Tag Archives: ‘Max’

Interview: ‘Max’ star Thomas Haden Church talks respect of military, war dogs

Carlos the dog and Thomas Haden Church in 'Max' (photo: Warner Bros.)

By Tim Lammers

While committing to a movie project is generally a crap shoot for actors, it took little convincing to get Thomas Haden Church to enlist in the new military-themed family drama “Max.” The military has played an important role the Oscar nominated actor’s life since the very beginning.

“I come from a military background — my dad was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and then the armored infantry after that” Church told me in a recent call from Los Angeles. “He went in 1943 and didn’t retire until 1982,  so since my dad had such a long career, I was always around somebody that demanded the highest integrity and respect for everything that the military did.”

And while Church, who turned 55 a week ago, never served in the military himself, he was ready to go if needed.

“I was in one of the last age groups that had to register for the draft in the late ’70s, and there was a real point of honor in doing so for my dad,” Church said. “It was a ritualistic passage into manhood. He accompanied me to the courthouse in south Texas and wanted to be with me to register for potential service in the American military. For my dad, it was always about honor and allegiance to your country. ”

In “Max,” opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, Church plays Ray Wincott, a wounded Desert Storm veteran and father to Kyle (Robbie Amell), a Marine in Afghanistan who is the handler of a military working dog (MWD) named Max. The bond between the duo is shattered, though, when Kyle is killed in battle, traumatizing Max to the point that he can no longer operate in the military.

Max is then adopted by Kyle’s family at home in Texas, where the soldier’s younger brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), seems to have formed a connection with the MWD. However, transition is rough for the Wincott family, since Justin can’t seem to live up to Ray’s expectations — a situation exacerbated by the tragic loss of Kyle.

Directed by Boaz Yakin, “Max” is the second military-themed film released by Warner Bros. in past six months, behind the Best Picture Oscar-nominated film “American Sniper.” And while “Max” is mainly a family adventure drama and “American Sniper” is a hard-hitting biopic, Church is glad that the studio is releasing films that not only show the lives of American soldiers, but the effects war has on the people at home.

But while “Max” is unlikely to encounter the firestorm of criticism received by “American Sniper” during its record-setting release — particularly from notable actors and filmmakers in Hollywood — Church, who was born in California but raised in Texas, said he’s ready to stand up against anybody talking smack about the military or films about the people who serve.

“I live in rural Texas, and needless to say, a lot of that flack is not tolerated,” Church said with a laugh. “If you remember at the beginning of 2014 when ‘Lone Survivor’ came out — (the film’s subject) Marcus Luttrell is a Texan, not unlike Chris Kyle — and that story is not without controversy as well.”

Church said that while “Max” is more of a family-oriented film than “American Sniper” or “Lone Survivor,” it still tries to address some of the same issues, but of a character you wouldn’t expect.

“It’s about what happens in the intensity of firefight, and how soldiers — including a war dog — respond in the mortal danger of a firefight. How they respond is really a measure of their training and their character, and their ability to defend themselves in their unit,” Church said. “What our movie addresses is the loss of a soldier, and the other soldier at his side returning home. Even though it’s a dog, he still has to deal with all of the sadness and the emotional recovery after the loss of a loved one. Our characters don’t know if anybody loved our son more than Max. He was his companion and his training partner, but also the solider at his side to ensure his safety.”

Needless to say, Church developed a love and respect for Carlos, the four-legged actor who played Max.

“With a Belgian Malinois — a war dog — they bring such intensity and ferocity, but at the same time, an intelligence to be trained and develop skills to find weaponry and the enemy to save American lives,” Church said. “But what you get with that intelligence and high-speed intensity, when they turn it on, you also get — at least in my understanding and experience making the movie — an emotional complexity with these dogs that a lot of people are not aware of. I don’t think a lot of people understand how far back American service dogs in the military go back, and how relevant they are right now in 2015 — chiefly Afghanistan and other areas of conflict around the world — where American soldiers are involved.”

While Church — whose rich resume includes TV’s “Wings” and “Ned and Stacey,” and the films “Tombstone,” “Sideways” (which earned him his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), “Spider-Man 3” and “Killer Joe,” among many others — worked exclusively with a Belgian Malinois, he’s not necessarily a dog or cat person in real life.

“I’m both of them,” Church said, laughing. “I’m an animal guy. I have a ranch, and even a pet deer that’s sort of my most loyal companion.”

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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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#8217;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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