Tuesday, August 19, 2014

More mileage accrues to old Star Trek franchise, as Jennifer M. Kroot's TO BE TAKEI debuts

Wow. They're still here. Most of 'em, anyway. TrustMovies is speaking of the old (and original) group of actors from Star Trek, that silly TV series in which the Starship Enterprise went zooming around the universe, teaching (and sometimes learning) important moral lessons to and from all those alien species it encountered. Couldn't you just puke?  I did -- and quit watching that show very early on. Ditto the fairly dumb initial series of movies made from it. It has only been with the last couple of new Star Trek movies that I've finally come aboard. Sure, the moral lessons are still there, but, whew, they're packed into films that move and thrill and entertain (and feature a cast that can act and does not linger over each line of dialog as though it were something by Shakespeare).

But, hey, there is plenty of camp fun to be gleaned from this over-the-top series, and a lot of it can be found in the new documentary TO BE TAKEI, from filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot (shown at right), all about the life and times of the gentlemen, George Takei, who helped break the Asian actor barrier, later did some good PR for the cause of gay rights, and is now most concerned with getting out the tale, in the form of a new musical entitled Allegiance, of the Japanese-American internment camps set up during World War II. (Those camps were disgusting displays of rabid prejudice from a people that supposedly prided itself on "democracy.")

Much of that camp fun comes from Mr Takei himself. (His name, by the way, is pronounced Tack-Kay, rather than the way in which William Shatner -- who is shat upon rather often and probably deservedly in this documentary -- pronounces it: Tack-eye.) From his plastered grin (see poster above, photo below, and just about any and every shot in the documentary) to his so-happy-you-could-croak attitude and line delivery, this guy is always, and I mean always "on." You'll be looking for the off switch within minutes.

You won't find it, however, because this attitude is one I've often encountered in celebrities. And you simply must put up with it. While Mr. Takei may seem as fake as can be -- he also appears to come by this fakery in an honest, unavoidable way, if this makes any sense.

The most interesting part of the documentary features Takei's childhood history: that of his and his family's internments in those awful WWII camps. Watching and hearing about all this, you can fully understand why that new musical is so important to him now. We also get some info on the fellow's unsuccessful political campaign (above).

Beyond this, the movie is mostly George's career, with some stops and starts along the way until Star Trek (above) arrives upon the scene. From the first, we meet his partner/spouse, Brad, below, right, who appears to be quite something: funny, shy, real and strong. We learn about their work for the gay rights movement, and George admits he probably ought to have "come out" earlier than he did. Times were different back then, and careers more easily stalled via the "taint" of homosexuality. His talk about "playing straight" on Star Trek and how he tried to get its creator Gene Roddenberry to do an episode devoted to dealing with homosexuality is particularly interesting.

Brad appears to be a good businessperson and also someone who can help keep George "centered." In the large extended Takei family, there's seems to be a bit of competition, too: "I've never been into the celebrity thing," notes one of his sisters, with a bit of a sneer. George and Brad took care of Takei's mom during her final years, and in one late scene in a cemetery, I may have a detected a nod to Shoah on the part of the filmmaker.

We hear from everyone from from an enchanted fan (above) to BD Wong and John ChoDan Savage and the late Senator Daniel Inouye as to what Takei has meant to them over the years. Of all people, Howard Stern seems to have had a soft spot for Takei, who was often a guest on his show.

Occasionally the movie is too cute for its own good (as is Takei himself). Overall, though, it's a pretty winning compilation. To Be Takei opens theatrically this Friday, August 22, in 25 cities across the country. Here in New York City, it'll plays the AMC Loew's Village VII, and in the Los Angeles area, look for it at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas and Laemmle's Playhouse 7. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here, and then click on SCREENINGS.

Note: this film will also debut on August 22 via various On Demand 
platforms, including iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. 

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