Tag Archives: Kumail Nanjiani

Winging It


by Rachel Willis

A family of mallard ducks decides to migrate to Jamaica, setting off a series of misadventures and kid-friendly comedy in the latest animated film from Illumination, Migration.

When exotic ducks land in same pond as our mallard family, son Dax (voiced by Caspar Jennings) becomes smitten with one of the flock, prompting his desire to head south for the winter. Mom Pam (Elizabeth Banks), is also intrigued by idea. Littlest duck, Gwen (Tresi Gazal), seems ready for anything, but Dad Mack (Kumail Nanjiani), it too fearful of the outside world to consider leaving their little pond.

The catalyst for adventure comes from Uncle Dan (Danny DeVito). He gives Mack the prod he needs for accepting Pam’s request to open his eyes to the world.

So little time is spent on Mack’s paranoia and fear that his change of heart doesn’t make much of an impact. Based on the title, we already know the family – with Uncle Dan along for the ride – is going to make the journey, so no surprise there. And you can expect hijinx along the way.

The humor–mainly predictable and heavy-handed–derives from the family’s reactions to the obstacles and characters they meet along the way. While this might entertain the youngest in the audience, it gets tedious for the rest of us.

Migration’s tender-hearted treatment of each member of our duck family is its selling point. Though Mack’s fears would keep him in his little window forever, Pam is willing to help him overcome his reticence and step out into the wider world. Uncle Dan’s sweet relationship with little Gwen makes him more than just comic relief.

The ancillary characters don’t all get the same heart. The imprisoned parrot Delroy (Keegan-MichaelKey) is a standout in a sea of mostly forgettable side players. His longing for his former home is palpable. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the film’s unnecessary villain. The grunting chef who cooks ducks and particularly dislikes Mack and Pam lacks the menace necessary to create a memorable bad guy.

Migration fits the bill for lighthearted fun. But its predictability and shallow characters limit its potential to become anyone’s newest holiday favorite.

Dolittle Jones


by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with an animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but it’s eager to please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

Life Support

The Big Sick

by George Wolf

The Big Sick is that rare breed seldom seen in the wilds of the multiplex. It’s a smart and incisive romantic comedy that has something new and vital to say while it’s being both romantic and comedic.

It also feels incredibly authentic, probably because co-writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani are telling much of their own story.

Kumail (Nanjiani) is a struggling standup comedian in Chicago who can’t bring himself to tell his traditional Pakistani family about his new girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan). Family pressures eventually lead to a breakup, not long before Emily becomes hospitalized with a mysterious infection that becomes life-threatening.

Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about Kumail, and they aren’t exactly thrilled with his insistence on hanging around the hospital with a visitor’s badge.

Director Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, Hello My Name is Doris), is blessed with a uniformly wonderful ensemble cast, and he guides the actors through alternating levels of humor and societal insight that feel effortlessly organic.

We see a Muslim family portrayed much as any other movie family might be (imagine!), with generational conflicts that are plenty familiar, even if they manifest in unfamiliar ways. Bonus points for cleverly educating about Pakistani culture while also finding the funny in culture clash and persistent stereotypes.

Almost all the humor – be it scatalogical, corny, or suddenly dark – finds a mark, and is paired with a constant undercurrent of relatable humanity that draws us into these characters and becomes truly touching.

At times hilarious, sweet,  emotional and even heartbreaking, The Big Sick has a case of charming that will follow you home.

Let’s hope it’s catching.




Readin’, Writin’, Teacher Fightin’

Fist Fight

by George Wolf

At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day before summer break, and the school’s online newspaper gets a breaking story:


Seems the meek Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) snitched on the scary Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube), and you know what they say about snitches. They get their asses beat on the playground while the whole school watches…and they will most likely require stitches at some point.

Fist Fight is often contrived and ridiculous, and has those funny bloopers ready to roll as soon as possible, but ya know, it fills the class with enough likable clowns to get a pass.

The two leads aren’t asked to venture beyond their respective comfort zones, but do display some nice comic timing that bolsters their easy chemistry. Cube pushes his menacing persona and steely glare for all they are worth while Day does the same with the naturally funny pairing of his diminutive stature and high-pitched wheeze. The conflict of their characters is grounded just by these two actors sharing the same frame, giving the film a comic foundation from the start.

Then you have the always weird and welcome Jillian Bell as a guidance counselor who’s really fond of drugs and “that tenis” (teenage penis), Kumail Nanjiani’s by-the-book school security officer and Tracy Morgan dispensing wisdom as Coach Crawford (“You can’t run away! Who is you, Seabiscuit?”) for a steady stream of nuttiness.

Director Richie Keen makes his feature debut after years of TV episodes (including Day’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), keeping the pace lively and the mood raunchy. He even shows a little theatrical flair once the students’ start spreading rumors of Mr.Strickland’s murderous past, and the fantasies play out with hilarious excess.

Fist Fight offers violence, plenty of sex-fueled gags and the obligatory foul-mouthed grade-schooler. It’s an adult education, for sure, and just funny enough not to skip.