career. There have been hints that he’s better than many people give him credit for (an Oscar nomination for AS GOOD AS IT GETS, for example), but nothing prepared me for this. The way he plays up Crane’s loveable television persona one minute, then turns into swinger extraordinare with the enabling assistance of John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a dealer in state-of-the-art video equipment (including North America’s first home video tape recorder) who introduces Crane to his womanizing lifestyle. We learn early on that Crane isn’t exactly innocent before fame corrupted his life. His wife (Rita Wilson) finds dirty magazines (“photo studies” Crane explains) in their garage, but that’s nothing compared to Crane’s volumes of albums filled with photos of women’s breasts, women who Crane or Carpenter or both has conquered in their time together. Even more pathetically, years after “Hogan’s Heroes” went off the air, Crane made a second career of parlaying his recognizability into a come on to seduce women to be in his home movies.

AUTO FOCUS does a remarkable job of showing us the slow and deliberate path of Crane’s life and eventual downfall. There are few surprises here even if you’re totally unfamiliar with Crane’s biography. I mean, the screenplay is adapted from a book called “The Death of Bob Crane,” so you kind of know where everything is going. But that doesn’t take anything away from this film. The recreation of the “Hogan’s” cast and set is outstanding, especially Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer and Michael E. Rodgers as Richard Dawson. Maria Bello also shines as Crane’s co-star and eventual second wife Patricia, who goes into the marriage knowing Bob’s a swinger and still becomes so disgusted with him that she has to leave.

But it’s Kinnear and Dafoe who carry the day. The film implies that perhaps Carpenter had latent homosexual leanings toward the ultra-straight Crane, and when Crane tries to straighten out his life and salvage his career, Carpenter flipped. There are a pair of scenes near the end of the film when Crane effectively “breaks up” with Carpenter that are show pieces for Dafoe. His work here effectively cleanses the pallet after his ham-job in SPIDER-MAN. I had a nearly identical feeling after watching AUTO FOCUS that I did after seeing BOOGIE NIGHTS: dirty, in need of a shower, yet still refreshed because you know you’ve just seen something utterly transcendent. The way that the death of Bob Crane is handled is almost incidental. You know it’s coming so Schrader doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. Instead he rightly focuses on the leach-leech relationship that Crane and Carpenter shared and how it had nowhere to go but where it did. Driven by some of the best performances of the year, AUTO FOCUS takes the celebrity cliche to a new and darker level. You will never watch Crane’s reruns quite the same.


My proverbial cold shower over the weekend was the eight-years-in-the-making SANTA CLAUSE 2. Has somebody been screaming for this film for eight years? Probably Tim Allen’s agent, actually. Allen follows up his biggest on-screen feature film (not including the TOY STORY voice work) with a return visit to the North Poll as the man who began life as divorced dad Scott Calvin and ended up becoming Santa Claus. Everybody’s back, including Eric Lloyd as Scott’s son Charlie; Wendy Crewson as Scott’s ex-wife; Judge Reinhold as her new husband; and David Krumholtz as lead elf Bernard. The film opens with Scott loosing his Santa weight, beard, and magic. Apparently there’s a clause in the Santa clause that says he has to find a Mrs. Claus before a certain date or he loses his Santa powers. Well we wouldn’t want that, would we? At the same time, Charlie has been misbehaving in school and being punished by his principal Ms. Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell). Scott comes back to his family to straighten things out and find a wife. Since Ms. Newman is the only of-age, unmarried woman in the entire film, it doesn’t take long to figure out who’s going to end up with who.

The print of THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 that I saw has a few effects shots unfinished, but I feel fairly confident that this is the cut of the film that most will see. But after seeing something as colorful and eye-popping as THE GRINCH, this movie seems tired. The views of Santa’s workshops (which look more like sweat shops with children dressed as elves running around in a factory-like environment) are lame. While Allen is trying so hard to be funny and interesting, everyone else in the film just looks sleepy. And did I mention the ridiculous sub-plot involving a life-size toy Santa that takes over the North Pole while Scott is trying to find a wife. Allen also plays this roll as the plasticized toy Santa, and it’s just doesn’t work. He creates an army of toy soldiers and rolls over the elves like the Nazis invading Paris. I remember having a certain amount of affection for the original SANTA CLAUSE, but this sequel is weak and uninspired. Perhaps Tim Allen should devote his life to making GALAXY QUEST sequels instead. I believe SANTA CLAUSE 2 opens on November 1.


Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 8, 2002, 10:29 a.m. CST

    wasn't there an Unsolved Mysteries about Crane as well?

    by durhay

    UPDATE! (Cue Update Music)

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 10:59 a.m. CST

    "As colorful and eye-popping as The Grinch"?!?

    by Osmosis Jones


  • Oct. 8, 2002, 11:41 a.m. CST

    I'm flabbergasted...

    by Garbageman33 all the good reviews I've seen of Auto Focus. I saw it in Toronto and thought it sucked. And judging by the crowd reaction (or lack thereof) I wasn't alone. The film doesn't really show Crane's downward spiral. It simply shows him doing exactly the same weird shit for two hours straight. Worse yet, it offers no insight into how he became such a sick bastard in the first place. Plus, I never bought Greg Kinnear. He's simply too good-looking to play Crane. Sure, Kinnear can pick up chicks because he looks like Greg Kinnear. But how was Crane (an average looking guy at best) able to do it? We'll never know. Oh, and one more thing, I found the film totally antiseptic. All the clubs he goes into look like the Bellagio and all the women he degrades look like supermodels. Given the subject matter, I wanted to feel disgusted. Instead, I just felt cheated out of two hours of my life.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 11:41 a.m. CST

    You know, I hope they actually cover the loophole of the wife of

    by empyreal0

    ...or are we to suppose that the previous Santa was likewise unmarried and would have lost his powers soon anyway? This is a ridiculous attempt to cash in on the success of the first. Some things should never be made - or at least should be delegated to the "straight to video" team. And I disagree about Galaxy Quest getting a sequel, that movie stands alone just fine. These are one-hit wonder movies, they run off a clever gimmick, and they tell a complete story. There is no need to make a sequel, it will only do the story harm to attempt a franchise. The last thing we need is ANOTHER lame sequel we all try deperately to deny every happened.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 12:24 p.m. CST

    The North Poll?

    by Mr_Morden75

    What kind of questions did they ask in the NORTH POLL???

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 12:36 p.m. CST

    Dafoe's ham-job in Spiderman?

    by MasterShake

    Dafoe's portrail of Norman Osbourne was brilliant! He managed to show his human side and psycopathic side without a trace of camp (i.e. Nicholson's Joker). He stayed in character and treated the material as serious as a heart attack like the true profesional he is. This reviewer obviously never read a Spiderman comic in his life.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 12:44 p.m. CST

    Does Mrs. Claus

    by Bloodstained

  • "All I wants for Christmas is me two front teef, bruvver."

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 12:53 p.m. CST

    "You can't fool me! There's no such thing as Sanity Clau

    by UTellEmSteveDave

    Chico Marx said it, not me.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 2:03 p.m. CST

    Willem Dafoe RULED THE EARTH as Norman Osborne/Green Goblin!

    by Man_of_Kerioth

    One of the best villains (or rather supervillains) of recent years, perhaps even of all time! Capone probably thought that Hugo Weaving licked balls as Agent Smith, I imagine.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 2:09 p.m. CST


    by brena

    I bet Santa Clause 2 still does well...I'm sure that there are folks out there that loved the first and are planning to see this one. Like me.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 2:39 p.m. CST

    The only movie I want to see Tim Allen in is...

    by el che'

    ...a survailance tape showing him, draped in pink lace, doin' a bump off a hooker's back in some ratty motel room. "Don't cop my 8-ball, BITCH!"

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 5:25 p.m. CST


    by TomVee

    Next Allen will be doing Jungle 2 Jungle II. What a hack he has turned out to be. He was pretty funny in the original SC, though. Tom Arnold, he ain't.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 5:40 p.m. CST

    Dafoe in "Spiderman" is a Razzie waiting to happen

    by Uga

    "(Dafoe) managed to show his human side and psychopathic side without a trace of camp," he said, without a trace of truth.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 6:01 p.m. CST

    LMAO, Luis WU!!!

    by empyreal0

    DaFoe's Golblin was done without a trace of camp? Surely you weren't watching the same movie as I did. DeFoe's acting was far from brilliant - it was some of the worst melodramatic pap I've seen in ages! Honestly, it looked like they dropped Jeremy Irons from Dungeons and Dragons into the ol' power ranger suit. The scene with the mask where he's crawling on the floor is just absolutely atrocious. The man couldn't do schizophrenia if his life depended on it, and I know I'm going to get flak for this, but he single handedly toppled Spiderman from A-list material to mindless summer popcorn flick. Now what I find equally apalling is that you list Nicholson's joker as being an example of camp. If there's any actor that can pull off sheer lunacy, it's Nicholson, and his portrayal of the Joker was no exception. Jack's performance was in no way perfect, of course, but it was far and away better than Willem's. If you want to talk camp, though, I think we can all agree it's all there to be found in the fourth Batman movie, the one we'd all like to forget. It helps to put things into perspective when you can size em up against crap like Batman and Robin.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 6:17 p.m. CST


    by heymanniceshot

    Tim Allen - like other comedians such as Joe Piscapoe, Roseanne Barr,etc. - suffers from BOB NEWHART SYNDROME: fits great on the small screen but lacks the charisma, charm or intelligence to really do anything on the large screen. SC and Quest were just exceptions to the rule, but everyone falls into exceptions. Let like Jay-Z told Nas, having a hot product every 10 years isn't a great average. Incidently, shouldn't the actor who played the son be too fucking old for this afterschool tripe by now? I guess it beats a career in gay porn...

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 7:48 p.m. CST

    Looking forward to Autofocus

    by Son Of Batboy

    I don't need some spoon fed psycho-babble to explain Crane's obsession. Human behavior consists of seriously weird mysterious shit. Any attempt at an explanation would venture into the kind of pompous sermonizing simplistic crap better suited to one of those Dr.Phil type shows. I'm glad to finally read about a film that explores the the seedier, obsessive side of humanity, that actually has depth to it, a movie for adults, instead of this cartoonish PG-13 junk that populates the screens. I can't wait to see the performances by these two actors, especially Defoe who's been great in so many films. I think there's no question he was simply cashing a paycheck for Spider-man and treated the material for what it was worth.

  • Oct. 8, 2002, 8:41 p.m. CST

    Autofocus Is Way Overrated

    by Hey

    I keep reading glowing reviews of this picture -- I caught it in Telluride and was underwhelmed to say the least. Kinnear's performance is emblematic of the whole movie -- it's convincing but, in the end, who really cares? Schrader's direction is so square and literal, the whole thing comes off as a glorified E! True Hollywood Story -- which means it will play much better on TV, when you'll have something to flip to when it gets dull.

  • Oct. 9, 2002, 2:19 a.m. CST

    Hey, Stormbringer...

    by Three Quarks

    ...what's your friend's number? And did they let her keep the wigs?

  • Oct. 9, 2002, 3:11 a.m. CST


    by Beatrix_kiddo

    What theater did you see Auto Focus in? How about Santa Clause 2? I spent some time in Chicago and love hearing about it.

  • Oct. 9, 2002, 4:47 a.m. CST

    Tim Allen argues Kal-El out of being dead with the list of who&#

    by Lordhoban

    Who could say no to Santa Clause? So of course, Superman has to come back, save the day and help Santa deliver all his presents to all the good boys and girls...

  • Oct. 9, 2002, 2:47 p.m. CST

    The North "POLL" Wasn't that in Showgirls?

    by retrocrush


  • Oct. 9, 2002, 3:04 p.m. CST

    William Dafoe

    by Feudal Fetus

    You know, I disagree with the whole "without a trace of camp" thing, regarding SpiderMan. But his performance still fit, for some reason. Besides, I never thought I'd live to see a big Hollywood movie include the classic line: "SleeeeeeeeeeeP!"

  • Oct. 9, 2002, 9:13 p.m. CST


    by manwiththedogs

    and you KNOW that its true.

  • Dec. 5, 2002, 7:28 a.m. CST

    Santa Clause 2 is a winner

    by Agent Cass

    I, for one, actually enjoyed this sequel. I love the Santa Claus legend, and was intrigued when the first "Santa Clause" was released. When this second one came out, I thought they would corrupt the original with a terrible sequel. Well, I was wrong. They almost overdid it with the Toy Santa at the end, and I thought that the new Mrs. Claus should have had a more interesting part in the wedding at the end (i.e. changing her appearance as well, though we did get to see that in the end credits). However, the moments where Charlie reveals why he is so conflicted (I'm censoring this for people who haven't seen the movie yet), where Scott used his magic to talk to the little girl and at the Christmas party (I loved that scene), and Bernard's scenes were great (wish we had seen something with Bernard trying to get out of lock-down, it would have been wonderful). This movie is definitely going to go on my shelf when it comes out on DVD and I may end up buying the old one on DVD to match it. I was even more pleased to see that everyone from the original movie had returned, even Wendy Crewson. I was curious why they changed Neil's name to Ned though, in the credits. Isn't there someone who checks for consitency?