THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM. John and Molly Chester give up city jobs and buy a dilapidated farm with the goal of a) keeping a promise to their dog and b) making a farm that's completely natural — no big corporate agriculture here. Fascinating idea, right? Plus, director John (a veteran TV director before buying the farm with his wife Molly, a food blogger) knows a good image and aptly shows the perils and rewards of building from nothing a farm that is one with the world surrounding it. There's also a compelling pro-eco-farming message. However, John the producer should have fired John the voiceover artist because as a narrator, he comes off as sanctimonious and officious, and I'm betting that's not the intention. Plus, as good as some of the footage looks, John the director makes John the character occasionally look like a jerk to his employees and volunteers. The film works best during its first half-hour, as the Chesters learn farming the hard way and their hippie agricultural expert Alan York has a bunch of screen time. It's a worthwhile and important story but there's too much vanity and not enough agitprop. PG. 91M. MINOR.
— David Riedel
X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX. Simon Kinberg attempts to make up for the disastrous version of this same story for which he was partially responsible once before. But improving upon X-Men: The Last Stand isn't exactly a high bar. Set in the early 1990s, it continues the story of the mutant heroes led by professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), as a rescue mission in space results in telepath/telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) absorbing a powerful energy force that begins to overwhelm her. Kinberg dabbles in the oppressed-minority subtext that has always driven this franchise but focuses much more on Jean's dangerous power as a manifestation of repressed trauma. Turner, however, isn't quite deft enough to give Jean's story actual emotional punch and none of the characters here — save for Michael Fassbender's Magneto — feels fully realized enough to give the story depth to match its grim tone. That leaves little more than comic-book spectacle, though the two biggest action set pieces are both solidly choreographed. It's clear that Kinberg is striving for something more profound than a fun summer blockbuster — and once again, he can't quite pull it off. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
— Scott Renshaw
SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2. Way less charming and inventive than its progenitor, this feels like a lazy straight-to-DVD sequel rather than a theatrical film. Mutt Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis CK because screw that guy and also Oswalt is better in the role) and his doggie brother Duke (Eric Stonestreet) deal with accepting a new human baby into the household. Meanwhile, purse pooch Gidget (Jenny Slate) infiltrates the feline-full flat of a crazy cat lady — a rather ungenerous depiction, considering the first movie's sweetness about the relationship between humans and companion animals — and "Captain" Snowball (Kevin Hart), a bunny with delusions of caped-crusader-dom, attempts to rescue a tiger cub from a terrible circus (a concept that feels dated here). Best bit: Harrison Ford as the voice of gruff, no-nonsense farm dog that Max encounters on a family trip. The rest of it is inoffensive fluff, fine for the kids but sorely lacking that certain oomph adult animation fans look for. PG. 86M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— MaryAnn Johanson
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE DEAD DON'T DIE. Director Jim Jarmusch puts the dead in deadpan with Adam Driver and Bill Murray in a zombie-filled comedy-horror. R. 105M. MINOR.
LATE NIGHT. Mindy Kaling plays a newbie diversity hire in an all-white, male writers room for a stale late-night show hosted by a prickly icon (Emma Thompson). R. 102M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL. Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth dip out of Asgard to revive the alien-friendly franchise and suit tailoring with Emma Thompson. PG13. 104M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). Take shots with Karen Allen and punch Nazis. PG. 105M. BROADWAY.
SHAFT. Samuel L. Jackson, Avan Jogia and Richard Roundtree swagger into a multi-generational detective action sequel. With Alexandra Shipp and Regina Hall. R. 111M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ALADDIN. Live-action Disney remake with (hopefully) less racism and a hotter Jafar than the original. Starring blue Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari. PG. 128M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Kaiju cage match for the planet with Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah. With humans Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe and Millie Bobby Brown. PG13. 131M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM. This installment outdoes itself with world-creation and giddily satisfying action sequences as Keanu Reeves outruns an international assemblage of assassins with Halle Berry and more dogs. Also starring Laurence Fishburne and Anjelica Houston. R. 130M. BROADWAY.
MA. Octavia Spencer stars as a woman who lets the cool kids party at her house and then turns scary. R. 99M. BROADWAY.
THE RAFT. Danish documentary about a 1973 floating social experiment that was supposed to examine sex and violence but veered closer to mutiny. NR. 97M. MINIPLEX.
ROCKETMAN. Elton John biopic promising sex, drugs, glittering sunglasses and rock 'n' roll with the greatest hits soundtrack to match. Starring Taron Egerton. R. 121M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
SERENGETI RULES. Documentary reflecting on the work of a group of scientists who studied the dynamics of survival in nature in the 1960s. NR. 84M. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill