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New Releases Round-up 2/6/17 – 2/10/17

Fifty Shades Darker, directed by James Foley, Universal

The sequel to 2015’s critical punching bag/box office smash is finally here, after a two-year interval that almost seems admirable for its restraint. Perhaps deciding the female perspective on eroticism was unnecessary, the studio has replaced Sam Taylor-Johnson with Hollywood hired-gun James Foley, who reportedly directed this film back-to-back with the third entry in the series; Fifty Shades Freed (due this time next year), an assembly-line strategy of production shared by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, another esteemed literary adaptation. The same financial success and upcoming sweep of the Razzies is assured for Darker, although going up against another sequel to a large-scale money-maker this weekend (The Lego Batman Movie) likely has Universal execs tugging at their sado-masochistically-tight collars. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return to lead the film, with Kim Basinger and Rita Ora running interference in the supporting cast. Opens February 10th.

Legion, Series Premiere, FX

The latest from FX golden-boy Noah Hawley (with a third season of his must-watch Fargo and an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle both coming soon to the network) places a prestigious cast in the X-Men universe as seen in 21st Century Fox’s ongoing film franchise, albeit from a distance. Assuming they stick to the comic books, David Haller (Dan Stevens, making a welcome return to series television after an exit from Downton Abbey) does happen to be related to a, let’s-just-say-teensy-bit important character in the mutant mythos, but Legion appears to be attempting to carve out its own lane, so-to-speak. Hawley has already proven himself to be remarkably adept at engaging and unique storytelling within the framework of (and without reliance on) established property with Fargo, so this is all but sure to be a hit. A la Ryan Murphy with Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson, Hawley appears to be establishing a repertory of dynamite female actresses, with Jean Smart and Rachel Keller returning from the previous season of Fargo and rounding out the supporting cast of Legion. Premieres Wednesday, February 8th at 10 PM on FX.

John Wick: Chapter 2, directed by Chad Stahelski, Lionsgate

2014’s John Wick was an impeccably crafted sleeper action hit, full of stylistic invention while simultaneously speaking in the oh-so-familiar language of “he-thought-he-was-out-but-they-pulled-him-back-in” crime movies. It was a much-needed reminder of the correct application of Keanu Reeves (make him fight a lot of dudes and only give him dialogue that’s either brief or funny) and a great debut for the directorial team of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Half of that formerly stunt-focused duo is returning for the follow-up, with Leitch helming Cold War spy-thriller The Coldest City due later this year, and Stahelski left to carry the torch (sorry) of a John Wick “multiple-title action franchise.” (as hoped by Lionsgate executives) If any action film could reasonably spawn a series, however, it would certainly be this one, being that a strength of the first film was its intriguingly not-so-secret criminal underworld on display. The colorful rogues gallery on display in the first film is of course led again by Reeves’ John Wick, and rounded out by Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane, Peter Stormare, and Common. Opens February 10th.