February movie guide

This month’s releases are scant while preparing for Hollywood’s biggest night


February is an important month in the movie industry, mostly because it is home to the Academy Awards.

While the stars prepare to pat themselves on the back and write their acceptance speeches – where they’ll go on about their political agendas at this year’s ceremony – the actual film releases for the month are pretty bare.

The noteworthy releases are made up of mostly sequels and spinoffs, but are from solid franchises and look to deliver on the promise of their predecessors.

“John Wick: Chapter 2”

Feb. 10

Keanu Reeves is back out of retirement again as John Wick in this sequel to the grossly under-appreciated film from 2014.

The sequel finds Wick back in retirement after avenging the death of his dog in the first film. When a former associate calls in a favor, Wick must travel to Rome to help his associate take control of an international assassin’s guild.

“John Wick” was a throwback to an era of simple action films with a heavy dose of Hong Kong action cinema and Spaghetti Western thrown in.

Directed by stunt coordinators from “The Matrix,” it allowed Reeves to do what he does best, which is look cool and kick guys in the back of the head.

“Fifty Shades Darker”

Feb. 10

Drop your socks and grab your Crocs because it’s about to get wet on this ride. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return as Anastasia Steele and Christina Grey in the new “Fifty Shades” flick. The film comes just in time for boring couples to watch together on Valentine’s Day before going home to the usual night of even-paced missionary – but this time, with a blindfold.

After the events of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Ana tries to move on from her relationship with Christian. But when a wounded Christian manages to convince Ana to come back to him, she says she will do so, but under her conditions.

There is actual talent behind these movies, somehow. Sam Taylor-Johnson – who directed the first film – is a good director, but she was given nothing to work with in a bland script with thinly drawn characters, led by two stars with zero chemistry. Director James Foley (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” watch it) would appear to be inheriting the same issues in this sequel.

“The Lego Batman Movie”

Feb. 10

With a spinoff of “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) reprises his role as the Caped Crusader in this animated film. Aided by his young ward, Robin (Michael Cera) and Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) Batman must learn about friendship and the power of teamwork in order to defeat the Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

The film sounds incredibly cheesy, but a lot of the creative team is coming right from “The Lego Movie” so they have built up an infinite amount of good will in my book. Plus, the cast is made up of only amazingly talented, funny people and Chris Hardwick.

Arnett can do arrogance like no other which translates perfectly to this comedic take on Batman. Also, Billy Dee Williams will finally be able to do his take on Two Face after playing Harvey Dent in both of Tim Burton’s Batman films. He was replaced by Tommy Lee Jones, who seemed mostly interested in aping Jack Nicholson and cashing a paycheck.

“A Cure for Wellness”

Feb. 17

A young executive (Dane DeHaan) is sent to collect the CEO of his company from a wellness center located in the Swiss Alps. But when he suspects that there may be more to the spa’s treatments than there seems, he finds himself diagnosed with the same disease as the center’s patients by the facility’s director (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter”).

Gore Verbinski returns to some of his horror roots with this psychological thriller after spending the last decade of his career in Disney World, directing the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy and the flop that was “The Lone Ranger.” This will be Verbinski’s first film not to feature Johnny Depp since 2005’s “The Weather Man,” so let’s hope DeHaan proves to be a suitable replacement. The actor has done some strong work, particularly as the star of “Chronicle,” the found footage superhero film from 2012.

“Fist Fight”

Feb. 17

When high school teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) accidentally gets his colleague Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) fired from his job, Strickland utters three simple sentences:

“Parking lot. After school. It’s on.”

That’s a simple enough set up. The idea of high school teachers Charlie Day and Ice Cube engaged in fisticuffs sounds like it has comic potential. Director Richie Keen, while this is his first feature film, has directed some of the funniest episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” also starring Day.

But we all know the real star of this film. Miss Monet, an intense drama teacher with an infatuation for Mr. Strickland, will be portrayed by none other than “Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks, who wields a butterfly knife in the film’s trailer.

I’m reviewing the film right now, sight unseen. A+.

David Tunis-Garcia is the arts editor and can be reached at david.garcia@ubspectrum.com