Tag Archives: Daveed Diggs

Not Bird nor Plane nor Even Frog

DC League of Super-Pets

by Hope Madden

Y’all should have a pet. That’s the message of the feel-good, sometimes surprisingly dark, wildly well-cast animated feature DC League of Super-Pets.

It’s not a tough lesson, really. That’s why one pet has to learn something different. Krypto (Dwayne Johnson), Superman’s dog, doesn’t really know how to be a dog. He figures out something about pack animalhood when he’s robbed of his superpowers, Superman goes missing, and the shelter animals up the road develop their own special skills.

Who’s to blame? Is it evil Lex Luthor (Marc Maron)?

Oh, no. No, this villain is a far, far more dangerous creature. Look out for Lulu (Kate McKinnon), a hairless Guinea pig once saved from experimentation in Luthor’s lab!

Guinea pigs have not done this much animated damage since that South Park episode.

There are lessons aplenty in this film, but just one I want Hollywood to take away from it: McKinnon should voice all animated bad guys forevermore. She couldn’t be more perfect, couldn’t be more fun.

She’s not alone. The supporting voicework in this film delights. Other scene stealers include Keanu Reeves as a brooding (what else?) Batman and Natasha Lyonne as a cantankerous yet horny turtle.

Sure, the actual stars are Johnson and Kevin Hart, and they’re about as fun an odd couple when they’re cartoon dogs as they are when they’re CIA agents or board game buddies. But the real story here is the supporting cast, which also includes John Krasinski, Diego Luna, Jemaine Clement, Daveed Diggs, Vanessa Bayer, Dascha Polanco, Jameela Jamil and Olivia Wilde.

Wow, that’s a lot of people, which indicates that DC League of Super-Pets suffers from the same bloat as almost all DC films. There are too many characters, too many tidy endings, too little for everyone to do.

Co-directors Jared Stern and Sam Levine, along with co-writer John Whittington (writing with Stern) have collectively created a solidly unremarkable set of animated films and episodes. This is no different.

There’s a lot going on with not much really happening. It looks good, not exceptional. It’s fun and almost immediately forgettable. It does expose the diabolical side of the Guinea pig, though. Fear them!

All That Jazz

Soul

by George Wolf

Pete Docter has written, directed, or been a part of the story team for some of Pixar’s greatest achievements. From Up to Inside Out, WALL-E to Toy Story, he’s helped set the standard that each new Pixar film competes with.

For Soul, Docter and co-writer/co-director Kemp Powers sense the time is right to tweak the winning formula a bit, creating a deceptively simple, beautifully constructed ode to happiness.

The updated blueprint starts with an African-American lead, Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged music teacher who still harbors dreams of stardom in a jazz combo. Just when Joe gets that long-awaited chance to play with one of his favorite artists, an out-of-body experience finds him fighting to get back to the life he’d been living.

Hence, the “soul” here may be not what you’re expecting. The music is all that jazz, but once Joe meets up with a wandering infant soul named 22 (Tina Fey), the film becomes a funny, surprising and truly touching journey toward becoming a fulfilled human being.

And what a beautiful, big screen-begging journey it is. Soul looks like no Pixar film before it, with wonderfully layered and personality-laden animation for Joe’s daily life that morphs into an apt Picasso vibe for our time in the before and after worlds. In those other worlds, Joe and 22 are gently pushed toward their destinies by the reassuring voice of the cubist Counselor Jerry (Alice Braga) amid a madcap series of detours carrying the emotional highs and lows of an inspired jazz trumpeter’s solo.

Foxx and Fey are joyfully harmonious, backed by jazzy arrangements from Jonathan Batiste, an ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and a stellar supporting group of voice actors that includes Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, June Squibb, Rachel House, Wes Studi and a perfectly nutty Graham Norton. 

And though Soul delivers plenty of whimsical fun, it’s anchored by the existential yearning Docter hinted at with Inside Out’s “Bing Bong” character five years ago. 

But just when you think you know where the film will leave you, it has other plans, and that’s okay. Because while the best of Pixar has always touched us with family adventures that speak to what it means to be human, Soul leaves plenty of room for our own improvisations, producing a heartfelt composition that may be Pixar’s most profound statement to date.

Men in the Hood

Blindspotting

by George Wolf

A film with plenty of things to say and plenty of ways to say them, the biggest knock against Blindspotting might be timing.

It comes on the heels of Sorry to Bother You, sharing some of the same social concerns and brash exuberance, but sometimes wearing its message like an overly heavy coat.

The ambitious script is a promising debut for writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also star. Diggs (Tony and Grammy Award-winner for Broadway’s Hamilton) plays Colin and Casal (in his first feature) is Miles, two longtime buddies in Oakland working for a neighborhood moving company.

After a stint in county jail, Colin has three days left on his year-long probation, and is desperate not to F it up while hopeful he can maybe get back together with Val (Janina Gavankar). Just when it seems the hot-headed, unpredictable Miles will be Colin’s biggest threat to independence, fate comes calling.

Colin becomes the one eyewitness to a fatal police shooting, which forces him to re-evaluate everything, and everyone, in the life he wants to start over.

Director Carlos Lopez Estrada is also helming his first feature, and this rookie filmmaking trio finds a tighter bullseye than STBU‘s takedown of capitalism itself. Focusing on its two main characters and their longtime home, Blindspotting fires some sharply effective arrows toward police brutality, gentrification, racism, stereotypes and rap.

The director’s tone is sometimes a struggle, moving from stoner comedy a la Jay and Silent Bob to heavy drama and back again, and Estrada’s hand on a few of those dramatic moments can get heavy.

But by the time Diggs unveils the film’s soul in a showstopping, rage-filled finale, Blindspotting reaches a memorable height, becoming both an urgent social comment and an exciting filmmaking debut.