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.
SANTA CLAUSE 2
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.