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Auto Focus
DVD disk
09.27.2004 By: JoBlo
Auto Focus order
Paul Schrader

Greg Kinnear
Willem Dafoe
Maria Bello


star Printer-Friendly version
Based on the true-life of actor Bob Crane (Kinnear), star of the hit 60s television series "Hogan's Heroes", this film provides us with an insight into the beginning of Crane's career in Hollywood, as well as his introduction to the world of sex, promiscuity, videotape, orgies and a man by the name of John Carpenter (Dafoe). We journey through his life as his perfect marriage and career begin to fall apart and his addiction to sex gets out of control.
An intriguing film about a man about whom I did not know much before my viewing, but got to know quite well thanks to the superb job done by lead Kinnear, as well as the man who wrote TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, Paul Schrader, who directs this film with obvious focus (sorry about the pun) on the style utilized to parallel Bob Crane's life, and even more specifically, his descent into sex and nothingness. If there is one thing that I might hold against the film however, it would be its lack of insight into the question of why Crane became so destructively obsessed with sex and film in the first place. The picture does a great job of establishing its characters, portrayed brilliantly by Kinnear, who is about as ideal as you would think for the introductory "Christian wholesome" character of Crane, but who also, surprisingly, brings to the forefront Crane's more obsessive and sick side, nearing the end of the picture. He also provides us with more than enough sympathy for the character, in order for us to give a shit as he continues to ruin his life and utilize women and sex as sport.

Props also go out to Dafoe who continues his consistent great work as the "creepy" guy in films, but with a handful of sympathy put forth for his sad-sack character as well. The duo actually provide for a great team, with each man seemingly "using" the other for something or another, while never really taking a look around to see where their lives are going. I also liked the "gay" undertones as well...nice touch. The film itself is also well-paced, clear and filled with more T&A and sex than any film since BOOGIE NIGHTS. I would have liked to have had a much better soundtrack, which was almost non-existent (other than the brooding Angelo Badalamenti's score during the film's second half), but I guess that's just not Schrader's style. The director does a great job of making everything look about as clean and sanitized as the world in ONE HOUR PHOTO though, but also switches gears very nicely as the star begins to fall from his cloud, bringing in everything from hand-held cameras, extreme close-ups, quick cuts and everything else that you'd think to include for a visual demonstration of one man's disintegration.

I've always been a great fan of all biographies and this one was no different. If this story or the premise of this film sound interesting to you, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy it, with great performances, a quick pace and an ongoing mystery to boot. Oh, and in case it's not already implied by its very nature, the movie is also very sexually detailed and dark, so if that ain't your jive, skip this sexual voyeuristic appetizer.
Wow. It looks like these folks really gave a shit about their dvd and we see that through 3 different commentary tracks, including one from director Paul Schrader, one from producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who wrote THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT) and writer Michael Gerbosi as well as one from Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. Schrader's commentary is top-notch as he talks constantly and provides many informative tidbits about the production (he confirms that Carpenter was, in fact, bi-sexual). I could listen to this guy all night...he loves movies and he knows his shite; two very important qualities in any track. Kinnear and Dafoe are also a decent listen, with Greg talking a lot more than Dafoe, and certainly coming off like he really got into his character. Dafoe is just a great man-- I wish I could drink with him sometime (he was pissed that Schrader used a body double for his B&W TV scenes). Their track isn't as animated as Schrader's though, a few dead spots here and there. Love Dafoe's laugh! The two producers and the writer track is also pretty good, but to be honest, by that point, I was pretty sick of listening to "behind-the-scenes" about the film. They do offer a lot more background though, how they got it all together and shit, and they keep things moving the whole way through (they sound a lot like typical producers...big, big, BIG!!!!).

One of the best things about the invention of DVDs is that we also get to see extra information about many films that are based on fact or a real life person, and this disc is no different. A two-part documentary called "Murder in Scottsdale" (approx. 50 minutes) showcases interviews with all of the real-life participants involved around the murder of Bob Crane, including most of the actual police officers and lawyers present at the time, as well as members of Crane and Carpenter's actual family. The documentary is a fascinating feature to watch immediately after the film, since it basically take places immediately thereafter. Sadly, many of the cops at the time botched up the crime scene pretty badly and the conclusion is particularly unsatisfying for anyone looking for closure.

The disc also includes 5 deleted scenes, most of which go over a minute, including one particularly interesting opening sequence which Schrader himself liked originally, but which an "executive" advised him to remove, for which he is actually thankful on the supporting commentary track (which you can turn on or off during the scenes). There's also a 7-minute featurette entitled "The Making Of", which is about as close to a "studio" plug that you will see on this dvd, including quickie interviews with Kinnear, Dafoe, Bello (aka cutie-pie) and Schrader, all sprouting good thoughts all around. Crane's son, who acted as the film's "technical advisor" also chimes in. The Special Edition disc also includes trailers for the film.
AUTO FOCUS is one of those films that got lost in the shuffle last year, with a limited release and even less "hype", but if you like biographical tales, especially those with mysterious circumstances along with solid performances from its leads (and folks "getting all up in that"), this flick is sure to tickle your cinematic genitalia. The extras are also much appreciated for a film with such limited fanfare, especially for anyone who loves them commentary tracks and real-life documentaries about the film in question. A solid dvd!
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