Megan Leavey

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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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Critics Pay Tribute to a Guilty Pleasure: Ice Castles

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As part of rogerebert.com’s annual Women’s Week, three critics got together to pay tribute to one of their favorite films, the ice skating classic, Ice Castles.

Christy Lemire, Sheila O’Malley, and Susan Wloszczyna shared their memories of first seeing the film and acknowledged that despite its cheesiness and some uncomfortable elements, they can’t help loving it.

Released in 1978, it has disco-era signposts aplenty: Melissa Manchester’s unbridled rendition of Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s magical Oscar-nominated theme song, “Through the Eyes of Love,” then-It Boy Robby Benson as the hockey hotshot romantic interest and Dorothy Hamill-inspired wedge haircuts galore….

CHRISTY LEMIRE: “Ice Castles” has a really great, gritty sense of place that also keeps it from being teenage nonsense. That town feels so real and so insular. Are there actual bowling alley/ice rink combos in the world?

SHEILA O’MALLEY: I was going to mention that! I totally agree. She really comes from somewhere. It’s very real. The snow, the bowling alley, the frozen pond. A boyfriend who plays hockey. I really hope there are such combos. I’d love to visit. Especially if Colleen Dewhurst is running the show, sipping whiskey from a flask.

CHRISTY LEMIRE: She gives this film so much weight, so much emotional heft.

SHEILA O’MALLEY: She is acting her ASS off, if you’ll pardon the expression. She’s ferocious and filled with emotion and personal regrets and smoking butts and sneaking sips of whiskey at the hockey game. She’s awesome.

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Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Real-Life Movie Sweethearts

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I love to recommend romantic movies for Valentine’s Day. This year, how about some movies starring real-life movie sweethearts?

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward made several films together, including “The Long, Hot Summer” and “Rachel Rachel” (he directed, she starred).

Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn met on “Woman of the Year” and you can see them fall in love on screen.

Their last movie together was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” This speech, filmed just before Tracy’s death, feels as though Tracy is speaking about his love for his co-star.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie met on “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

Director Taylor Hackford met his wife, Helen Mirren, when they made “White Nights” together.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had a passionate, tempestuous relationship, including two marriages and divorces, that was reflected in their films together.

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