If Only ‘The Lovebirds’ Were More for the Birds

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CREDIT: Skip Bolen/Netflix

While appraising the Michael Showalter-directed, Kumail Nanjiani-and-Issa Rae-starring The Lovebirds, I feel a lot like Graham Chapman’s Colonel character from Monty Python, but like, in reverse. I want to pop in there and go, “I noticed a tendency for this movie to not get silly enough. Now let’s move it along and be more silly.” For something as outrageous as this bad-night-gone-wrong-then-worse rom-com, “not silly enough” might sound like a patently ridiculous accusation. Which is fine by me, as  I love being ridiculous and securing a patent for it. Furthermore, it’s possible to be over-the-top without being silly. The Lovebirds takes a grounded approach, wondering how a couple on the verge of a breakup would realistically react if someone jacked their car to murder someone in cold blood and then they proceeded to uncover a conspiracy connected to that fresh killing. The result is kind of funny and fairly heartfelt, which is enough to make me put a checkmark to my to-watch list and maybe add a smiley face.

As a veteran of The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer, Michel Sho clearly has a transcendent amount of silliness in his funny bone. And Kumail certainly does, too, as he was so, so stupendously silly on Portlandia as a series of weirdly officious service employees. From what I know of Issa, she’s more awkward and goofy than silly, but I’m sure she could get into the silly groove with the right team. Now generally, I don’t like to review movies by taking them to task for what they could’ve been. Instead, I like to approach them on their own terms and ask if they did a good job at pulling off what they were attempting. But if The Lovebirds was attempting to show how people would really react to a bunch of life-threatening shenanigans, well, I believe there are some folks who would bulge out their eyes and cock their heads and maybe stare at the camera. Or maybe not. Perhaps this isn’t a proper review. Could it be that this is actually the introduction of my journey to become the Reverse-Colonel? … Bird is the word!

I give The Lovebirds 2.5 Bacon Strips out of Hot Bacon Grease.

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 5/22/20

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CREDIT: Amazon Prime Video/YouTube Screenshot

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
The Lovebirds (Streaming on Netflix) – Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae finally team up!
AKA Jane Roe (Premieres May 22 on FX) – A documentary portrait of the woman behind Roe v. Wade.

TV
Homecoming Season 2 (May 22 on Amazon) – Now starring Janelle Monáe!
Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament (May 25-June 5, check local listings)
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 7 Premiere (May 27 on ABC) – The final season!

Music
-The 1975, Notes on a Conditional Form

Comedy
-Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (May 26 on Netflix)

CGI Animals and a Daffy Robert Downey Jr. Performance Make for a Feather-Brained ‘Dolittle’

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Harry Collett, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Carmel Laniado, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard, Jason Mantzoukas, Frances de la Tour

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Animal Chaos

Release Date: January 17, 2020

It’s not a great sign when my favorite part of a movie is the end credits revealing who all the voice actors were, especially when it’s a movie about talking to animals, because … I love talking to animals! Not necessarily in the Dr. Dolittle sense, but if I did have that ability, I would be happy to use it. As for Robert Downey Jr.’s version of the classic fictional veterinarian, I wouldn’t say that he is unhappy about his interspecies communication abilities, but he is making some odd choices, what with an unplaceable accent while barely opening his mouth whenever he talks to the point that it seems like he is practicing his ventriloquism. Dolittle is a movie whose existence in 2020 I’m having trouble fathoming, but despite that, I can’t say that I doubt Downey’s commitment, however strange it may be.

Anyway, the plot is some fever dream logic-driven concoction about how a reclusive Dr. Dolittle, hiding away in his home following the death of his wife, is summoned to set out on an adventure to find a cure for a deathly ill young Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Naturally enough, his animal friends join him to help out, and their presence on this journey just feels too unremarkable. Perhaps that has to do with the reliance on CGI, which renders these creatures less adorable and more just humans with fur or feathers or scales. For the most part, then, Dolittle is a mix of humdrum when it should be goofy and ridiculous when it should be straightforward. Although, there is one part when Dr. Dolittle removes a set of bagpipes from a dragon’s colon, so this endeavor wasn’t a total disappointment.

Dolittle is Recommended If You Have: A Bottomless Appreciation for CGI Animal Hijinx

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Quacks

Movie Review: ‘Stuber’ Sends Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista Running L.A. Around With Their Heads Cut Off

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CREDIT: Karen Ballard/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, Natalie Morales, Betty Gilpin, Mira Sorvino, Iko Uwais, Jimmy Tatro, Karen Gillan

Director: Michael Dowse

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Explosive Police Detective Work and a Visit to a Strip Club

Release Date: July 12, 2019

Humor hits different people in different ways, so while it’s theoretically possible that some viewers may find Stuber hilarious, I must be honest and admit that I found it tiresome almost immediately. It all starts, or fails to get into gear rather, with that title. Stuber looks completely meaningless, and it essentially is, as so many nicknames are. The “Stuber” in question is Stu (Kumail Nanjiani), a big box employee who also works on the side for a ride sharing company that offers the perfect opportunity for an unremarkably simple portmanteau. Is this one big 90-minute long product placement vehicle for Uber? Eh, who cares, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with.

Anyway, Stu finds himself picking up a passenger who keeps him on retainer over the course of one very long day. That would be Dave Bautista as Vic, an LAPD detective who’s supposed to be taking some time to relax because his boss told him that a big drug case is being taken over by the feds and also because he’s temporarily blind from laser eye surgery. So of course Stu and Vic don’t see eye-to-eye, as that is how unlikely buddy comedies work. Alas, everything’s too loud and predictable to be endearing. Although at one point some guy does get his face blown up by a propane tank, a moment that kind of shocked me back to life. So overall, that’s about a minute worth of fresh material.

Stuber is Recommended If You Like: Action Comedies That Don’t Know When to Quit

Grade: 2 out of 5 Uber Stars

Movie Review: ‘Men in Black International’ is Kind of a Lateral Move as Far as Spinoffs Go

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CREDIT: Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall, Kumail Nanjiani, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson

Director: F. Gray Gray

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Gooey Alien Residue

Release Date: June 14, 2019

It’s often a joy to watch professionals perform their jobs competently, so there’s a bit of a thrill to watching Molly (Tessa Thompson) turn into Agent M in the opening act of Men in Black International. After she has an extraterrestrial encounter as a child, she dedicates her life to the goal of joining the secretive alien-monitoring organization, and she is undoubtedly a promising recruit, perhaps one of their best ever. But when it comes to making a film, what we demand isn’t competency so much as artistry. Director F. Gary Gray and his cast and crew have delivered a competent product, and I imagine they had a lot of fun making it. But it is not an out-of-this-world experience, nothing that rocks your sense of reality to its core.

The presence of “International” in the title and the lack of Agents J and K in the lineup seems to promise that we’ll be getting something a little different from what we’ve seen before. And it’s true, this chapter offers plenty that wasn’t on display in MIB‘s 1-3. But we have seen it in other movies in general. There’s the sort of globetrotting typical of Indiana Jones and James Bond, plus a paranoid infiltration angle that calls to mind Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as a spy-within-our-ranks routine we know and love from John le Carré thrillers. Even the alien creature design, which at first glance features plenty of original imagination, may have had some inadvertent inspiration, as one blue fellow looks like the X-Men’s Beast, but with quills instead of fur. (Perhaps it’s a case of convergent evolution?) If the only movies you’ve ever seen are Men in Black, Men in Black 2, and Men in Black 3, then perhaps Men in Black International will expand your consciousness, but for the rest of us, we will continue the search elsewhere for whatever originality remains in the universe.

Men in Black International is Recommended If You Like: Reassembling spare parents

Grade: 2 out of 5 Neuralyzers

SNL Review October 14, 2017: Kumail Nanjiani/P!nk

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CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

My letter grades for each sketch and segment is below. My in-depth review is on NewsCult: http://newscult.com/snl-love-itkeep-itleave-kumail-nanjianipnk/

Trump Rally – B-

Kumail Nanjiani’s Monologue (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Bank Breakers – B-

Kellywise – B-

Office Halloween Party – C+

New York Film Festival Women’s Roundtable – B

P!nk performs “What About Us?” – B-

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Ivana Trump – C

Chatsworth House Check-In – C

Nursing Home – B

P!nk performs “Beautiful Trauma” – C+

Call Center – B

This Is a Movie Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: PG for Ripped-Off Lego Limbs and Feline-on-Toy Destruction

Release Date: September 22, 2017

If you want to learn how to nail down comic timing, you could do much worse than studying the repartee in The Lego Ninjago Movie. This second spin-off of the toy block film franchise and the first based on the speciality Ninjago line (which also already has its own long-running Cartoon Network TV show) should ostensibly be the most action-oriented of the series, but its cast ensures that it is instead defined by the cheeky humor that has buoyed each of the Lego films thus far. The voices of the high school-age core ninja group include improv and sketch veterans like Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods. And their leader, Master Wu, is brought to life by the always comedically inclined martial arts legend Jackie Chan. As they protect their home city of Ninjago and seek to become one with the elements, they pop off quips like “Can I be the element of surprise?” and display their meta bona fides by complaining about Wu’s “needlessly cryptic metaphors.”

The thrust of the plot mostly revolves around Green Ninja Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his struggle against his father Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a four-armed warlord seeking to conquer Ninjago who keeps mispronouncing (or correctly pronouncing?) his son’s name as “L-loyd.” Lloyd’s attempts to reconcile with the father who abandoned and forgot about him make for the dopily cliché stuff of legend. This is the same evil-father/chosen-one-son knockoff typical of so many Star Wars copycats. But of course, that dopiness is the point. In a world where love stories begin by opponents in war detecting unbearable beauty on opposite sides of the battlefield and the biggest hit on the radio is the weirdly personal “Boo Lloyd!,” fully embracing clichés only makes sense.

For those of you wondering how the real world intervenes in the block world this time around, it should be noted that there is a cute kitty cat who stomps around the town. Dubbed “Meowthra,” this feline is the secondary villain, the monster that indiscriminately and unknowingly ruins intricately designed block structures.

Where Ninjago falters is in its actions sequences. To be fair, its earthbound fighting moments have plenty of visual wit, but when the ninjas take to the skies, the aerial sequences are as unintelligible as the Transformers series at its worst. But that will only be a minor bother when you make it through to the end credits and fall in love with the latest buoyantly terrific song from a Lego movie.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is Recommended If You Like: Lego’s entire filmography, Star Wars father-son relationship parodies, Silicon Valley, Finding the humor in “Cat’s in the Cradle”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Ninjanuities

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