‘I’m basically a comic’: William Shatner speaks on ‘Star Trek II,’ going to Asia and doing stand-up comedy

He has entered the one-name club. Entered it long ago, in fact.

Che. Bowie. Jagger…


The man, the myth, the hair.william-shatner-captain-kirk-star-trek-joins-the-wizard-world-comic-con-tour-4_2

William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, aka T.J. Hooker, aka Denny Crane (for which he won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe) aka the man who gave us a truly epic version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” (and, come on, perhaps THE definitive take on “Rocket Man”).

Look, Shatner has an entire encyclopedia devoted to his work, devoted to his philosophy, devoted to his very being. What more can we ask for from our life and career?

startrekii_spotlightHe is here in Austin for the Wizard World convention and to do a Q&A before a 35 mm screening of the almighty “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” on Sept. 23 at the Paramount.

Shatner thinks Star Trek II resonates because, really, what is missing? “There’s a story of revenge, filled with all kinds of theatricality, and Ricardo Montalban makes a great villain,” he says. “It’s a good film. You’ve seen these characters on television, you see them on screen and you feel you know them.”

But then, that is in the past. Shatner is a man who keeps himself busy. He’s just released a new novel, “Zero-G,” written with Jeff Rovin, about, as the book description puts it, “intrepid, 80-year-old FBI deputy director Samuel Lord” whose “space based ‘Zero-G’ men are in charge of investigating terrorism, crime, corruption, and espionage beyond the Earth’s atmosphere” aboard the space station Empyrean.

“I’ve been talking to astrophysicists on another project, and they think in the same way science-fiction writers do,” Shatner says. “It is the same imaginative process. ‘Zero-G’ is imagining what the FBI will be doing out in law enforcement out in space 50 years from now. That is what science fiction does: It imagines the future, and since nobody knows what the next instant is going to be, then my opinion of 50 years from now or Roddenberry’s opinion of 300 years from now is equally valid.”

Then again, Shatner has done an incredible amount of stuff over the years, some of which has faded, some of which has resonated. “I did a couple of Twilight Zones that remain popular whenever the show is rerun, and I sort of wonder why,” Shatner says. “But, again, it’s the story. There’s one about a little furry creature on a wing of a plane (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) that’s played again and again. Why it is one of the more popular ones, I don’t know. The fear of flying, maybe? Every so often you do something that touches a universal nerve.”

The cast of “Better Late Than Never”

He even had a recent hit with the semi-scripted reality show “Better Late that Never,” which teamed him with Henry Winkler, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw and younger comedian Jeff Dye. “NBC said, how would you like to go to Asia, and of course I said yes. All I knew is that I was going to go to a part of the world that I had longed to go to. … It was all taken care of. All you had to do was show up and be amusing. And these guys together turned out to be hysterical.”

And, yes, while Shatner is best known for dramatic (or melodramatic parts) such as Captain Kirk, he considers himself as much a comedian as a dramatic actor (see also Denny Crane). “I’m basically a comic,” he says “I did some stand-up in New York at the Gotham Comedy Club, and it was great! In their words, I murdered.”

Hey, that’s terrific.

“No, I murdered, it’s better than terrific.”

The show that is perhaps most “near and dear to my heart,” as he puts it, is “Shatner’s World,” a one-man show wherein the man expounds on, well, all of the things. “I was on Broadway with it, I’ve toured with it, it’s the project that has the most of me in it,” Shatner says. “It’s about saying ‘yes’ to life. Yes to the things that happen to you. Say yes instead of saying no. Get out there and do something and find something passionate and have an adventure. It’s over so quickly that it’s ridiculous not to expose yourself.”

Ladies and gentlemen … Shatner.

This week in popular culture: Amy Schumer, Sharon Jones and ‘Ben-Hur’

110“The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo” by Amy Schumer (Gallery). Heavily anticipated first book from this increasingly incredibly popular comedian. Yes, the title feels a little dated, but still: Funny! (Aug. 16)

“Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin (Dey Street) Journalist Joel Selvin versus the most notorious concert of all time. (Aug. 16)

Blood Orange, “Freetown Sound” (Domino). Early notices have been excellent for this new album from British songwriter Dev Hynes. (Aug. 19)

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, “Miss Sharon Jones! (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (Daptone). The soundtrack to the excellent documentary on the great Ms. Jones by Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple. You are probably underrating her right this second. (Aug. 19)

Dolly Parton, “Pure & Simple” (Dolly/RCA Nashville). Speaking of women people actually underrate a bit, Parton’s 43rd (no, really) album has what she has called a stripped-down “garage band” feel. She writes rock-solid country songs the way you and I breathe. (Aug. 19)

kubo“Kubo and the Two Strings.” A 3-D, stop-motion animated movie set in ancient Japan, where a boy named Kubo becomes involved in a vendetta from the spirit world. Expect gods and monsters and possibly samurai. (Aug. 19)

“Ben-Hur.” Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch,” “Day Watch”) takes a swing at some famous 1880 fanfiction based on the greatest story ever told. There was a movie made of the book in 1959; I’m sure nobody remembers it. (Note to certain readers from whom I have already heard: That is a joke.) (Aug. 19)




Guess who shows up in the new “Rogue One” trailer?

Oh, yes. That guy.

Darth Vader makes a split-second cameo at the tail end of the two-minute “Rogue One” clip, which premiered during Thursday night’s Olympic Games.

The trailer, the second in what is sure to be a series prior to the film’s December opening date, gives us all sorts of new glimpses into the Star Wars flick. (We discussed the first one here.)

Directed by Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) and written by Chris Weitz with story credits going to John Knoll and Gary Whitta (and a probable assist by Tony Gilroy), “Rogue One” is reportedly the story of how the Rebels got the plans for the Death Star.

A few notes on what is new in this thing. Nerd level of the following? Red/Severe:

— We hear a bit more from Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, who will one day again play a role where he doesn’t look like he was run over by a bus), and we see a Star Destroyer hovering (well, it’s more of a loom, really) over some sort of temple-looking structure. Have we ever seen a Star Destroyer in atmosphere? I can’t think of a time, which is another example of giving viewers something they have not seen before in the Star Wars universe (at least not in the movies), which seems to be both a goal of this film and the opposite of “The Force Awakens,” which very consciously repeated beats from the Original Trilogy.

— A brief shot of the U-Wing ship. I am pulling for these movies to go on so long that they use every letter of the alphabet.

— We hear more from Captain Cassian Andor  (Diego Luna). Gee, he’s dreamy.

— And then there’s our first look at Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), shooting at Imperial troops, and another scene of Chirrut Imwe (the almighty Donnie Yen), the latter yakking about the Force and dispatching Imperial troops — not with a lightsaber but with a staff. Is he a Jedi or are there Force-users who are not Jedi but a different strain of warrior-priest/monk?

– And then there’s K-2SO, a droid played by Alan Tudyk (via motion-capture). He (It?) has Rebel markings but an Imperial demeanor — he notes that he will not kill Jyn (Felicity Jones) as the Captain has approved of her. The movies have always shown us friendly, if somewhat neurotic, Rebel droids (C-3PO) or mindless soldiers. (I have been reminded that IG-88 and 4-LOM were droids; my nerd card has also been suspended.)

This is the first time we’ve seen a droid that would kill you soon as look at you. If you want more of this sort of thing, I cannot recommend the Marvel series “Darth Vader” highly enough. The Imperial protocol droid called Triple-Zero is essentially Evil Threepio. Sample quote: “I’m 0-0-0 or Triple-Zero, if you prefer. I’m a protocol droid, specialized in etiquette, customs, translation and torture, ma’am.”

— There’s another shot of the Imperial executive known as Director Orson Krennic. He’s played by Ben Mendelsohn but is a dead ringer for Hugh Laurie. Can Laurie maybe play an Imperial dude in another movie? Grand Moff Hugh Laurie or something. Just think about it, Disney.

— The final shot of the Rebel crew serves as a sharp reminder than this is by far the most diverse cast a Star Wars movie has ever produced.

— And finally, there’s the back of Vader’s helmet and that familiar wheeze. He’s looking at a “New Hope”-era display, presumable of the Death Star, presumably of it clearing a planet and maybe blowing it up. We’ll see.

What did you think?

‘Ghostbusters’ theme gets a reboot: What do you think?

So, maybe you heard there is a new “Ghostbusters” movie out.


Yeah, I know, Columbia Pictures has been pretty quiet about this one.

It has a new theme song, which is a cover of the original.

In this corner we have the original by Ray Parker, Jr.

In this corner we have Fall Out Boy feat. Missy Elliot with a 2016 update on the original

So what do you think? (Remember: we are not talking about the movies, just the songs. SHOW YOUR WORK.)

This week in popular culture: “Ghostbusters,” Jessi Klein and Clams Casino

klein_grow_out“You’ll Grow Out of It” by Jessi Klein (Grand Central). Essays on 21st century womanhood by comedian, television writer (“Inside Amy Schumer,” “Transparent,” “Saturday Night Live”) and “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” panelist. Could be this year’s “Bossypants” or that book Lena Dunham wrote. (July 12)

“Ghostbusters.” One of this year’s higher profile reboots as Paul Feig (“Spy”) directs Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the titular paranormal hunters (huntresses?). Chris Hemsworth holds down the Annie Potts part, which is inspired. (July 15)

“32 Levels”

Clams Casino, “32 Levels” (Columbia). The somewhat-anticipated début album from an increasingly popular hip-hop producer whose stage name suggests that perhaps we are running out of names for hip-hop producers. Expect guest appearances from Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky, Lil B (July 15)

The Earls of Leicester, “Rattle & Roar”(Rounder). Second album from these Grammy-winning, bluegrass ninjas led by dobro god Jerry Douglas. (July 15)

Steven Tyler, “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” (Big Machine). Steven Tyler (yes, that one, from Aerosmith), goes country and gets big name country producers such as T-Bone Burnett and Dann Huff to help him. Tyler plays July 26 at Bass Concert Hall. (July 15)

How “Captain America” stripped this week’s internet outrage cycle clean away from “DC Universe: Rebirth” (SPOILERS ABOUND)

At the end of last week, Warner Bros./DC  was collecting all of the ire mainstream comics fans could muster. By Wednesday morning, all anyone could talk about was Disney/Marvel.

366074._SX640_QL80_TTD_It went something like this:

Last Friday, spoilers leaked for “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1, which launches DC Comics’ latest hard-reboot of its continuity (DC: Rebirth #1 arrived in stores the morning). Written by Geoff Johns with art by Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Gary Frank and Phil Jimenez, the one-shot issue sets up a new, line-wide status quo.

This is not too surprising. The last time DC rebooted their line was their much-hyped “New 52” relaunch in 2011. It felt gimmicky, it largely read  gimmicky. And the Justice League seemed to fight each other all the time rather than any bad guys. (And Lex Luthor somehow ended up on the team.)

Sales were good, then plummeted to pre-52 levels: Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, which I discussed here, consistently sells over 100,000 copies a month, and Justice League moves around 70k, but most DC titles hover between 55,000-20, ooo a month. So they rebooted again.

A few of the SPOILERS were not too shocking:

  • Wally West, a pre-New 52 fixture, returns, screaming about how nobody remembers him (and stole ten years from everyone’s life, because comics).
  • There seem to be three Jokers
  • The World War II era Justice Society existed and nobody remembers them

It was the sort of thing that indicates that DC is bringing back its multiverse, with lots of different worlds and realities.

The multiverse was always one of the most enjoyable aspects of DC Comics. Not only did it make all of their stories “true,” it opened up the imagination: What was life on Earth-4 like? How are the Earth-1 and Earth-2 Superman different?

No, what really cheesed off the nerd nation was the idea that all of this universe manipulation was due to Dr. Manhattan, a character from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ ground-breaking 1986/87 series “Watchmen.”

“Watchmen” is considered, by many fans, to be something of a sacred text, what with being one of the best and most influential (for good and ill) superhero stories ever written.

It has always existed outside of DC continuity and, until now, DC has respected that.(Though they did crank out a bunch of largely uninteresting prequels called “Before Watchmen.”)

But with Batman finding the Comedian’s yellow smiley-face button  and the strong implication that Dr. Manhattan has a hand in this universal shake up.

It reminded me of a great line from this fantastic movie about the shlock-meisters at Canon Films: Cannon films “always resembled something, minus the good taste.” Right now, Superman and Batman and the rest of the DC stable resembles Superman and Batman, minus good taste.

Add to that the nearly 30-year war between Moore and DC and it was a sharp reminder “Watchmen” remains, for good reason a sensitive topic.

And in light of how disgusting and torture porny DC Comics has felt over the past 15 or so years, this interview creative chief Geoff Johns, in which he calls dragging “Watchmen” into DC continuity a critique (“I think ‘Watchmen’ is a great book, but I don’t think a cynical take on superheroes is the truthful one Everyone says that’s the realistic look. I reject that because I think people at their base core are good,” Johns said) seemed more than a little disingenuous. (Not to mention an epic troll of Moore himself.)

Or as one wag on twitter put it:

And yet, by lunch Wednesday, Marvel managed to turn in the nerd-outrage machine, focused on DC mere hours earlier, towards itself, as  Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 revealed that Captain America had been an agent for the spy organization HYDRA… since World War II.

Cue Buzzfeed pieces like this one

and tweets such as this:

Though given that Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie in the movies) has been Captain America for a bit in the comics, I did like this tweet:

Now, I happen to quite like Nick Spencer, the writer on “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” I think this is pretty obviously a File-000-8e161summer-sweeps style stunt to goose sales. Some people agree with me.  Spencer even hinted at a Man in the High Castle situation in this interview.

Even if it was a little Silver Age-style weird, there was something vaguely unpleasant and depressing about the Captain America thing. Chris Evans has done a bang-up job portraying Cap as a fundamentally decent guy.

(I mean, when I said I was hoping for comics that weren’t like movies, I guess I should have been more specific.)

And I have always loved the characterization of Captain America as an embodiment not of America the nation but America the ideal. As Frank Miller was had him saying, ““I’m loyal to nothing…but the Dream.”

This plot twist felt like a cynical gut punch, albeit an easily reversible one. The “Watchment” thing felt far ickier.



(Much more entertaining?  Google #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend.)

Then again, both Captain America and “Watchmen” are commodities, intellectual property to be dispensed for maximum profit. And both moves are designed to get people talking. Which they are. A hate-click is still a click, no such thing as bad publicity, etc.

If these sorts of moves make a buck, one should always, always expect more of them in the future.

Which is to say: Vote with your wallet, always.

Why the trailer for “Rogue One” makes it look even better than “The Force Awakens”

Oh, man.

So, I liked “The Force Awakens.” Was it satisfying? Sure. Was it better than the prequels? Yes. Did it have its flaws? Yes. It was, as a friend once put it about a Liz Phair album, “scrumptiously overratable.”

And I am on the record as having my wig pushed back by the possibilities delivered in the “Force Awakens” trailer.

The trailer for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Gareth Edwards (who directed the VERY mixed 2014 “Godzilla”) made me legitimately excited. True confessions: I am a 41-year-old man, and this trailer actually put me in a better mood this morning.

Let us count the ways:

The title: “Rogue One” is an absurdly awesome title. “The Phantom Menace” sounds like a 1940s movie serial, which is fine, but it is not cool. “The Force Awakens” is more of a plot point. “Rogue One” sounds like a post-hardcore band from 1994. It is sleek and vague. Not “Something’s Gotta Give” or “It’s Complicated” vague (peace to Nancy Meyers), but both enigmatic and badass. Is it the name of the mission? The heroine?

Here is the other half of the title: “A Star Wars Story.” Note the indefinite rather than definite article. This is a story not about the Skywalker family, but other folks in the Star Wars universe.

When Disney purchased Star Wars, it got rid of “the Expanded Universe,” all of the books, cartoons and comics (many, many, MANY comics) that had filled out the Star Wars universe, in some cases stretching back thousands of years, much of which had nothing to do with the Skywalkers. Some of them worked, some did not. All of that was scrapped.

This movie is the first post-Disney film step into creating a new expanded universe. (There have been books and comics that have contributed to a new canon.) And there is a bit of freedom there, a looseness that can happen. This isn’t THE Star Wars story, it is A Star Wars story, the kind that millions of kids made up with their action figures.

The plot: “Rogue One” is rumored to be the story of how the Rebels got the plans to the Death Star, rumors that seem confirmed by the trailer, which places the movie between “Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars: A New Hope”

We see Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly, who played the character in Episode II and really does look like Caroline Blakiston, who played her in “Return of the Jedi”) discussing with newly-minted rebel Jyn Erso (Oscar nominee Felicity Jones) a “major weapons test.”

The chatter: Mon Mothma: “On your own from the age of 15, reckless, aggressive, and undisciplined.”

 Jyn: “This is a rebellion, isn’t it?” [nice fat pause] “I rebel.”

The lead: Oh, yeah, that. In a sharp reminder that this is a movie from the 21st century, the main character, Jyn Erso, is a woman. Her boss is a woman. Does it solve the wage gap? No, but it’s nice to see. The movie also stars Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk and Jonathan Aris — which also reflects the 21st century.

The Empire, the Rebellion and nostalgia: The Empire is, in this film, as strong as we have ever seen it. The Rebellion isn’t quite off the ground, at least not in a Battle of Yavin kind of way. So we see stomtroopers with tanks and a few shots of Imperial Walkers storming what looks like Florida. We have not yet seen a Florida-planet.

We also see the planet-busting Superlaser being put into place on the Death Star and plenty of those weird, longish helmets the rebels used to wear.

Is “Rogue One” nostalgia-mining? Oh yes. But it is both more direct and cannier, I think, than much about “the Force Awakens.” The latter film borrowed heavily from the previous movies – shot selection, plotting, McGuffins, the whole bit — to remind viewers this is a cyclical story about a family.

But I am hoping “Rogue One,” not being about the Skywalkers, can break free of that narrative. This is still very much a Star Wars story. Indeed, we know how this story has to end: The plans have to be passed to Princess Leia, who then puts them into R2-D2. Whether it will end before that point or after it or during it remains to be seen. But there are many ways to get there and so far, “Rogue One” looks like it is the Star Wars movie that presses every possible button for both serious Star Wars nerds and casual fans.

What say you, folks?