CAST: Josh Wiggins, Lauren Graham, Thomas Haden Church, Robbie Amell, Luke Kleintank, Dejon Laquake, Mia Xitlali, Carlos
DIRECTOR: Boaz Yakin
Aprecision-trained military dog, Max serves on the frontlines in Afghanistan alongside his handler, U.S. Marine Kyle Wincott. But when things go terribly wrong on manoeuvres, Kyle is mortally wounded and Max, traumatized by the loss of his best friend, is unable to remain in service.
Sent stateside, the only human he seems willing to connect with is Kyle’s teenage brother, Justin (Josh Wiggins), so Max is saved when he is adopted by Kyle’s family. But Justin has issues of his own, including living up to his father’s expectations, and he isn’t interested in taking responsibility for his brother’s troubled dog. However, Max may be Justin’s only chance to discover what really happened to his brother that day on the front, and with the help of Carmen, a tough-talking young teen who has a way with dogs, Justin begins to appreciate his canine companion.
Justin’s growing trust in Max helps the four-legged veteran revert back to his heroic self, and as the pair race to unravel the mystery, they find more excitement – and danger – than they bargained for. But they each might also find an unlikely new best friend…in each other.
“When people connect with an animal there’s a primal bond that often goes beyond what we experience with other people,” says Boaz Yakin, the co-writer/director/executive producer of ‘Max’. That was the initial inspiration for the movie, which follows the journey of a military working dog (MWD) whose U.S. Marine handler loses his life in Afghanistan. Traumatized, the dog is adopted by the family the Marine left behind.
Yakin, a self-proclaimed dog-lover attests, “I wanted to tell a story that was emotional and heightened, while still keeping it rooted in reality.” He turned to long-time friend Sheldon Lettich, who co-wrote the screenplay.
“Sheldon is a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran and brought in the idea of using MWD’s. These dogs risk their lives, or have their lives put at risk, going far ahead of their units in order to literally smell out danger,” he adds.
That instinct was reinforced when Yakin and Lettich watched one of the many viral videos of MWDs lying mournfully beside their handler’s casket at their funerals, loyal to the end and beyond. Such videos have touched a deep chord in millions of viewers around the world.
Lettich shares, “When we saw the video of the MWD grieving over his partner, we knew that was the core of our canine hero.”
The decision to make Max a Belgian Malinois, instead of a more familiar breed such as a German Shepherd, was informed by the fact that the Malinois has become the breed of choice to serve as MWDs for military forces and law enforcement agencies across the United States and throughout the world. Leaner than a German Shepherd, the highly focused dogs, when trained, can smell drugs and bombs and find bodies. They can be deadly and are trusted to guard the White House and the President of the United States.
Before writing, Yakin and Lettich observed the dogs in action at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base K9 Unit in California. Driven to hunt and capture prey, the Malinois has a 270-degree field of vision and the force of its bite equals 1400 pounds per square inch. It can run 30 miles per hour and withstand the heat of the desert.
But what happens when a MWD is unable to work anymore due to injuries, stress or trauma, which can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Thanks to Robby’s Law, which went into effect in 2000, MWDs are no longer simply euthanized. They can be adopted by their handlers or other former handlers.
They also found that some MWDs have also been adopted by the civilian families of dog handlers who had been killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. That interested Lettich, who has also owned several Belgian Malinois, and knows from personal experience that the breed is highly energetic, intelligent, and extremely task-oriented. “It’s like a human coming back, it’s an adjustment. We wanted to follow a fictional dog home stateside after his handler’s death and see where that took the dog – and the family,” he explains.
FILM: COMING HOME
CAST: Chen Daoming, Gong Li, Guo Tao, Liu Peiqi, Zhang Huiwen
DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou
This Chinese, Mandarin-language drama stars Gong Li as a middle-aged woman struggling from amnesia in the aftermath of China’s Cultural Revolution, a time that was responsible for ripping her family apart. Her professor husband (Chen Daoming), who was imprisoned for being an academic, is released from prison and attempts to reconnect with his wife, pretending to be a host of strangers in order to be constantly able to make contact with her.
CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright and Sam Worthington
DIRECTOR: Baltasar Kormakur
Based on the real events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, this thriller focuses on two different expeditions that go on a mission to climb the world’s highest mountain. Due to the amount of people attempting the climb at once and the lack of fixed ropes placed at strategic points in advance, the climbers find themselves in a bottleneck as they try to summit, delaying their journey, and causing disastrous consequences.
The summit of Mount Everest, the mightiest mountain on Earth, is more than five miles above sea level, close to the cruising altitude of a 747 jumbo jet. Its fearsome and unforgiving peak has hosted thousands of daring climbers who have felt compelled to rise to the greatest challenge in mountaineering. The tragic events in May 1996 represented, at that time, the deadliest climb in Everest’s history. The world’s media were transfixed by this story of human endurance, which became the subject of best-selling books and documentaries, often with contradicting accounts of the events.
Working Title producer Tim Bevan first became interested in the story when he read Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’ soon after it was published in 1997. Krakauer, a journalist who had been part of Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultants team on the mountain that May, had first documented the events for an article in Outside magazine. Bevan’s producing partner, Eric Fellner, shared his enthusiasm for the project; they discovered that Universal Pictures, with which Working Title has a long-term distribution agreement, coincidentally owned other properties relating to the events.
These included Beck Weathers’ ‘Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest’, from which the film draws inspiration, as well as the transcript of the final satellite phone conversation between Rob Hall and his wife, Jan Arnold. While the families of the climbers involved had remained mostly quiet about the tragic events over the years, they maintained an ongoing dialogue with the filmmakers, working toward an appropriate time for a feature-film reimagining of the events to be made.
Considering the lofty goals that director Baltasar Kormakur and his producers set for those who would be cast in ‘Everest’, they knew there was no better way to achieve them than to take the actors on that journey themselves.
The director explains what was important to him in looking for the ideal talent: “I needed the cast to face the elements and deal with their fears. To pull all this off it meant that there was no easy way out. To shoot in the foothills of Everest in high altitude we had to trek up there ourselves.”
The challenges included shooting -30 C in the Val Senales, 12 to14 hours a day for six weeks, as well as creating a giant freezer on stage so real snow could be blown on the actors. “These are only few of the things we did to give it our all. But if you felt sorry for yourself, all you had to do was to remember the real people and what they went through in reality,” adds Kormakur. He reflects, “Ultimately, all this struggle wouldn’t be worth much if the story of Rob Hall and Jan, Beck, Doug, Scott Fischer, Anatoli and all the others was not handled in a truthful manner.”