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.

The most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s It captures the concept of fear, nostalgia, suspense, and fun in a way that very few horror movies made in the last 20 years have been able to achieve.  

From the opening credits to the end of the movie, there is not one part of the film that does not elicit one of those feelings in one way or another.  The acting and direction are reminiscent of The Goonies and Stranger Things.  The music is ominous and driving, and the cinematography brings a claustrophobic feeling that will leave the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The film recreates the first half of the book, which initially takes place in 1957, and puts the “Loser’s Club,” a group of good-natured, adventure loving kids, in 1988, and genuinely represents many of the pop culture and domestic norms of the era.  The protagonists, Bill(Jaeden Lieberher), Richie(Finn Wolfhard), Ben(Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike(Chosen Jacobs), Eddie(Jack Dylan Grazer), Stan(Wyatt Oleff), and Bev(Sophia Lillis), all represent the innocence and adventurousness that are idealized in children. 

In Derry, Maine, seven friends come face-to-face with a shape shifter, who takes the form of an evil clown who targets children.

Although a horror movie, the film is also a coming of age story of a group of friends who must overcome odds to stay together.  The actors who portray the Losers do a great job of keeping the suspense and fear that is expected of King’s magnum opus  in unison with the fun, childlike awe that a viewer can only enjoy with the talent of the actors portraying these characters.  

Bill Skarsgaard plays Pennywise the Dancing Clown, or “It,” in a much more violent and disturbing presentation than his TV miniseries predecessor Tim Curry [a man who made an entire generation of children afraid of clowns].  Skarsgaard’s voices and menacing smile throughout the film are the stuff of nightmares, but his marionette-like movements paired with his jolting, strobing gestures in many scenes are what will make a grown man walking into a basement quiver.

The supporting characters who do not have any supernatural powers create a very real statement about how outside influences can affect a person’s psyche.  The most evident example of that is the sociopathic Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), who does a masterful job of portraying a bully who will not stop without humiliating and hurting those who most fear him.  His character becomes a good parallel to the otherworldly horror that is Pennywise.  

Director Andy Muschetti makes a point to keep most of the shots very close to the actors, giving a very claustrophobic and dark aura to the film.  The viewer is very close to the nightmarish feelings of the main characters, and there are many allusions to the fears and curiosity of childhood that can be real or imagined.  Each character’s flaws, which are unique to each, are very relatable and palatable, and add to the intensity of the movie.  

The undertones of the movie are an integral part of the movie.  The real-life fears that the protagonists deal with over the course of the film are very real and widespread, minus the supernatural elements assigned to them in the film.  Each of the Losers emulate one or more of the real fears that can resonate with most people, and that makes the main characters even more likeable.  Besides the acting, which is spot-on to King’s characterization of the characters, the actors portray a group of good friends with similar interests that can join together and overcome anything.

Hick’s Flix Says: Overall, IT was a fascinating movie that stayed true to what may be Stephen King’s greatest story, and still can strike fear into any person looking for a thrill.  If you want to see a movie that allows you to wax poetic about what you and your group of friends did while growing up and walk out with goosebumps after the show, this is a movie for you.