Megan Leavey

Posted on June 9, 2017 at 10:26 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 11, 2017
Copyright 2017 Bleeker Street

Devastated by the loss of a close friend, fired from a dead-end job, without any sense of worth or meaning, a young rural New Yorker enlists in the Marines and learns about honor, loyalty, and purpose, and finds unconditional love, too.

What makes that familiar story less familiar in this fact-based retelling is that the Marine in question is a woman and the love story is with her partner, a German Shepard.

Kate Mara is both vulnerable and determined as Megan Leavey, who was lost until she joined the Marines and got assigned to the K-9 division of military dogs trained to sniff out bombs and guns. Leavey had two tours of duty alongside Rex until they were blown up together by a bomb. The most significant part of her recovery came from a renewed sense of purpose in fighting for the chance to give Rex a home when he could no longer work.

The film, which has some dramatic (and romantic) heightening, shows Leavey being fired by a supervisor who tells her, “You don’t connect with people very well.” Her mother (Edie Falco, terrific as always) does not want her to go into the military but has nothing else to offer. After basic training, she gets drunk with friends and is sentenced to clean up the dog kennels. That is the moment when a part of her wakes up. Instead of resisting what she does not want, for the first time there is something she does want.

The Leavey equivalent in the K-9 corps is Rex, a handsome German shepherd described by the veterinarian as “the most aggressive dog I’ve ever treated.” The woman who does not connect with people very well is a perfect match for the dog who does not connect with people very well, either.

Leavey wants to become a part of the K-9 program, but in order to qualify she has to meet some very tough standards for her skills and behavior. She makes it in and the training includes learning how to bandage a wounded dog, a powerful reminder of the risks ahead.

The story has four distinct chapters: Leavey before the Marines, her training and getting to know Rex, their deployment, and her efforts to bring him home so she can care for him in his last months. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and star Mara wisely keep the focus on Leavey’s spirit-enlarging journey. Cowperthwaite is a documentarian (“Blackfish”) and brings a low-key naturalism to the storytelling, and Mara is excellent in revealing Leavey’s growing sense of confidence and purpose. “We were injured in Iraq,” she says, simply, compellingly. They are both wounded warriors and their best path to healing is to be together.

Parents should know that this film includes wartime violence with guns, bombs, explosions, characters injured and killed, drinking and drunkenness, strong language, sexual references and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: What was it about the dog corps that made Megan want to qualify to be a part of it?  Why did Gunny give her a chance?

If you like this, try: “Max”

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Based on a true story DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Get Your Handkerchiefs Ready War


Posted on September 17, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and discussions of drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Prison escape, violent murders, tense confrontations, hostage situation
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 18, 2015
Copyright 2014 BN Films
Copyright 2014 BN Films

Two desperate people who think they have nothing discover that there is still a lot more to lose in this fact-based story about an escaped prisoner and the woman he held captive.

The story made headlines throughout the country. Ashley Smith, a young widow still in her 20’s, was in the early, fragile stages of recovery from drug abuse. Her daughter was living with Smith’s aunt, but Smith was working hard to be able to care for her. Brian Nichols was in prison, charged with rape. When he was being transferred for his trial, he beat the security guard, stole the civilian clothes he was to wear for the trial, and went on the run, killing a judge and three other people. He grabbed Smith, and forced her to let him into her apartment. He held her there for seven hours before she was able to leave and call 911. While they were together, they talked, she made him pancakes, and she read aloud to him from Rick Warren’s best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?. The book was given to her by a woman in her 12-step group, and she tossed it in the garbage. But it was waiting for her again at her job. The woman who gave it to her got it out of the garbage can and left it for her.

Kate Mara plays Smith and David Oyelowo plays Nichols, and the heart of the movie is seeing each of them find some humanity in the other. Neither has any reason to trust, and neither does much to earn trust, either. “I’m a mother!” she says when he first captures her. She wants him to see her as a person, and as a person someone else depends on. But she tells him the truth, that her daughter is not there and will not be returning. And then she lies to him and says that her husband is coming home soon. He asks her for weed, and she says there isn’t any, but he can tell from the way she says it that she is holding something else. It is “ice” (meth) and it is in a small packet she almost could not resist shortly before Nichols captured her.

He takes some and tries to force her to take the rest. But she realizes that she would literally rather die than start using again, and it is the strength of that moment that is the turning point for her. Hopped up on drugs, Nichols says he wants Smith and her daughter to come with him to Mexico. He will kidnap his infant son and they can all be together. But he knows it is impossible. Listening to the book, or perhaps seeing Smith get the message that she can still have a purpose even after all her mistakes, helps him understand what he must do. Smith herself says that moment was when faith in God’s love filled her heart and she knew she would be all right.

The movie loses momentum when it shifts to the law enforcement efforts to track Nichols. What matters is two people who think they have lost everything and how one of them chooses life, hope, and purpose.

Parents should know that this movie includes a prison escape with four brutal murders, guns plus reference to drug dealing and another murder, hostage, drugs and discussion of drug abuse, some strong language, and issues of child custody and parental fitness.

Family discussion: What were the most meaningful parts of the time they spent together to Ashley? To Brian? What book would you want to read to someone afraid and in pain?

If you like this, try: the book by Ashley Smith Robinson and Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life

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Based on a book Based on a true story Crime Drama Movies -- format Spiritual films

FREE TICKETS to a screening of “Captive” with Kate Mara and David Oyelowo in the True Story of the Hostage Who Read Purpose Driven Life to Her Captor

Posted on September 14, 2015 at 4:12 pm

I have a limited number of tickets to give away to a Silver Spring, Maryland screening on September 17, 2015 of “Captive,” based on the true story of Ashley Smith, who was held hostage by a murderer and read aloud to him from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?. Smith has written her own book: Captive: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero. In the movie, she is played by Kate Mara, and her captor, a prison escapee who killed a judge and three law enforcement officers, is played by David Oyelowo.  This special screening is in connection with the Night of Purpose, a nationwide event with exclusive content.

Click here for the free passes.  NOTE: a pass does not guarantee a seat.  Get there at least one hour early to ensure that you will be able to see the film.

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Based on a true story Contests and Giveaways Spiritual films

Fantastic Four

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

Three things a superhero movie should not be: dreary, dull, and tedious. Three things this movie is: see if you can guess. I am a huge fan of the comic book series Fantastic Four, which I first read as a teenager, ready for something with a little more edge and attitude than my beloved Superman. I have suffered through previous efforts to make their stories work on film, and dared to hope that this one would be better. It is awful in every category. The script is terrible, wasting much too much time on a revamped origin story that goes back to 5th grade(!) and the high school science fair(!) and still does not tell us anything interesting about the characters or how they got their powers. The characters are dull and all seem to be acting in separate bell jars, with no indication that there is another human being in the scene. Even when they are supposed to be friends, siblings, parent and child, or possible romantic partners, they act as though the other person was a tennis ball hanging in front of a green screen.

People who are supposed to be super-smart do things that are super-stupid. Like constantly. One thing scientists understand very well is that empirical data matters. So when things go terribly wrong when you try something, what’s the deal with doing the same thing again without taking any new steps to prevent further disasters? And Reed Richards’ only complaint is that the new pod is not as pretty as the old one and needs ten minutes of corrections to the code?

The dialog is filled with appalling clunkers like, “Do you ever think about what would have happened if you never came to the science fair?” “We cannot change the past. But we can change the future.” It even has locker-room style pep talks like, “He’s too much for each of us, but if we all work together we can beat him!” And many of the comments are just pointless and there are developments that have no logic of character or plot, indicating that the movie was even worse at some point and was cut like someone was slicing the bruises off a banana. The special effects look like they were created on Fiverr. The action scenes are muddy and static. At just over 90 minutes, it still feels endless.

And another boneheaded decision: while the comic book characters are adults, somebody decided to age them down into teenagers for this version so we could add in some adolescent angst, a love triangle that is about at the level of who will ask Sue to the prom, and, I am not making this up (I wish I were), the whole superpower thing happens because those darn kids get drunk one night and take the dimensional traveling machine thing out for a tipsy joyride. Think “Fantastic Four 90210.” We’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til Daddy takes the dimensional traveling pod away!

And what is the number one requirement for a superhero movie? A great villain. No such luck here. The bad guy is just a moody misfit who likes the same girl as the other guy and just might blow up the planet over it. And somehow when he’s abandoned for a period of time in another dimension on what looks like another planet with no life forms of any kind, somehow he manages to eat enough to stay alive AND come away with a really cool new cape and hood, sewn for him I guess by little elves? And unless Sue Storm’s new powers include hairstyle changes, the continuity people on this film have some ‘splaining to do.

There is a legendary Fantastic Four movie, available only on bootleg, made in 1994 as an “ashcan” film, not intended for release, just to preserve the studio’s rights to the characters. My bet is that it is better than this version. There is no bad guy in the history of the characters who has inflicted as much damage on the F4 as this sorry, soggy mess. (Thankfully, the plans for the sequel have been scrapped.)

Parents should know this film features extended sci-fi/comic-book peril and violence, some disturbing images of characters getting fried and exploding, parental death, domestic violence, some strong language, and drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: Why did Reed run away? How are Reed and Victor alike?

If you like this, try: “The Avengers” and “Iron Man” and the Fantastic Four comics, especially those featuring Galactus

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Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Remake Science-Fiction Superhero
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