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.

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.