TO BE TAKEI (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"It's okay to be Takei."
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Yes it is. The man, the myth, the attainable George Takei, who came into living rooms and theaters as Mr. Sulu, had the keen awareness, taste and adaptability skills that helped him make a leap from only a Gene Roddenbury pop culture phenomenon foot soldier, to become in his own right, a millennial pop-culture zeitgeist. The above quote was triggered as a comical but firm response to a then story of the State of Tennessee trying to pass legislature to ban its public school students from officially using the work “gay” to reference any and all school lessons to entrench that it was not alright, in their view: to be born of that orientation and lifestyle. Takei, who is fiercely gay and proudly out, decided with shrewd acuity, jumped on the marketing opportunity and suggested that instead of using “gay” to just use “Takei”! And as we know by demonstration of his over 5 million Facebook followers, it’s just not okay, its really damn good.

KEYWORDS
Campy, devilish, light hearted, balanced, truthful, determined, politically astute, complex

THE GOOD
Takei’s voice is syrupy good
Movie’s infectious delivery
Sincere message
Movie’s Narrative Spirit

THE BAD
Unsmooth emotional transitions
Flat in pacing during key parts
Focused too much on the husband as part of the subject
A missed opportunity to uncover more about his involvement with ‘Allegiance’ production
Weak technical direction at times


WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
A keen documentary that encapsulates over seven decades of the life of actor and activist George Takei who has boldly journeyed from a WWII internment camp, to the helm of the starship Enterprise, to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans, while also showing George and his husband Brad on the star's playful and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT 
Premiering on January 18th at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up by Starz Digital Media Distribution, the documentary shows the career of Star Trek actor George Takei, and paints a well-rounded portrait of a then young Japanese-American who at first survived Internment camp and became a rare Asian American movie and TV star  (when it was truly difficult) with one of the most iconic pop culture sci-fi franchises of all time. The documentary directly puts Takei right in the center, where by his own admission is where he always wanted or needed to be. The film focuses on Takei’s personal and professional life and how both worlds would clash with ferocious tension, leaving Takei to make some hard choices in the face of post-modern racial stereotypes exercised by Hollywood, that would threaten at times, the very talent that got him there in the first place. You are forced, when first watching the film, to take notice how he deftly reintroduced himself to millennials, onto geeky pop culture children of his original fanbase, and did it on his own terms without having to ungraciously pimp himself using the star trek brand. The appreciation of Takei is that for longevity’s sake compared to his star-trek companions there are no determinant signs he is slowing down. There is an unknowingly refreshing complexity that Takei slides back and forth from when telling his story with a punchy nuanced zeal.

The movie's emotional intonation is an interplay between Takei’s syrupy golden voice and how it’s delivered pressingly tight between his multifaceted persona of comic pop ingénue and a sharp booming advocate. He demonstrates an ability in this movie to relish how people view him and how he perpetuates it to a proud delirium. Crossing over movie star currency between Howard Stern, and socio-political lectures is the take-away with him. He is layered but still approachable. He is complex but understandable. He is psychologically cutting in the most honorable, best intended, and warm way. There are many shades of the man that create the whole experience.

Most of the punch from the movie comes from an exaggerated simmering beef between Shatner and Takei. It’s a cross between little brother wanting to ankle bite big brother's crossover template, but also a dismissive reticent coldness by Shatner as he recoils and denounces any relationship with Takei, even though he informs us by participating in an interview, sans gun to head. You never know with Shatner, as he is not a man, he is an ad-lib. Takei seems genuine in his perplexing animosity, as what you see with him is what you get, leaving you satisfied. You never question where you stand with Takei, and that is his reverence. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t “mockmentarize” the alum beef by choosing to write it off like a Takei deprecated giggle. The movie’s heart was ever present, but there was nothing to drive the presentation through its more flaccid moments. A lot of attention is given to Takei’s husband, and at first, introduction is given where he isn’t just the bad cop to Takei’s good cop but more like Takei’s co-star. This is where he should have stayed, playing off his famous spouse. However, his background was overexposed and fleshed out. I really didn’t mind him and the movie didn’t suffer from his testimonial, but let’s stay focused. I’m here for Takei, not for him. Takei, for mainstream audiences really need this movie to find out more about who he is and what separates him from the possible ignorant perception of him being a caricature that can come from long-term association/relevance of Star Trek. So, this film needs every opportunity to show the side of Takei that we don’t see past the gratuitous “whatever-Con” appearances he cash grabs a signature at. The entitled focus of the husband gets in the way stopping the momentum dead in its tracks.

Takei has many sides that operate agreeably. He is part politician, part civic contributor, part activist, but also part comic book (literally). It all comes together in his personality as real, and convicted, but the direction of the film mishandled the transition of Takei’s serious more referential professorial moments into his more relaxed on-stage intimate self. The movie could have found a better more nuanced way to shift its emotional gears back and forth a tad more gracefully. Because of this editing clash, the documentary at times suffered in spirit. The subject is a whirling dervish of delight and brings a wonderfully bloated resume with him. Perfectly encapsulating it from moment to moment is not an easy task. Beyond Takei, his career arc and his matinee idol baritone energy, I needed something more to drive the movie home, wanting some tension and conflict of this man beyond what only we see him or people like his sexual orientation afflicted from on MSNBC. There is a casual focus on Takei’s semi-autobiographical musical play called “Allegiance” which re-tells the detriment of many Japanese-American’s families’ plight surviving internment camps. I firmly believe that if the movie incorporated this aspect more intently of Takei’s involvement and how he was so instrumental in inspiring its producers to formulate the idea around his experience. It would had been a good additive plot to follow him in the little known play towards a glorious defining opening show, fleshing out his acting process, his craft and the goal of possibly the big leagues of Broadway. Perhaps then we would have had something. Overlay this with his pop-culture phenomena, personal confession, activist endeavors and his history - we would have had something virtuously well-rounded. I feel this element could have lifted the movie out of the lesser slumbering parts to keep the momentum from stumbling at the end.

KEY SCENE
In this scene, Takei and his husband Brad, go for a walk through a park. What starts out as an easy interview scene between spouses, you get a hint of each other’s criticism of one another, albeit slight, but it’s a telling moment. You can see that Takei, in one beat, is uncharacteristically uncomfortable with showing intimacy on screen, shifting to admonishing his spouse to then settling in pragmatism regarding his past when choosing to closet himself at the expense of his acting career.

CONCLUSION
This movie is colorful like a box of Crayolas; you are enlivened by Takei’s voice and the message that gloriously comes out of it. However, historically, the genre of documentaries at heart is an exposure of something you don’t know or just slightly know and want to know more about. Teach me something. And this does but not to the point where it can justify a trip to the theaters. This documentary didn’t do that outside of its superficial paint by numbers storytelling. The movie is at its strongest on what experiences created and shaped him, but by the time we meet the celebrity “brand” that we are familiar with now, there was something that left me wanting more especially towards the lethargic end. Technical issues aside, he is very inspiring, enjoyable and entertaining and to a greater extent so is the movie – for he is the movie. When it’s good: its tongue meets cheek meets understandable righteousness, but when it’s not good it’s because there is also a pedestrian directional point of view which mundanely cripples the exciting beginning energy it establishes. It’s definitely good to be Takei, but the movie’s technical direction, uneven transition, weak directional touch and lack of narrative drive towards the end is definitely not.
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2.5 out of 4

 
 
FRANK (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Look Jon you’re just going to have to go with this.”
- Don (Scoot McNairy) to main character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) 
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Never had truer words pierced my ears when trying to decipher a movie’s nature. Jon played by Domhnall Gleeson, just joined a band fronted by the inanimate headed Frank called “Soronprfbs”. Upon initial meeting he speaks with the band’s director Don, who relates to Jon that what Frank, the band members, and Don restlessly do is all a little wacky, but that “Jon is just going to have to go with this” if he wants to remain as the band’s new milquetoast keyboarder. I have been anticipating seeing this movie for quite a while - like our main character Jon has been looking forward desperately to becoming a credibly accepted musician, so both of us decided good, bad or unassailably bizarre, we were going to go with Frank wherever he leads us with those abysm hollow eyes and Paper Mache’-molded sincere smile.

KEYWORDS
Sly, unpretentiously cool, manic, kooky, awesomely offbeat, irreverent, scatterbrained

THE GOOD
The leads: Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson
Funny writing and dialog
Frank’s Mask
Excellent criticism on millennial sub-pop culture
Enjoyable pacing and rhythm

THE BAD
Wobbly third act
Loses momentum towards the end
Cliché ridden climax

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
From Irish Director Lenny Abrahamson is an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician (Domhnall Gleeson – True Grit & Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows 1 & 2) who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender – 12 years a slave, X-Men First Class & Shame) a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake plastered head, and his terrifying bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Dark Knight & Crazy Heart)

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Fassbender plays a fictional character based off a real English musician and comedian Chris Sievey, who fronted a band called ‘The Freshies’. Sievey had a real life alter-ego called Frank Sidebottom (Same plaster head in the movie) that started in the late 1970’s until his death in 2010. Co-written by an ex-band mate Jon Ronson, this is a fantastically weird fictional testimony in which Sievey’s own memoirs are the foundation of the plot itself. With this personal attribution into the film by its aforementioned collaborators, Frank is filmed with a disorienting sense of heart and respect. Frank is simultaneously objectified but is bizarrely connected to everything around him that strongly influences the characters and the creative aspect the film itself is made. Fassbender is really enjoyable as Frank: He dons another accent this time as a grifting space cadet Midwesterner in the best Americana way. And he does it convincingly.

The film flies in the first half with a rushed refreshing pace that is enjoyably quirky but also unforgiving in its critiques on pop culture pretention. FRANKS MASK IS THE MOVIE!! You can’t help but buy into it sight unseen, and when Gleeson’s character reacts, we react with him with delirious laughter. Gleeson was very noteworthy. This was the first time I have watched him from and center; with the new Star Wars episode 7, this gave me a chance to gain an impression of him before he becomes part of a movie making machine, which could put his budding career into submission. I was delighted with his performance and this character had a true story arc as we view this journey through his point of view. The movie is at its best when all the characters of the band are trapped in a cabin to do an “album” – Told through Jon’s personal diary and consigned to his whorish twitter handle we watch the distaste of his band member’s towards him develop, as he is trying to “viralize” them with strip mall commercialism giddy earnest . Leading the charge is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara as Frank’s protector, fellow bandmate, enabler and general movie sociopath. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s contribution and tension she delivers against Jon. Some of the funnier scenes involve her interaction with Gleeson. He perpetually finds himself in her eviscerated cross hairs like a poor little sandy blonde haired bunny would be prey to a carnivorous chainsaw wielding mountain bear!

At times I was smiling gleefully as this movie delivered a sub-culture Alt Rock style thrill to me as did Scott Pilgrim delivered a sub-culture alt punk- pop video game style. As with Scotty P. the elements of the characters and their personalities all work and brim to a hard boil when they all are forced to interact within Frank’s world. Once the movie moves into the third act, and starts to normalize itself, Frank loses all the goofy, weird goodwill and humor it developed, suffering in its own creative tonal shift. The movie trades sincere irreverent humor for more of a downtrodden humanistic effect once it starts in wanting to swim in the vortex pool of adoration provided by the indie music scene of South by Southwest.  Once this happens the movie takes a slight insufferable dive, and falls into cliché’s of typical rock band rise and fall drama. This is when movie loses its plastered head. I wished the movie were to stay true to playing by its own rules and having the outsiders adjust to Frank and not vice-versa. Further, I wish this movie stayed confident with its premise. Personally, I didn’t want to find out who the true Frank is and what molded him, I wanted to remain lost in that mask, cause after all: Frank has a certain vibrant abstract genius, but it’s the mask that iconically amplifies it. I understand, and in a differential way see why the movie shifts to where it ends, however, I wanted to stay exposed to the wonderfully created alternative timeline that Frank first introduced me to in the beginning.

KEY SCENE
In this scene, Jon narrates his experience with Frank and the rest of the band as they try to begin Frank’s visionary process of creating their album. The scene is filmed in a way that would make Wes Anderson proud but it gives not only a direct explanation of what the narrator is deciphering in Franks world; Movie also allows us to ascertain what exactly we are dealing with here, however, to the scenes brilliance, and to a greater extent the movie overall, it never strays too far out to the point where it becomes incomprehensible.

CONCLUSION
For the first two thirds of this movie I enjoyed myself immensely and was ready to slap a hardcore “Best Movie Ever status” as it maintained a rhythm and complexity that was refreshingly funny. I have been exposed to high-concept, avant garde & cult movies before, such as Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 fantastic ‘Rubber’ (about a homicidal spare tire) and 70’s cult horror underground classic ‘Basketcase’! Now these movies are different in genre and tone, but are similar to Frank in absurdist premise and ambitions. Like the two referential movies I listed, Frank delivers with a wonder first two thirds, but gets smacked upside its big ol’ Art Decoupage’d head with a somber last act. However, there are fiercely more good elements to this movie than horrible which ultimately makes it rewarding and definitely a movie worth seeing in the theaters or ‘ON DEMAND’ – This movie is funny as hell as long as it doesn’t try to be normal.

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3 out of 4