To Be Takei


It's always a great day to be OK to be Takei!

It’s always a great day to be OK to be Takei!

(2014) Documentary (Starz Digital Media) George Takei, Brad Takei, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, John Cho, Daniel Inouye, Norman Mineta, Lea Salonga, Dan Savage, Howard Stern, Jay Kuo, Tom Ammiano, Eddie Paskey, Lorenzo Thorne, Telly Leung, Jimi Yamaichi. Directed by Jennifer R. Kroot

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that it must be great to be George Takei. Beloved Star Trek actor, Facebook sensation, activist and advocate for Japanese-Americans and the gay community, he has been described as America’s gay uncle and that might not be far from the truth.

But when you consider the things he’s been through – being imprisoned in two different internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the no less damaging prison that came from being a closeted actor throughout most of his career (he didn’t come out until 2005 and then in response to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of the gay marriage bill.

He has overcome some difficult, dark days but he has emerged on the other end with a disingenuous smile and a live and let live attitude that might lead some to underestimate how forceful and passionate he is for the causes he believes in. Even his feud with William Shatner doesn’t seem to be something he takes all that seriously; I get the sense he doesn’t feel any ill will towards the actor. Shatner, interviewed for the film, comes off as somewhat befuddled about the fuss and a bit standoffish – “I really don’t know the man,” he protests on several occasions.

Still, I don’t know if I could be as cheerful as Takei given his circumstances. What keeps him sane, I think, is his relationship with his husband Brad. Brad is kind of the sensible, detail-oriented one in the relationship. He takes George’s crazy schedule and makes it work. Sometimes he can be a bit of a nag, other times he can be a bit startled at George’s occasional penchant for oversharing, sometimes he can be a bit of a nit-picker. Still, the love that is there is obvious and deep.

In fact, watching the interaction between George and Brad made me think “That’s me and my wife!” There is really no difference in their relationship than my relationship with my wife other than that my relationship is with a woman and George Takei’s is with a man. They both drive each other crazy upon occasion but they both lean on and rely on each other – and there’s no doubt either man would take a bullet for the other, literally and figuratively. That’s how most good marriages work. People who are fuzzy about whether gay people should be married should watch these two gay people together. They are indeed, the prototypical gay married couple.

I did find that aspect of the documentary inspiring; I also found that the scenes of George’s activism with both Japanese-American causes as well as gay causes to be among the most interesting in the film which is something since I’m a proud Trekker and love the little insights that come in from the surviving members of the crew of the Enterprise. As a Trekker I might have wanted more on his era in Star Trek but the film critic in me acknowledges that would only appeal to a certain segment, myself included.

However, the film critic in me frowns on the way that Kroot bounces around in subject matter, from the internment to George’s early Hollywood years to his discovering he was gay in high school to his Facebook stardom to his relationship with his parents. I would have preferred something a little more linear in terms of telling Takei’s story, although something tells me that George himself isn’t the most linear of men.

A project close to Takei’s heart these days is Allegiance, a musical about the Japanese-American experience in the internment camps that Takei starred in (along with Salonga). The show is largely informed by Takei’s own experiences and shows a depth in his acting that he rarely gets a chance to display. The musical set records at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater and is expected to debut on Broadway during the upcoming season.

Takei himself makes a fascinating subject for a documentary and it’s high time that there was one made about him. There are some great archival photographs and such but I think the focus here is rightly on the relationship between George and Brad – which is clearly the central focus in George’s life – and on his activism. It is impressive that in his 70s George Takei has become much more of a cultural phenomenon than he was as a younger man, and continues to work an impressive schedule not only as an actor but with personal appearances as well as speaking engagements for his various causes. Takei is a national treasure and we should appreciate him as such.

REASONS TO GO: Takei is as interesting a person as you think he is and probably more so. Does a lot to further the cause of gay marriage.
REASONS TO STAY: The documentary jumps around from subject to subject in kind of a willy-nilly fashion. May not have enough Star Trek material for some Trekkers.
FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Takei was born with the first name of Hosato, but was called George by his father, an Anglophile (as his son later became) after the coronation of King George VI in 1937.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before You Know It
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Skeleton Twins

The Front Man


Why, yes, we're in a band.

Why, yes, we’re in a band.

(2014) Documentary (DevlinPix) Jim Wood, Christie Wood, Dan Snyder, John Kayne, Glen Burtnik, Graham Maby, Howard Stern, Beetlejuice, Robin Givens. Directed by Paul Devlin

Florida Film Festival 2014

We are all the stars of our own documentary feature. Our lives are, to us, as important and meaningful as any we see on the screen or read about in the newspapers and history books. The one thing we all have in common is that our lives are ours to live.

Jim Wood is one of those guys who not only gets to have his own documentary feature, other people are going to get to see it as well. In all honesty he’s a pretty ordinary guy in a lot of respects – he’d probably be the first to say he’s just a guy from Jersey – but he has hopes of being a rock star. Or at least, he did.

He did something about it too. He has a band – the Loaded Poets – that have been playing in Jersey bars and recording tracks for about 27 years now, dating back to when they were in high school. He and his band mates – Dan Snyder and John Kayne – have been plugging away for nearly all that time. They have no illusions that they’re going to hit it big. That’s just about impossible to do even if you’re young and attractive and while these guys aren’t necessarily bad looking, they’re well past the young portion of the equation. In other words, you won’t be seeing them on American Idol ever and also as unlikely on such shows as America’s Got Talent or The Voice.

Which is likely all right by them. They want success on their own terms which means the songs come first, and in all honesty they aren’t half bad. However, Jim has joined his bandmates in wedded bliss – and Jim’s got a gorgeous wife in Christie. She’s very supportive of his music – going so far as to make out with Beetlejuice on the Howard Stern show just to get her husband’s webpage advertised on his show – but she realizes neither one of them are getting any younger and the window for having a family is beginning to swing shut with an ominous creak.

Jim is a wacky kind of guy who sometimes looks at least on-camera like he doesn’t take much seriously but that would be doing him a disservice. While I have no doubt that he’s a kid at heart, one gets the feeling that when he needs to be he’s smart and mature. The decision to have the kid alters his life as he trades one dream for another – although he continues to make music on his own terms.

While fame eludes him, he talks to a couple of local boys who grabbed a fair slice of fame of their own – Glen Burtnik who had a minor hit in the ’80s and was a member of Styx for several years, and Graham Maby, best known as the bass player for the Joe Jackson band. Both offer insights into fame, rock and roll and how to integrate it into a good life.

This is like watching a documentary about your buddy down the block. Devlin, who has known Jim since kindergarten, uses home movies and years of footage that he has taken to compile a look at an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. A huge fan of the Z-Movie Alien Factor, he seeks out its director Don Dohler and after impressing the affable director by quoting dialogue, casts both Jim and Christie in one of his last films (he passed away in 2006) as victims of vampires.

While the movie violates one of the prime commandments of home movies – your child is always far cuter to you than it is to everyone else – to be fair that’s a violation that occurs in a number of documentaries. Otherwise, Jim, Christie and their coterie are people you wouldn’t mind sharing a beer with at a barbecue down the street. This isn’t the most important documentary you’ll ever see but I could have spent more time with the people onscreen and at the end of the day that’s about the highest compliment you can pay to any kind of movie.

REASONS TO GO: Very human. Likable subjects.

REASONS TO STAY: Not really vital.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some sexuality and a few instances of foul language here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Devlin’s local TV pilot Slammin’  which presented the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe semi-final poetry slam as a sporting event, was nominated for two local Emmys.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Anvil: The Story of Anvil

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Slingshot