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Interview: Screenwriter Brian Burns talks ‘Daddy’s Home’

Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in 'Daddy's Home' (inset Brian Burns) Photos: Paramount Pictures

By Tim Lammers

Although the film’s a comedy, getting a chance to write about his experiences as a step-father for “Daddy’s Home” was in an odd sort of way cathartic for filmmaker Brian Burns. After all, it was a rare opportunity to confront through laughs the sort of position he and countless other stepfathers have been in, dealing with their wives’ exes when children are involved.

“It’s funny, it was not only therapeutic, it provided a good goal for me to set as I was writing it. I knew that once I had the idea of writing it, the best version of the story is the two dads figure out a way to come together in the end and work together. The feel-good family lesson of it would be, ‘Two dads are better than one.’ I put that out there in the universe as a goal for all of us in real life.”

Of course, Burns also knows that real life is a bit more complicated than that, and in “Daddy’s Home” we get to see the extremes to which Will Ferrell’s and Mark Wahlberg’s characters go to win the approval of young children in a blended family.

Fortunately, that wasn’t entirely the case in Burns’ experience as a stepdad.

“My stepkids’ father and I never went to the lengths Will and Mark go to in the picture, but we were complete, total opposites,” Burns said. “The idea came from that, and thanks to my incessant curiosity with my wife, I asked myself, ‘I do not understand how you were married to him and then married to me?’ We have nothing in common other than we are two humans.”

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Opening in theaters Christmas Day, Ferrell stars as Brad Whitaker, a successful radio executive who, despite good intentions, tries too hard to be a good father to his two young stepchildren. Thanks to the encouragement and support of his wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini), Brad seems to be making slow but sure progress, until Sara’s ex-husband, the children’s biological father, Dusty Mayron, shows up on their doorstep.

With his sparkling charisma and effortless ability to wow his kids, Dusty’s bad boy presence (and refusal to leave) kicks off a twisted rivalry between him and the man trying to raise the youngsters, and it appears that nothing is off-limits in their bids to win the kids’ approval.

Burns certainly is no stranger to the entertainment business, having served as a writer and executive producer on such smash TV hits as “Blue Bloods,” and writer and producer on HBO’s “Entourage.” And despite the comedy edge he brought to the table with the latter show, Burns admitted he felt a bit intimidated pitching the idea of “Daddy’s Home” to Ferrell and one of his production partners, Adam McKay.

“That was an incredible experience — the most fun and the most terrifying,” recalled Burns, the brother of filmmaker Edward Burns. “I went into a room and pitched Adam and Will, and tried to make these two comedy giants laugh. It was really terrifying, but they were  great. A few minutes into my pitch, and Will and Adam were up on their feet and improvising scenes. It was one of the greatest experiences of my career.”

Burns said his ultimate wish-fulfillment came, though, when Ferrell agreed to star in the film.

“On one of the first dates my wife and I went on, we went to see ‘Elf.’ I told her, ‘My dream is to one day write a Will Ferrell movie.’ But I was no place near to doing that at that point in my career as a young writer,” Burns said. “So, Will was always my first choice for this movie.”

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Movie reviews: ‘Concussion,’ ‘The Big Short,’ ‘Daddy’s Home’

Alec Baldwin and Will Smith in 'Concussion' (photo - Sony Pictures)

By Tim Lammers

“Concussion” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Will Smith’s career is back in focus with “Concussion,” the compelling true story of revered pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) and his earth-shattering discovery that connected severe brain damage – diagnosed and termed as chronic traumatic enchepolapthy (CTE) – to repeated concussions in NFL players. Based in Pittsburgh, Omalu first made the correlation after the untimely death of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (a barely recognizable David Morse), and the subsequent deaths of other NFL players.

Not surprisingly, NFL officials don’t want to confront the issue, and do their best to discredit Omalu and his colleagues to protect its vast business interests. The supporting cast is stellar, including strong performances by Albert Brooks as famed pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and Alec Baldwin as former Steelers team physician Dr. Julian Bailes – who helped Omalu convince the NFL of the problem. Save a horribly miscast Luke Wilson as current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “Concussion” is a riveting, must-see movie whether you’re a fan of the NFL or not.

“The Big Short” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)

Director Adam McKay impressively steps away from his normal world of Will Ferrell comedy fare and channels the filmmaking expertise of Martin Scorsese in the process with “The Big Short” – a searing portrait of four groups of Wall Street outsiders who envisioned the burst of the housing bubble in 2008 and tried to stick it to the big banks in the process.

In their turns as the outsiders, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are at their best, and Steve Carell continues to impress in yet another stunning dramatic turn on the heels of his Oscar-nominated role in “Foxcatcher” last year. Moving at breakneck pace throughout, “The Big Short” contains lots of complex Wall Street jargon, but Mc

Kay creatively works in star cameos to break things down in layman’s terms. The film, while entertaining in the way it is presented, is infuriating at the same time.

“Daddy’s Home” (PG-13) 3 stars out of four

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reteam after the hilarious romp “The Other Guys” with “Daddy’s Home,” a wonderfully sweet comedy about a doting yet hapless step-father (Ferrell) who must deal with the return of the children’s far cooler biological dad (Wahlberg). We’ve seen both actors play these sorts of roles before, but familiarity aside, there’s no question the pairing works wonders here as the two dads engage in a nasty game of one-upsmanship to win the affection of the kids and their mother. “Daddy’s Home” is far from perfect, but it’s an enjoyable movie nonetheless.

Movie review: ‘Ted 2,’ ‘Max’

'Ted 2' (photo: Universal Pictures)

“Ted 2” (R) 2 stars (out of four)

Writer-director Seth MacFarlane is toying with his audiences again, quite literally, with “Ted 2,” the inevitable sequel to his 2012 smash about the travails of a foul-mouthed stuffed Teddy bear and his longtime owner/friend. Though not revolutionary, “Ted 2” pulls out all the stops, humor-wise, and is no doubt an improvement over the original. One thing’s for certain: No matter how well the film is received by audiences, it’s “Citizen Kane” compared to MacFarlane’s 2014 Western spoof misfire “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

MacFarlane once again voices Ted, the plaything who magically came to life when John (Mark Wahlberg), desperate for a friend as a child, had a special wish come true. The crux of the first film involved John separating from his “Thunder Buddy” (Ted helped John quell his fear of thunderstorms) so he could live a normal life with his girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis), and at the beginning of “Ted 2,” we find out that the couple married, only to soon divorce.

Ted, on the other hand, is happily in love with the hard-livin’ Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), and the film opens with their wedding. Flash-forward a year later, and the couple’s wedded bliss has hit the wall – and in an attempt to save their marriage, Ted tells Tami-Lynn that he wants them to have a baby, but obviously he can’t impregnate her because, well, he’s not equipped to do so. Exploring the options of artificial insemination and adoption, the question is raised of Ted’s legal status – since he’s not a human, he can’t by law adopt, so he goes to court to change his status from “property” to “person.”

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Naturally, “Ted 2” doesn’t feel as original as the concept in the first film, and at best, the sequel is just more of the same. Basically, “Ted 2” is just another one-joke movie (Listen! It’s a foul-mouthed Teddy bear!), but at least MacFarlane is willing to go all-out with his dialogue without any fear of offending anybody (which

is welcome in these touchy-feely times that we live in). Essentially, “Ted,” as well as “Ted 2,” is an extension of his hit animated TV series “Family Guy,” which is basically loaded with pop-culture references designed to push people’s buttons. Not surprisingly, Ted’s voice is virtually the same as “Family Guy’s” main guy, Peter Griffin (also voiced by MacFarlane).

Despite the lack of the originality, there’s no question “Ted 2” has its share of funny moments, especially in Ted and John’s ill-fated trip to the sperm bank. Like the first film, there are notable star cameos in “Ted 2,” but the main cast – Wahlberg, back with Giovanni Ribisi (great again as a creeper who wants his own Ted), and joined by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Amanda Seyfried (an attorney who fights for Ted’s “civil rights”) and John Slattery (an attorney for the state) – is quite capable of getting the job done. Seyfried is much more likable than Kunis in her role as a dope-smoking pop-culture illiterate, and you’ll never look at her the same after a scene with somebody dressed up like Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” movies.

Like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Ted 2” is designed with a specific audience in mind. High-critics will hate it, while those undaunted by gross-out comedy and gutsy humor will love it. Appealing to the pop-culture geek element, the film’s third act takes place at the New York Comic Con, with lots of wonderful appearances by cosplayers skillfully worked into the action. Despite its heavy-handed courtroom narrative and overly-long run time, “Ted 2,” for what it is, works. What more could you ask for from a movie based on a toy?

“Max” (PG) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)

With a canine co-star and a storyline crafted to pay respect to working military dogs and the soldiers who handle them, “Max” is a hard movie not to like. But as PG family fare, “Max” is also big on hokum, making it a film that would have probably been better suited as a Hallmark movie than an adventure for the big screen.

The title character in “Max” is a Belgian Malinois – which closely resembles a German Shepherd – a breed of dog frequently used in dangerous military situations since it has a keen sense of sniffing out weaponry and bombs. In the film, Max is the partner of Kyle Wincott (Robbie Amell), a Marine in Afghanistan whose bond with the dog is shattered when he is killed in battle.

Lost and rendered useless without his handler, Max is flown back to Texas where he is adopted by Kyle’s family after the dog takes a liking to Kyle’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins). The new bond proves to be vital as Kyle’s longtime friend and fellow soldier, Tyler (Luke Kleintank) returns home, and Max senses there’s something that’s dangerously off about the person whom Kyle’s parents, Ray (Thomas Haden Church) and Pamela (Lauren Graham) trust implicitly.

While “Max” is framed around the importance of service dogs in the U.S. military, the movie at its heart is a family adventure drama with a fairly predictable story wedged in between. There are emotional moments in the film, to be sure, since a family has suffered a great loss – but ultimately, the pain takes a backseat to a contrived storyline that puts Justin’s family and Max in peril. The film is well-intended, but seems to have missed the mark on telling a compelling story about the unsung, four-legged heroes who have been serving in battle with U.S. soldiers and their allies since World War I.

Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.

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Interview: Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor talk ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

Bigger is the operative word for the latest film in director Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” but not always in the way you would expect.

Can we say once again that there’s more than meets the eye?

“It’s a lot bigger — the effects are on a different level than anything that we’ve seen before,” actor Jack Reynor told me, joined by co-star Nicola Peltz, in a recent interview. “A lot of the camera work is very dynamic and very new, and at the heart of the film is a really great human story more than anything else.”

Opening in 2D, 3D and on IMAX screens nationwide on Friday, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an auto mechanic who makes a discovery that not only draws the Autobots and Decepticons to them, but some very determined CIA agents who have a sinister agenda to carry out. Peltz stars as Cade’s daughter, Tessa, and Reynor plays her boyfriend, Shane Dyson.

Transformers Age of Extinction stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo Paramount Pictures Tony Nelson)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo: Paramount Pictures/Tony Nelson).

“When we start the film, the Autobots are in exile and are afraid of humans, and humans are afraid of them,” Reynor said. “Through the relationship between Mark’s, Nicola’s and my characters, we try to restore their faith in humanity. It’s at different scale. We really hope it’s going to be an enjoyable thing for the audience.”

The odd part about working on “Transformers: Age of the Extinction,” Reynor says, is while he comes from the independent film world, working on this franchise at times was much like work he was used to.

“It was still an intimate environment, because at the end of the day, it was still Mark, Nicola and myself,” Reynor said. “That makes it feel smaller than you would imagine. Even though the movie is incredibly big and the effects are on a different level of anything we’ve seen before, between the three of us, at least, it felt like it was a small environment to work in.”

Peltz, who has done green screen work before in big-screen adventure “The Last Airbender,” said she was surprised by the amount of practical effects and props used in the film, something that ultimately aided everybody’s performances.

“I actually thought there was going to be more green screen than there actually was working on the movie,” Peltz said. “Instead, Michael makes these beautiful, huge sets, which are all real, and the car chases and the explosions are real. So having the tools and being in situations where we could use them was really amazing. Of course, we had to use our imaginations when talking to the Autobots and talk to nothing in those cases.”

At the time of the interview, neither Peltz or Reynor had seen the completed film yet, but already had the thrill of seeing themselves among Autobots, Decepticons and Dinobots for the first time with an 11-minute presentation of footage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas earlier this year.

“Watching the footage, you go, ‘Oh, my God, when I was filming that scene, there was nothing there.’ But when then add the CGI, it’s truly mind-blowing,” Peltz described. “It’s so crazy to watch knowing you were part of the experience.”

To help his actors stay engaged without any Transformers visually present, Bay found a way to keep his everybody working on the film motivated, Reynor said.

“It’s a real cool thing Michael does about every three weeks, where he puts together a sizzle reel, which has about 10 minutes of footage of film from the last three weeks we shot,” Reynor recalled. “Even without any Autobots in it or any of the rendered effects, it still looks really, really impressive, and it’s really exciting and fun. That was a big confidence boost to us all. We felt like we were making a really cool film, even though we hadn’t seen any Autobots or Decepticons while making it. It’s a really clever thing that Michael does and it really boosts the morale of the cast and crew.”

On set, Peltz said, Bay is ball of energy.

“Michael told me even before we started filming, ‘I move very quickly and you’re not going to be sitting in your trailer. Whether it’s your scene or not, you’re going to be on set learning and studying.’ I love that,” Peltz enthused. “His energy is so contagious because he is so excited about this film, so to work on it with him and feel that is really wonderful.”

Transformer Age of Extinction poster Wahlberg, Peltz, Reynor (photo -- Paramount Pictures)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” poster featuring Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo — Paramount Pictures).

Although Reynor was born in Colorado, he moved with his family to his mother’s native Ireland at age 2. One thing Reynor discovered, though, is no matter where you grow up, the Transformers — which began as Hasbro toys and were featured in cartoon form before becoming big-screen characters – will eventually find you.

“Since it was a Japanese concept and was around about 25 or 30 years before they made the first film, and it expanded across Europe quite quickly,” said Reynor, 22. “The generation before me grew up watching ‘Transformers’ on TV in Ireland, so it was definitely something I was exposed to in a big way and I had a full line of toys. I’ve always known of ‘Transformers’ because I’ve always been a fan of it, so to eventually to become a part of the franchise myself was an incredible opportunity.”

In a way, Reynor said, Transformers toys prepared him to work on the film, because while playing with the figures, he was making movies in his mind.

“The cool thing is, it doesn’t change a lot when you’re standing there on the set of the franchise yourself,” Reynor said. “You can try to relate to what you’re doing the same way you did when you were a kid. It brings a level of authenticity to what you’re doing and it makes it tangible for you in your own head. It really helps your performance.”

Being around six brothers growing up, Peltz, 19, more than had her share being around Transformers toys in her youth.

“I definitely knew of Transformers growing up, but it wasn’t only a boys thing,” Peltz said with a laugh. “I didn’t play with any of the toys, but my oldest brother loved them and my two youngest brothers are obsessed with the movies. All of them are very, very excited for me because of the film.”

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