Recently reviewed by Catholic News Service
By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - Man's best friend is also a lifesaver in "Megan Leavey" (Bleeker Street), the inspiring true story of a female Marine corporal and the bomb-sniffing dog she bonded with during the Iraq War.
Leavey (born in 1983) and Rex, her trusty German shepherd, together completed more than 100 combat missions in Fallujah and Ramadi, uncovering roadside bombs and caches of weapons, before an explosion sidelined both in 2006.
It's a supremely heroic and exciting story that transfers well to the big screen, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite from a screenplay by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt.
We first meet Megan (Kate Mara) before she enlists -- and her life does not make a pretty picture. A listless and depressed 20-year-old, she's mourning the overdose death of her best friend and coping with her parents' ugly divorce.
Megan lives with her harridan of a mother, Jackie (Edie Falco). Her sensitive father, Bob (Bradley Whitford), provides a refuge from Mom's persistent nagging.
On a whim, Megan decides to jump-start her life by enlisting in the Marines. It's a huge leap from her shiftless existence to such a regimented life, and rebellious Megan butts heads often with her superiors.
Caught urinating in public after a night on the town, Megan is nearly expelled. Her punishment is to clean out the cages of the K9 Division, the elite unit of bomb-sniffing dogs headed by Gunnery Sgt. Martin (Common).
It's dirty work, of course, but Megan perseveres -- and has an unexpected epiphany. Witnessing the strong bond between the German shepherds and their human trainers, she decides to try her hand. Overcoming cynicism and verbal abuse from her male counterparts, Megan connects with her charge, Rex, and soon both head to Iraq.
On dangerous sorties, the duo proves its mettle, saving countless lives by uncovering land mines and exposing enemy weapons. As her self-confidence grows, Megan opens her heart further and falls for fellow Marine and dog handler Matt Morales (Ramon Rodriguez).
But fate intervenes during an ambush, when an explosion injures both Megan and Rex. Sent home to recover, Megan is devastated to be separated from her beloved canine, now reassigned.
Suffering from physical injuries as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, Megan decides not to re-enlist. But she is determined to reunite one day with Rex and adopt him as her own.
With its gritty portrayal of the horrors of combat, "Megan Leavey" is a reminder of the personal sacrifices made by those who serve our country, as well as a salute to the enduring rewards of friendship.
The film contains a few scenes of intense wartime violence, off-screen nonmarital sexual activity, several profanities and occasional rough and crude language.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis star in a scene from the movie "The Mummy." Photo: CNS/Universal
By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - The clumsily fashioned horror flick "The Mummy" (Universal) turns out to be anything but tightly wound.
Predictable pagan mumbo-jumbo aside, there's not much to bother grown viewers in the film. But its globetrotting -- from Ancient Egypt to modern-day Iraq and London -- eventually feels like a vain search for a better, or at least more focused, story to tell.
The narrative we get, courtesy of director Alex Kurtzman and screenwriters David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, centers on shady American soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise). A fast talker more interested in the black market than the military, Nick, together with his more cautious sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), capitalizes on the conflict in Iraq by trading in antiquities.
That puts him at odds with archaeologist and cultural adviser to the U.S. forces Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). So, too, does the fact that Nick used a one-night stand the two recently shared to purloin a valuable map from her.
Partly through the use of this chart, and partly from the effects of an Air Force raid Nick and Chris had to call in after they were besieged by enemy combatants, an ancient tomb has been uncovered. Incongruously, it's an Egyptian structure right in the middle of what used to be Mesopotamia.
As the audience already knows, this is the resting place of evil Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a murderer who was put to death for her crimes in the days of the pharaohs. The people who buried her had good reason to want her corpse far away from their native land. They also took elaborate measures to make sure she stayed put underground once they deposited her there.
All of which precautions Nick undoes in a trice, with just the sort of dire consequences you'd expect. Unleashed, Ahmanet puts a curse on Nick, and gains partial control of his mind as she schemes to recover possession of a ritual dagger, the use of which will enable her old ally Set, the Egyptian god of death, to become incarnate in Nick's body.
Behind all these diffuse details stands a sketchy but respectable good vs. evil theme. Rather unconvincingly, Jenny has by now fallen for Nick and will become the chief cheerleader for the triumph of his underlying decency and altruism.
Yet, as the eventual injection of Robert Louis Stevenson's character Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the plot suggests, there's a growing note of desperation in these unwieldy proceedings. As the scene shifts across centuries and continents, the script fails to gain traction.
So, by the time they reach the blatant setup for a sequel which precedes the closing credits, moviegoers may be shaking their heads and muttering, "Tut-tut."
The film contains occult and nonscriptural religious ideas, much harsh violence with fleeting gore, numerous gruesome images, partial nudity, some sensuality, occasional sexual references and humor, a couple of mild oaths and crude words and several crass terms.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. stars in a scene from the movie "It Comes At Night." Photo: CNS/A24
It Comes at Night
By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service
NEW YORK - Morality is put to the test and fails in the bleak thriller "It Comes at Night" (A24). Well executed, yet painful to watch, writer-director Trey Edward Shults' drama plays skillfully on the psychology of fear, working more through subtlety and suggestion than depiction.
But maturity is required to grapple with its lifeboat ethics and tacit acceptance of euthanasia in extreme circumstances.
Set in a dystopian version of rural America that's being ravaged by an unspecified but inevitably fatal plague, the film powerfully conveys the claustrophobic isolation of the family -- dad Paul (Joel Edgerton), mom Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) -- at the center of its plot.
Since any contact with an infected stranger could mean death, the cooped-up clan is terrified when an intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home in the middle of the night. Though they initially treat him like a prisoner, tying him up and interrogating him, they eventually come to accept Will's story that he was only looking for supplies and thought the house was empty.
Deciding they would all be better off combining forces, Paul and Sarah invite Will to bring his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and toddler son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), to live with them. But anxiety and suspicion eventually undermine the good intentions behind this arrangement, with horrifying results.
Given its apocalyptic premise, the movie's portrayal of the elimination of one of the Black Death-like disease's victims -- specifically, Travis' grandfather, Bud (David Pendleton), who's put out of his misery early on -- can be taken as having no troubling application to everyday life. And the extremes to which some characters are later driven are a source of dread, not a pattern to be imitated.
However, like Travis' adolescent sexuality -- his attraction to Kim leads him to dream of an encounter with her that shifts abruptly from fantasy to nightmare -- these elements of the story, together with the distressing nature of the violence on screen, put "It Comes at Night" out of bounds for youngsters.
Even grown viewers may be unsettled by Shults' deeply pessimistic view of human nature as a Darwinian struggle for survival takes hold. Neither heroism nor self-sacrifice play any role in his narrative. In fact, even the most basic laws of civilization are breached in the end.
So, although the mayhem of the situation is not handled gratuitously, moviegoers may be left wondering why they subjected themselves to this artful but bitter slice of doom-laden life.
The film contains some harsh gory violence, including mercy killing, an adultery theme, scenes of marital intimacy, sexual sound effects, a couple of uses of profanity, frequent rough language and several crude terms.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.