The Justice League, the most recent film in the DC Extended Universe, brings together some of the most revered superheroes in comic book history.  With the iconic characters of Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), the epic is obviously met with high expectations.

The film picks up where Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice leaves off.  Directed by Zack Snyder, Justice League is stylistically different than the previous DC hero films in both look and tone.  Justice League borrows many style elements from The Watchmen (also directed by Snyder), with colorful explosions and weapons juxtaposed with a bleak background of Gotham City and Metropolis.  The battle scenes are great, with virtually nonstop action once the plot gets moving.  The cinematography at times feels more like a multiplayer video game than a movie, but this is also something that is part of Snyder’s M.O.

The standout hero of the film was Aquaman/Arthur Curry, who was played perfectly by Jason Mamoa.  Aquaman has long been the subject of ridicule in the comic world, but Mamoa brings his intimidating presence to the role that made him famous in Game of Thrones as Dothraki leader Khal Drogo.  His imposing physique, his introduction in the film, and his entertaining interactions with the other members of the team made him the most interesting newcomer to the DCEU.

Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen/The Flash character was also a welcome addition to the universe.  As a wide-eyed fanboy turned teammate of the other heroes, he brings an air of comic relief to the group of otherwise brooding characters. Although the character falls a little short of the wise-cracking charm of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming that he seems to emulate, Miller does bring some much needed youthful exuberance to the team.

The villain, Steppenwolf, is a stock villain that is setting up a larger “big boss” in later movies (probably Darkseid).  His character is not well developed, and there really is not enough backstory to make the viewer hate him that much, nor to think he has any chance of any sort of victory, small or large.

Comic book fans will not be disappointed, as there are some easter eggs throughout the film.  There are nods to the Green Lantern, Darkseid, and Lex Luthor, as well as the customary post-post credits scene introducing another fan favorite.

All in all, the film is very entertaining.  That being said, I don’t think the DCEU has been able to come up with anything that comes close to the top Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that have come out in the last 20 years.  For the franchise to be successful, the DCEU needs to take some cues from Marvel about making the villains more dynamic, the tone more fun (not necessarily in a comedic way), and the chemistry between the characters more palpable.  They definitely have the cast and director to really change the dynamic between the two universes.  Overall, the movie is definitely worth seeing for the action alone, and I would recommend it.

Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh, and based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, is a welcome change to a mystery genre that has become rather convoluted in recent years.  The film incorporates great direction and cinematography, along with a dynamic cast that makes the caper extremely entertaining.

The film begins in 1934 in Jerusalem, where world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solves a mystery involving a priest, a rabbi, and an imam.  In doing so, it is revealed to the audience that Poirot’s meticulous attention to detail allows him to solve virtually any crime presented to him. After solving the mystery, although looking forward to taking a vacation, he is implored to return to London to solve another mystery.  His friend and high ranking official on the Orient Express, Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman) offers Poirot a spot on his train with everything that a first class passenger could want.
While waiting to board the train, the audience is introduced to the all-star cast of characters who will fill the rest of the train.  The tipsy, confident Mrs Hubbard (Michele Pfiefer), the shady art dealer Mr. Ratchet (Johnny Depp), his butler Mr. Masterman (Derek Jacobi), his bookkeeper MacQueen (Josh Gad), Count Rudolph Adrenyi (Sergei Polunin), Countess Elena Adrenyi (Lucy Boynton), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), her assistant Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Coleman), Mary Debenhaum (Daisy Ridley), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Defoe), and Pilar Estrovados (Penelope Cruz).  All of the cast members intermingle with varying levels of tolerance for one another.
After Ratchet proposes a deal with Poirot for his protection, Poirot declines because of the man’s demeanor.  Later that night, the train is stopped after a snowstorm.  After noises wake him up, it is discovered that Ratchet has been murdered.  This leads to Bouc asking Poirot to help solve the mystery, leaving no passenger without some sort of suspicion.
When Poirot interrogates the passengers, he finds that each of them has something to hide, and could possibly have been the killer.  With his master-detective skills, he attempts to get to the bottom of the crime.  His systematic interrogation skills allow for him and Bouc to go through each individual and scrutinize the motives for each respective person.  .
The film is very entertaining and very well directed.  The scenes of Jerusalem and Instanbul are beautiful, and the filming of the train is extremely fun to watch.  The film is presented as sort of a stage play, with all of the action taking place in one place, and character driven dialogue being the real force of the movie.  The superb acting and character development give the film a feel of a movie from the 1950s, with little action throughout, but still with good drama.  The suspense is built through the characters’ interactions, and through dialogue and flashbacks, that lead the audience to try to figure out who may be responsible for the crime.
Branagh’s Poirot is a great character, and the iconic detective is fun to watch throughout.  Quirky and funny, he is able to figure out almost every possible solution to almost any question.  His interactions with the rest of the cast drive the plot and keep the audience guessing throughout.  The twists of the film will leave the audience wondering which character may be the murderer with a satisfying resolution in the end.  I definitely recommend this film for anyone that enjoys thoughtful, old-fashioned murder mysteries.

The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok, brings the fun, energy, and excitement that has come to be expected from Marvel films.  Director Taika Waititi does a great job of bringing some of the comic lore to the story, but also takes some cues from the widely successful Guardians of the Galaxy franchise by focusing on intergalactic action and comedy.

The film begins with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) trapped in a cage, captive by Surtur, a giant flame monster.  He is told that Ragnarok, or the fall of Asgard, is imminent, and that his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is missing.  Thor escapes in dramatic fashion, fighting through many of Surtur’s minions while Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” blares onscreen. He eventually gets back to Asgard to meet with his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who he recruits to help him find their father.

The brothers go to Earth to find their father  where they are aided by Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in an entertaining, comedic cameo. The brothers find Odin, who informs them of their older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchette), “The Goddess of Death,” who has escaped from banishment and has come back to take Asgard.  Hela is a fearsome warrior, and proves quite a match for Thor, even being able to destroy his iconic hammer.

When Thor is driven from Asgard, he arrives on a trash planet, where he is about to be overtaken by the inhabitants who appear to be very similar to the Tusken Raiders of the Star Wars movies.  Right before they take him, he is captured by a bounty hunter (Tessa Thompson), who brings him to the arena of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum,) who holds battles between creatures whom have been captured and brought to him.  These gladiatorial battles are attended by many fans, and they all have a favorite fighter, who happens to be the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  This brings the two Avengers back together, and allows them to attempt to go retrieve Asgard from the clutches of Hela.

The film is very well done, and is much better than the previous Thor film, Thor: The Dark World. The film appears to draw inspirations from other films such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and obviously the Guardians of the Galaxy films.  The colors and special effects are extremely well-done, and the fight scenes are well choreographed and fun.

The acting in the movie is great, and Hemsworth’s Thor brings all the charm that is expected of the Marvel protagonists.  The film showcases Hemsworth’s comedic talent, and does a great job of making the character very likeable and human, unlike his comic book counterpart.  The dynamic between the characters of Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner is great, and the timing, both action-wise and in comedy are impeccable.

Blanchette is a great villain in her turn as Hela, and showcases her power to the nth degree throughout much of the second half of the movie.  She definitely passes as a formidable warrior, and her monstrous Fenris Wolf makes her seem that much more powerful.  Hiddleston as Loki, as it has been in the previous installments of the Thor and Avengers films, never quite shows which side he is on throughout the film.

The film’s minor roles are also jammed with high profile actors, such as Karl Urban (Star Trek) as Hela’s executioner, Skurge, and Idris Alba in his role as Heimdall. Both do a great job of driving the movie along.  Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster provides great comic relief and plays the part perfectly as the bumbling despot of Sakaar.  There are also early cameos from big names like Matt Damon and Sam Neill, along with the always-present Thor creator, Stan-Lee.

The film keeps Marvel’s tradition of explosive fun alive, while seamlessly mixing in action which drives the plot, and humor that keeps the audience laughing.  The movie is definitely worth seeing in theaters, and will leave the viewer wanting more.  Thor: Ragnarok definitely hammers it home. As with previous Marvel movies, make sure to stay until ALL the credits are done.

The film Jigsaw, directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, takes the Saw franchise to new levels of stupidity and nonsense.  What started as a thrilling, thought-provoking franchise in the original Saw has now been reduced to a shoddily thrown together movie that does not offer any scares or intensity of its predecessor.

The film introduces the audience to the game with a robber named Edgar Munsen(Josiah Black) who goads the police into shooting and injuring him while he activates a trigger to begin the game.  The film then goes to a barn that has five captives in bucket helmets being dragged towards a wall with buzz saws rotating quickly.  When the people are prompted to make a blood sacrifice to ensure survival to the next level, they each let the saws cut their skin, allowing them to advance, with the exception of one, who does not make it.  After the body of the dead man is strung up for the public to see, it propagates the investigation into the copycat killer, using the same modus operandi as the deceased John Kramer (Tobin Bell), or Jigsaw.  The investigation is led by Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and Detective Hunt (Cle Bennett), who must invoke the help of forensic scientist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and his assistant Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson), who has a strange obsession with Jigsaw’s game.  

As in the first film, the movie attempts to blur the line between what is right and wrong, and gives the prisoners an out with confessions of their sins.  While the prisoners struggle to discover why they were captured, their stories are revealed more and more as the film drags on.   The prisoners are Anna (Laura Vandervoort), drug-dealer Ryan (Paul Braunstein), petty robber Carly (Britney Allen), and Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles).  The prisoners are very poorly developed and do not give the audience any reason to have sympathy for them.  

The devices used by the Jigsaw character to get justice are not very interesting compared to the other films.  There are no characters that have any redeeming characteristics in the movie and there are very few scenes that make the audience jump, or even have any sort of fear that the original installment elicits.  

Halloran’s character gets much of the focus throughout the film, with his morally ambiguous investigative style.  The character is at odds with Logan, as Logan has seen him botch or alter evidence and let people go.  This mistrust and deceitfulness between the two attempt to make the viewer question who is right and who is wrong in the ongoing investigation.  

After seeing the film, it is obvious that the film is more of a cash grab using the success of the previous Saw movies to make money and capitalize on a weak Halloween market.  The film is poorly written, and eventually leads to a climax that is not even interesting.  There is no real driving plot throughout the film, and the lack of character development greatly takes away from the final product.  The concept of Jigsaw being the judge, jury, and executioner is an interesting concept, but when it is thrown together with no real plotline, the game is not as fun.  Rather than seeing this film, I would recommend revisiting the first incarnation.  

The film The Snowman, based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo, is an attempt at a psychological thriller with ambitious intentions, but sadly the film goes awry.  Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a detective in Oslo, Norway who, despite battling personal demons, is a savant when it comes to investigating murders.  Although the novel is very well regarded, the film is confusing and downright nonsensical throughout.  The characters are not well-developed, the plot is extremely disjointed, and there are very few redeeming qualities for the duration of the film.

The film opens up with a scene in an isolated Norwegian home with a mother and a young boy.  After an uncomfortable visit from what he discovers to be his real father, the boy witnesses his mother take her own life in a gruesome way.

After the opening scene, the audience is introduced to the character of Hole, who wakes up on a bench during a freezing Norwegian night, apparently trying to track a criminal.  He eventually ends up back at the police headquarters, where the other officers are being debriefed on a new technology that can record and store information for the police to use.

When a married mother of a young girl goes missing and the clues point to a serial killer who uses snowmen as his calling card, Hole teams up with Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), a young, up and coming officer on the force.  The two unravel the Snowman mystery that eventually leads them to a major gala to promote having Oslo become home to a major Olympic-like sporting event that has much corruption and greed underneath the exterior.

The story has many major plot gaps, and there are too many characters that do not drive the story along, but instead take up screen time.  The killer himself is not a believable one, and the mystery is pretty easy to figure out early on.  Some major supporting actors like Val Kilmer as the drunk, suspended officer Rafto, and J.K. Simmons as Arve Stop, the head of the committee to bring the event to Norway, barely contribute to the story at all.

One thing The Snowman does well is showcase the beautiful scenery of Oslo, Norway.  There are many scenes that display the rocky, cold parts of Norway that do a good job of emphasizing the isolation of the main characters.  The scenes were filmed well and give the feeling of being in a place that is dark for the majority of the winter season.

Going into the film expecting a suspenseful, psychological thriller, The Snowman leaves the viewer wanting much more.  The cliched suspense scenes and half-witted story do not live up to a scary Halloween romp.  This is definitely a film you should wait to see until it comes out on basic cable one winter afternoon.

Marshall, directed by Reginald Hudlin, is a film depicting the early days of the NAACP and the rocket-like rise of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) to national prominence as an attorney.  Set in 1941, the film focuses on many of the prejudices and predispositions that are prominent in the news to this day.  Centered around the Connecticut vs. Spell case, which has Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) fighting an uphill battle to prove his innocence in a case that accuses him of assaulting a well-to-do housewife named Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).  As many cases against African-Americans in the early part of the 20th century, the odds are stacked extremely high against Spell.

The film begins by juxtaposing Marshall arguing a case for an African-American man in the seemingly racist Hugo, Oklahoma with attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) trying a run-of-the-mill accounting case in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for which he has gained a name for himself.  When Marshall goes to leave Oklahoma on a train, he is intimidated by a group of white townsfolk while boarding, emphasizing the dangers of his chosen line of work.

The next scene brings Marshall to the NAACP offices in New York, New York, where his boss, Walter White (Roger Guenveur Smith), informs him of the pending case against Spell in Connecticut.  This sends Marshall up north to try to help not only prove the innocence of Spell, but also to continue garnering support for the NAACP around the country.  Marshall is then introduced to Friedman through northern NAACP representative Ted Lancaster (Derrick Baskin), who is Friedman’s childhood friend.  Lancaster emphasizes that Friedman would be the perfect attorney to try the case.

The case begins with the two attorneys and the defendant meeting Judge Foster (James Cromwell) and prosecutor Loren Willis (Dan Stevens).  Foster seems to be biased against the NAACP’s cause, but promises to uphold the integrity of the case.  Willis is extremely prejudiced against African-Americans, and shows that right from the beginning of the case.  Both Marshall and Friedman realize that they have an extremely daunting task from the beginning, and they realize that the case is bigger than themselves altogether, as race issues in the United States are continually coming to the forefront.

Boseman, who stars as Jackie Robinson in the film 42, as James Brown in Get On Up, and as the Black Panther in the Marvel Comics Universe, does a masterful job of portraying the future Supreme Court Justice, Marshall.  He plays the role as a very cool, confident, and extremely intelligent lawyer whose indelible charm and wit eventually bring Marshall to the pinnacle of the United States judicial system.

Josh Gad also does a great job playing Sam Friedman, who is a foil to Boseman’s Marshall.  His character is more nervous and methodical than Marshall, and at the beginning feels that the case should not involve him because of his squeaky clean, upper class background. Dealing with 1940s anti-Semitism, the character realizes the prejudices of the United States are not strictly assigned to African-Americans.

The supporting characters are also extremely well-rounded and interesting.  Sterling Brown’s Joseph Spell, though unreliable through much of the film, is a stark contrast to his portrayal of Chris Darden, one the prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson trial in American Crime: The O.J. Simpson Trial.  Spell is a servant to the rich Strubing family, and when accused of the crime, shows the emotions of fear, confusion, disbelief, and exhaustion in a very effective way.  While being questioned by Marshall and Friedman, it is unclear whether he is truly afraid, withholding, or outright lying, which keeps the audience guessing.  The Eleanor Stubing (Hudson) character, a member of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s elite community, is great as a femme-fatale character in the film.  She is also an unreliable character, and Hudson sells the part.

 As the trial progresses throughout the film, Hudlin does a good job of incorporating flashbacks into the descriptions of events.  The flashbacks, depending on who is describing the event, change drastically.  This gives the audience the ability to be a part of the jury, deciding who is telling the truth and who is trying to beat the system.

The historical element of the film is also very interesting.  The film does a really good job of staying true to the original case, and follows much of the same timeline as the real thing.  The characters’ stances are very true to reality, and gives the film a lot of credence.

In 2017, the issue of race relations is still on the forefront of the news, conversation, and social media; and Marshall is a great allegory for the current situation in the United States.  Marshall will definitely be polarizing, but the acting and execution of the movie make it worth watching, no matter what beliefs or opinions a viewer has.

Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is an extremely well-done and long-awaited sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner,which is one of the most revered science fiction films ever made.  The characters in the film are based on characters from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and picks up decades after the first film leaves off.

 Blade Runner 2049 continues the film noir storytelling from the perspective of “K” (Ryan Gosling), who steals the show as the protagonist.  Keeping the same fatalistic and dark tone of the original film, the dystopian world of 2049 seems very real and palpable.  While the original film still holds up today, Villeneuve does a great job of keeping some of the original elements of Blade Runner while utilizing the unlimited potential of today’s special effects capabilities.

The film opens up with K searching for a replicant (a robot created to look and act like a human) named Sappar Morton (Dave Bautista), who has been living on a farm growing protein and has outlived the amount of time he was given.  After a hard fought hand-to-hand combat, Morton chastises K for being a fellow replicant killing other replicants, and also alludes to the fact that there is more potential to the creations than meets the eye.  After a fight scene in which K eventually “retires” (destroys) Morton, he finds a box that contains the remains of a replicant woman who may have given birth to a baby.  This would be a groundbreaking discovery, as this was previously believed to be impossible.  During this time, K begins to wonder whether or not he is part human, as he seems to feel and has memories from times before.

Once he goes on his journey to find out what is real is when the film starts picking up.  His girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas) is extremely loyal to K despite the fact that she is a hologram who desperately wants to feel.  Robin Wright plays Lieutenant Joshi, and does a great job of being a stern leader while showing some humanity throughout the film.  Jared Leto, as the film’s villain Niander Wallace — the man that bought out the Tyrell Corporation from the 1982 film, does a great job of being the stock evil genius throughout the film.

Ford’s Rick Deckard, although shown in the previews as a major player throughout the movie, is really only a big part of the last 45 minutes.  He reprises his role as Deckard masterfully, and has good chemistry with Gosling when they finally meet up, and brings his hardened charm to a film that is otherwise very bleak.

The film brings to the forefront many questions about the constant innovations of artificial intelligence, which are very pertinent in the 21st century, in an extremely creative light.  The question of “what is human?” is basically the theme of the movie.  Villeneuve does a great job of creating a world that is dark, bleak, and raw, much like the original film.  He also masterfully places the superior technology throughout, including flying cars, holographic people, and a futuristic underbelly of Los Angeles that is reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars: A New Hope.

Although long, the movie moves along very quickly and smoothly, with Gosling nailing the role of the hard-boiled detective throughout the film.  Each scene is extremely well-shot and well-calculated, and is very fun to watch.  Although not one character smiles throughout the film, the viewer gets a thrill ride through a futuristic version of Dick’s vision from a half a century ago.

American Made is the story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a former commercial airline pilot turned CIA operative turned smuggler for the Medellin drug cartel.

Based on a true story, the film gives some insight into the duality and hypocrisy of the American government during the late 70s and 80s. The film opens up with President Jimmy Carter giving a speech highlighting the bleak outlook that most Americans had after the Vietnam War and Nixon’s resignation. The movie blends action, comedy, and political satire very smoothly and seamlessly.

Barry Seal begins the movie as a commercial pilot for TWA who flies all over the world.  Although he is extremely capable and graduated at the top of his flight school class, he tends to play by his own rules. Because of this, a CIA agent named “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson) recruits him to run a fake company that flies to Latin American countries in order to get pictures of communist guerillas to have intel for the Cold War.  Because he is so successful in obtaining these photographs, the CIA hires him as a middle-man who brings information to the United States from Manuel Noriega, a general in Panama (who also eventually becomes one of Latin America’s most infamous dictators).  While doing this, and amid the chaos in Latin America in the 1970s, Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel enlist Seal’s services to deliver drugs from Colombia to the United States, thus solidifying the cartel as the most powerful in the world.

American Made plays to Tom Cruise’s strengths in many ways.  He has excelled in the action, drama, and comedy genres, and this film blends the three.  From the onset, the movie is fast-paced and exciting, and Cruise does a great job of using his comedic timing and charm to move the story along.  He is very relatable and although he is being duplicitous, the viewer roots for him to succeed.  He gives Barry Seal the charisma and life that are needed for the audience to sympathize with someone working on both sides of the law.

The film is shot in a way that almost makes it look like a hand-held camera.  This adds to some of the paranoia that Barry is feeling throughout the movie, and also reminds the audience that he is telling the story through a series of videotapes.  The technique is especially effective during the flying scenes, and Cruise leads the audience through a series of in-your-face drug deliveries that are fun and exciting.  

Sarah Wright, who plays Seal’s wife Lucy, does a great job of playing the organized crime wife who looks the other way, but also gives a strong, funny performance in the role.  The movie never falters when showing her devotion to Barry, even when she sees that what he is doing may not be right.  

The film’s dark humor centers around much of what the 70s and 80s gave the United States.  The desire for more money and products, the rampant use of drugs, and the questionable decisions made by the government at that time.  The Cold War-era fear of Communist infiltration of the government allowed for Reagan’s administration to train and arm a group of Cotras from Nicaragua in a comedic sequence that ends up being a catalyst for the drug trade to spread from Colombia to the United States.  

The movie would be best described as a mixture of the films Blow and Argo, as the drug smuggling sequences are humorous and exciting, with Cruise nailing the con artist-like charm that Depp mastered in the former.  With the undercover CIA mission and 80s nostalgia, there are a lot of similarities to Argo.  American Made definitely has the sense of fun and adventure of both of those movies.  

Overall, American Made is a fun, action-packed joyride for anyone who wants an edge-of-your-seat adventure.  It is definitely worth the watch, and it is vintage Tom Cruise.  If you’re in the mood for a satirical action film that brings light to some of the darker operations of the government’s past, this film will not disappoint.  

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is the third big screen adaptation of the construction toys that most of America grew up with.  Directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan capture much of the fun, tongue-in-cheek humor that the previous features perfected, and brings a new world, Ninjago, into the mainstream.

The story of Ninjago focuses around Lloyd (Dave Franco), who is a typical high school student who doubles as a city’s protector along with his friends. Lloyd also happens to be the estranged son of the evil overlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), which is a source of constant ridicule at school.  Ninjago is introduced to the audience by Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan), a shop owner explaining a hero’s journey using Legos in a live-action sequence.  The viewer is then transported to the animated world of Ninjago, and the fast-moving story takes off from there.

The directors kept to the winning formula of the previous films by voicing the characters with well known and very talented comedic actors.  Kumail Nanjiani voices Lloyd’s friend/fellow ninja, Jay, and does a great job of being a funny, nervous, realist, much like his character in Silicon Valley.  Fred Armisen, a Saturday Night Live alum, voices Cole, and Michael Pena voices Kai.  Both actors are very funny and bring a lot of life to the movie.  The female ninja, Nya, is voiced by Abbi Jacobson, while the robot ninja, Zane, is voiced by Zach Woods, who brings his analytical comedy that he perfected in The Office to the film. Jackie Chan provides the voice of the ninja’s sensei, Master Wu, and brings an air of credibility to the martial arts aspect of the film.

The best character in the movie is Garmadon, who is an absent father to Lloyd, and also his archnemesis.  Theroux is very entertaining in the role and gives Will Arnett’s Batman character a run for his money as the most arrogant, likeable character in the franchise.  While being a villain hell bent on taking over Ninjago, he also has many heartfelt moments with the main character, in a way that the Lego movies have tended to do.

The film draws many influences from martial arts movies of the past, including clips and overt references throughout the movie.  The movie starts out with a Power Rangers-esque vibe, where each member of the team has their own power (in this case it is elements) and their own giant robot vehicle.  It then moves onto the ninjas’ journey of self discovery.  The film is rife with pop culture references, and some good celebrity cameos, and it is entertaining for an adult and suitable for a child.  Although a little short, it definitely is entertaining and enjoyable.  Even though the first two installments set the bar high, Lego Ninjago is almost on par with both and is a great watch for the whole family.

American Assassin, directed by Michael Cuesta, is about as clichéd and convoluted as an action movie can be.

Based on the 12 novel series by Vince Flynn, it follows the training of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA recruit who, after witnessing the death of his fiancée, is on a mission to destroy the people who have wronged him.

The film also stars Michael Keaton as his mentor, Stan Hurley, and Taylor Kitsch as the film’s villain, “Ghost.”

American Assassin opens with almost immediate action, and guns are blazing on a beautiful Spanish beach, as terrorists attack and Rapp’s fiancée Katrina (Charlotte Vega) is killed in the process. This scene sets the stage for the almost constant action that the film offers.

Fast forward, and after 18 months of grieving, the audience is shown that Mitch is still very much intent on finding and killing the men who killed his fiancée. This is shown through a sequence of scenes in which Mitch “plays by his own rules” in his mixed martial arts gym and at a shooting range, prompting the people around him to be afraid and uncomfortable. He also spends much of his free time looking up extremist propaganda videos in order to get closer to his enemy.

Mitch arranges for a meeting with his potential target, and when he finally gets his chance at vengeance, the CIA intervenes and takes him. Rapp is recruited to be a part of a task force that could give him some closure for his tumultuous past, which includes tracking down the masterminds behind a potential terrorist attack and plutonium heist.

The plot was very confusing, and really did not make a lot of sense. The Mitch Rapp character did not have much depth, and the people around him were cookie cutter characters that are basically stock parts in every action movie from the last 20 years.

The vengeance factor tries to emulate John Wick, but does not live up to that movie’s fun, gratuitous overkill that made it such a cult hit. The technology aspect is very reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible movies and Enemy of the State, and it feels too familiar to really be that effective.

It is almost as if the director takes almost every action movie trope and mixes it together hoping it will stick.

The action scenes are very well done, and basically drive the whole movie. The hand to hand combat is very exciting, and the car chases and explosions that are expected of contemporary action movies are par for the course. The special effects are thrilling, and a cringe-worthy torture scene involving some peeled fingernails will make a strong-stomached viewer wince. A scene on the ocean transporting the stolen plutonium is fun and intense. The movie is filmed very close to the characters, which gives the movie the feel of a first-person shooter video game, and the quick camera-work attempts to give the viewer the same feelings of anxiety that the main characters are feeling during the intense scenes.

The best performance in the film is Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley. Keaton’s career has been given new life after his commanding performances in Oscar-worthy films such as Spotlight and Birdman, and his alpha male portrayals of characters like the chief in The Other Guys and as Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The character of Stan Hurley is a hard-boiled leader of the team, and the training sequences before actually heading on their globe-hopping search for the antagonist give his character the most interesting story of any of the characters.

Taylor Kitsch, although a very talented actor, does a mediocre job of portraying the film’s villain. The character of “Ghost” is ripped straight from the plot of a bad James Bond movie, straight down to the former allegiance and training he had with Hurley. Ghost and Mitch Rapp are foils to each other, and the film tries to emphasize the point that each operative is expendable, and can be broken at any time.

The female leads of the movie are CIA director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) and Turkish spy Annika (Shiva Neeger).  The character of Kennedy is a prototypical head of an organization with a soft spot for the protagonist, and has good chemistry with Keaton’s Hurley.  Lathan does a good job of being a level-headed counterpart to Keaton.  Annika is a questionable ally to Mitch Rapp and Hurley, but does a serviceable job of being Mitch’s partner throughout the film.  Both actresses do an effective job as their respective characters.

The film requires an extremely healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, as the play-by- his-own-rules tactics of Rapp would surely land him in deep trouble with the real United States government, never mind with almost every international organization in the world. The vigilante style of Mitch Rapp is eventually appreciated and celebrated by the film’s major operatives.

Hick’s Flix Says: I thought that American Assassin was definitely over the top and hard to believe, but if you go in looking for a fast-paced, high-flying action movie without any thought at all, it is worth the watch. If you are looking for a thoughtful thrill-ride with international espionage and suspense, I would definitely look elsewhere.