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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.

Fifty Shades Darker
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eric Johnson, Kim Basinger, and Marcia Gay Harden
Synopsis: This is the follow up to "Fifty Shades of Grey," and is the second of the trilogy of books from E.L. James. For this sequel her husband, Niall Leonard, took over the screenwriting duties and James Foley ("Glengarry, Glen Ross," "House of Cards") took over the directing duties. This one is more of a traditional love story, with some of the more laughable plot turns smoothed out. This is a better film than the first, avoiding as many groan-worthy lines and featuring better chemistry between Dornan and Johnson in the lead roles. It's still not a great film. It is a better and more watchable film. And it continues the story popularized in the books, which will be completed in the third film, due out in 2018. For fans of the material, it will likely be an encouragement. And even for those not familiar with the books, this is a more engaging and intriguing plot, and more of a conventional love story. It's still not great, but it's better. But viewers be warned — there's still a lot of sex and nudity.
Rating: R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.

The Lego Batman Movie
Starring: Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Cera, and Zach Galifinakis
Synopsis: Back in 2014 animation changed. A couple of guys — Phil Lord and Chris Miller — whose biggest directing credit was “21 Jump Street” took on a new project — finding a way to bring Legos to life. “The Lego Movie” was one of the most fun and inventing animated films that year, and one of the most fun films period. And it’s one that’s had an enduring legacy. One of the best characters in that movie was Batman, voiced by Will Arnett. On Friday, February 10 the Lego movie franchise got a new addition as Arnett’s Batman got his own feature film. And it was everything we could have hoped for and more. Batman is my favorite superhero. I’ve seen all his films — even the cheese ball one from the 1960s — and it’s clear the makers of this film have, too. In fact, they make a tongue-in-cheek reference to all the previous Batman films as part of this presentation. And it works. This is a film that works for kids, and in fact has an interesting message about connection and friendship, but it’s also a movie with plenty of nostalgia for adult viewers. The screenplay was the work of five writers, including Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington. And it draws from everything in the Batman cannon, much of the D.C. Comics universe and some other surprising sources to make a film that’s unexpected and has great inside references. Director Chris McKay, who previously worked on “Robot Chicken,” has a good feel for the material and the characters. He gets the most out of his talented voice cast and this wild ride of a story. “The Lego Batman” movie is a fun follow up to the original “Lego Movie.” It’s not a sequel, per se, but a film born from the same universe. It latches on to one of the most fun characters from the original and builds on the world. This film works great for fans of Batman, fans of the genre and really any audience looking for a few laughs and a good message. And that’s perhaps the most surprising element — this film has heart. It’s about the connections we make, and how that helps lead to a fulfilling life. A lesson Batman has to learn, and one that audiences can take away from the film, too. “The Lego Batman” movie is a nice, family-friendly option in a market place dominated by different kinds of films.
Rating: PG for rude humor and some action.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

Upcoming Releases:
Friday, February 17 — "The Great Wall," "A Cure for Wellness," "Fist Fight"
Friday, February 24 — "Get Out," Collide," "Rock Dog"

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