Friday, 22 August 2014

TO BE TAKEI - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Kuchar Bros. Film Biographer Jennifer M. Kroot serves up superb doc on Star Trek's Mr. Sulu @TIFF BellLightbox followed by a DVD Release via Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada

NOTE: The Film Corner's Star Ratings will now appear at the end of the review.
One of Takei's favourite movies as a kid was Errol Flynn
in the classic swashbuckler The Adventures of Robin Hood.

During a celebrity roast, Mr. Takei carves
William Shatner up like a RUMP ROAST.
To Be Takei (2014)
Dir. Jennifer M. Kroot

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most of us know George Takei as Mr. Sulu the stalwart Asian helmsman of the multi-racial S.S. Enterprise crew on Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, the immortal science fiction television series (and its subsequent blockbuster feature film spin-offs). In recent years, however, Takei has become a symbol of Asian actors who broke out of the offensive stereotyping American drama prescribed for our Asian brothers and sisters. Maybe most important of all, Takei has been one of the world's most tireless champions for Gay Rights and in particular, Gay marriage. As Star Trek is surely the greatest television series ever produced, Mr. Takei is one of America's most important actors and activists. With this in mind, it's fortunate for Takei and audiences all over the world, that his documentary biographer is the extraordinary Jennifer M. Kroot who studied under the late, great filmmaker George Kuchar and went on to direct It Came From Kuchar, the ultimate big-screen love letter to her mentor George and his brilliant brother Mike - two filmmakers who defined 20th century cinema.

Kroot's sophomore effort proves she's no one-trick pony and has carved a lovely niche for herself as one of the medium's best documentary biographers and, in fact, can be considered as one of the foremost filmmakers working in America today. To Be Takei is absolutely joyous - a funny, touching and compelling portrait of a great, great human being - so much so that you'll only be disappointed that the picture eventually ends. Her first-rate DNA-hardwired filmmaking prowess is responsible for leaving us wanting more, in all the best ways. The movie is as close as we're likely to get to actually being able to mainline Takei as if he was the purest heroine. And yes, she's chosen an ideal subject, but her skill and artistry as a filmmaker is what ultimately raises both Takei and the film to stellar heights. By focusing so resolutely on his achievements with all the aplomb of a master storyteller, Kroot has made a movie that not only dazzles, informs and entertains, but is - without question - as important a film as any of us really want all of our film experiences to be. Such is the living legacy that is George Takei.

At 77 or 30, George Takei is the epitome of HOT!
And such is the consummate artistry of Jennifer M. Kroot that she spins the Takei yarn in the context of 20th Century American history. If you ever wanted a portrait of pre-War life amongst Asian Americans, you'll get it here. If you've yearned for a deeply moving and personal exploration into America's racist policies of interning Japanese Americans in concentration camps upon the attack of Pearl Harbor, you've got it. If you're interested in the childhood memories of life in such a concentration camp from the erudite, detailed perspective of a 77-year-old man, Kroot delivers the goods. For a portrait of a young Asian actor finding his place in an American Cinema replete with disgraceful stereotyping, look no further. If you've a hankering for an illuminating look, through the eyes of said actor, at American television and film history from the 50s to the present, To Be Takei offers a riveting, informative window into the last half-century and beyond. As well, the themes of burgeoning sexuality in a repressed America, living in the closet, coming out of the closet (when the dough-headed, at-the-time California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the state's same-sex marriage legislation) and a fervent commitment to activism, fill the film to overflowing.

If, perhaps most movingly of all, bearing witness to the deep love between two wonderful human beings, Takei and his spouse Brad Altman, you'll discover it here.

And then some.

The aforementioned to-die-for grocery list of sumptuous morsels to tantalize, tickle and touch, doesn't even include Takei's brilliant use of social media, his stellar political career, his unwavering support of public transit, his longtime on-air creative relationship with the insanely brilliant shock-jock Howard Stern, his open and generous relationship with fans and his astounding, obsessive and triumphant production of Allegiance, a musical (!!!!!) about the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Hell, if sainthood wasn't tied so inextricably to the evils of Catholicism, George Takei would be an ideal candidate for such lofty canonization and it's this very thing, Takei's importance and impact upon 20th Century (and beyond) culture, which is what makes Kroot's film so damn terrific. There's no need to provide a warts-and-all look at this great man. There are, so to speak, no warts. There is, however, considerable conflict in his tale which Kroot manages ever-so-deftly to provide a stirring narrative.

dif tor heh smusma - WORDS TO LIVE BY

One of the coolest revelations in Kroot's film, at least to me (being the inveterate John Wayne lover that I am) is the regard with which Takei speaks of "The Duke" giving him a juicy starring role in his epic blockbuster war extravaganza The Green Berets (you can read my own in-depth review of the film HERE). It's a movie I love deeply, in spite of its clearly skewed politics, but the fact remains that Wayne, like it or not, broke incredible ground by choosing to make a Vietnam War film at the height of a war that was, and still is, one of America's many dark hours.

That said, seeing this reasonably extended segment in Kroot's film reminded me of how important it is for artists - especially those with "pull" - to always seek out that which is as audacious and unheard of as Wayne did. To not only give Takei a rich role in a high-profile film suggests Wayne's acumen as a filmmaker, but reminds me of how many such individuals, including Takei, pushed all manner of limits - artistically and politically. As well, Kroot's film contrasts this with the horrendous use of Takei in a stupid Jerry Lewis comedy which moronically fell back upon the racist stereotyping of Asians. Takei's regret in this regard, is deeply and profoundly moving.

Needless to say, Takei's regard for Wayne is also touching as is his respect for the visionary genius of Gene Roddenberry to realize that a futuristic space voyage on the scale depicted in Star Trek would, in fact, have to be populated with a multicultural crew.

Kroot herself populates the film with a multitude of faces, places and media to relate this great story. Using archival clips and photos, as well as a variety of all-new interviews (expertly handled, by the way), she boldly takes us to places no documentary biographer has dared to go by affording herself with all the available tools anyone might use, but does so in a fashion that's so seamless, we never feel weighted down by tropes, but instead are veritably cascaded on a journey that takes us into Takei's heart and mind, and in so doing delivers a portrait of life, politics, art and history.

Some of the more delightful interviews come from expected and not-so-expected places. The talented young actor John Cho (the current Sulu and co-star of the hilarious Harold and Kumar films) discusses the childhood thrills he (and his family) experienced whenever Takei came on screen. Sex columnist Dan Savage points out the obvious - how unbelievably HOT Takei is. And perhaps the most literate and heartfelt thoughts come from the great actor/director Leonard Nimoy who shared the Star Trek stage with Takei as everyone's favourite Vulcan, Mr. Spock.

And in the words of Mr. Spock, Kroot has fashioned a film that will ensure that George Takei will "Live long and prosper" - for now and forever.

5-Stars, Highest Film Corner Accolade

To Be Takei is platforming theatrically across North America with a flagship engagement at the majestic TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, to be followed by a massive home entertainment release via Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada and Anchor Bay on October 7, 2014. Feel free to order directly from the Amazon links below.