September 28, 2006
Trio of films offers eclectic choices: sea, spies, punk
Raised in a secular Jewish family in Chicago, "The Guardian" director Andrew Davis learned early the values and ethics he continues to believe in.
"My parents taught me war is not a good thing, so do everything you can to not go to war," he says during a telephone interview. "And it'd be great if the armies of the world could help people and not hurt people."
"The Guardian," which opens on Sept. 29, is about the U.S. Coast Guard's rescue swimmers, of whom there are only about 300 because of the rigorous training and the dangers of the job. Written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff, the film stars Kevin Costner as a heroic but aging swimmer based at Alaska's Kodiak Island. Assigned to training school, he struggles to teach a brash, possibly reckless young recruit played by Ashton Kutcher.
"At this stage of my life or career, I didn't want to make a film about how wonderful it is to kill somebody," says Davis, primarily known for action films, including "Collateral Damage" (2002). "There are no bad people in this movie. Nature and the forces of weather motivate the heroism.
"I've done movies about cops and about soldiers, where violence is part of the tension and the entertainment. My most successful movie is 'The Fugitive,' which starts off with a woman being killed because her husband was not cooperating in drug protocol. That's a very dark environment. So I was glad to make a movie where violence is not a part of it."
Davis' first work on a feature film was as assistant cameraman on Haskell Wexler's groundbreaking "Medium Cool," a political drama shot during Chicago's 1968 Democratic Convention. His directorial debut was 1978's "Stoney Island," based on his brother's experiences growing up white in Chicago's racially changing South Side. Davis also directed "A Perfect Murder," "Under Siege" and "Holes."
Preparations were under way to shoot "The Guardian" in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit last year. The crew evacuated to Shreveport, La., amid the chaos.
"We were six weeks away from shooting," Davis says. "When we arrived at Shreveport, there were 1,000 evacuees at the university gymnasium. So we were in the midst of an evacuation and trying to keep our movie alive. We hired about 200 people all told who had been affected by the storm -- cast and crew."
The Coast Guard, itself, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, was called into action to help those stranded after Katrina. By all accounts, it performed outstandingly -- the Coast Guard's Leadership News cited 24,135 lives saved by its personnel. Katrina inspired Davis: "I thought it was more important than ever to make this film and really point out what these guys do."
"We felt the best thing we could do was maybe try to bring more light on these guys, so hopefully the government will fund them better, and there'll be more of them, and they'll get better facilities to train in," Davis says. "It's an element of the military I do support."
-- Steven Rosen, Contributing Writer
"American Hardcore: A Tribal History"
What would you do if the frustration in your life manifested itself in worries about civil liberties and a lack of freedom of speech, and you felt a combination of repression and depression about the policies and practices of the current political administration? You might be upset enough to write your local government representative or you just might be angry enough to write a punk song.
Steven Blush, author, promoter and now scriptwriter compiled the quotations of around 60 of the most notable American-born hardcore bands in "American Hardcore: A Tribal History." In the book, Blush documents the history of the more hard-edged, second-generation of punk rock. Following up on the book's success, Blush has written and produced a documentary using the same format. The fragmented and frustrated feelings that inspired this music are all too familiar to Blush, from his beginnings as a nice Jewish boy to his sub-culturally-inspired adulthood.
Growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Blush is the son of a typical Jewish family. His parents made sure he was always cared for; he became bar mitzvah and on the cusp of adulthood, they sent him to George Washington University to get a law degree.
One night while in college, Blush went out to a club and became fascinated by something that would change his life -- a band called Black Flag. The group was one of a handful of emerging sub-cultural bands made up of and being followed by a bunch of frustrated and wistful kids with backgrounds similar to Blush's.
Blush remembers, "I had liked groups like the Sex Pistols; they were pure rock 'n' roll out of England, known for being rebellious. Although I loved the music, I had trouble identifying with the scene completely, because most of the people who followed them were either artists, bisexual or heavily into drugs. It really wasn't me; I was just a suburban kid who played basketball."
But after he witnessed the slam dancing -- the raw and often violent tendencies of what was to become standard behavior at hardcore shows -- Blush found his calling. He quickly made friends with everyone in the scene by being the first DJ on the East Coast to play the bands on college radio and by letting touring bands stay on his couch when in town. Blush's life finally had a deeper meaning for him.
He recalls, "My mom tried to give me the best education and surroundings, whatever our resources were, but I never connected to it and never agreed to it. I didn't feel part of the thing. The values in my high school were materialistic, they weren't into the big picture, like politics and free speech. When American hardcore music happened, it was like a perfect storm, it took me over."
Blush was certainly not the only frustrated kid willing to submit allegiance to the hardcore music scene. From 1980 to 1985, the American hardcore subculture rallied support for its cause against yuppies, conservatism, drugs and most especially, the Regan administration. Blush adds, "It turns out I have been shaped by two ethical codes, one from my Jewish heritage, which I learned from my family, and one from being a part of this music scene. Writing the book and doing the movie is studying my life's path."
Audiences will get a chance to get to know the Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Black Flag, bands that have haunted Blush all these years when the rockumentary opens on Sept. 29 at the Nuart. If there's a lore to Blush's Hardcore, it would have to be that it doesn't matter much what moves you, as long as you can be inspired to make some movement as a human being.
-- Karla Blume, Contributing Writer
"Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker"
Anthony Horowitz, a tall, dark-haired man, sits down on a comfortable couch on the 12th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. He has written "roughly a book a year for the past quarter century," including mysteries, as well as TV shows, but he says, "children's books are my passion and, possibly, my forte."
Horowitz is here to talk about "Stormbreaker," the first book in his Alex Rider series of children's books, which he has adapted into the upcoming film, "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," to be released Oct. 13 by MGM and the Weinstein Co.
He looks quite relaxed, even as he recounts his often harrowing childhood. He attended boarding school beginning at age 8 and says he was "beaten until his legs bled" by his teachers. Though the beatings started early, so did his desire, his need, to be a writer. "I was a writer," he says. "There was no choice."
He began by telling tales after the lights went out at bedtime to his classmates. "It helps to have had shadows in your childhood," the 51-year-old writer says. "Stories were a lifeline."
While he was "being brutalized" at schools like Rugby, he was also "being spoiled" at home by his wealthy parents. He lived in "a huge house with servants," he says.
He may have known that his father made money, but he did not know much else about him. "My father was an odd man," he says. "To this day, I don't know what he did. He was a fixer, a businessman."
Horowitz has drawn upon this cryptic background in writing the Alex Rider series. In "Stormbreaker," Alex Rider, the 14-year-old protagonist, knows nothing of his parents and thinks his uncle, who dies early on, was a banker. As it turns out, his late uncle was a spy working for MI6, the legendary British intelligence service that employed the fictional James Bond.
After his uncle's death, Alex also becomes a spy for MI6. This teenage James Bond foils the plot by evil mastermind Darius Sayle, played in the movie by Mickey Rourke, to poison English schoolchildren with a smallpox virus that has been implanted in a newfangled computer, the Stormbreaker.
Director Geoffrey Sax and producers Marc and Peter Samuelson chose Alex Pettyfer, a former child model, for the lead. He is tall, athletic and physically strong enough to be convincing in the fight scenes with adults, of which there are plenty. Whereas in the book Rider delivers a karate kick to one thug in a chop shop, in the movie the boy holds off and vanquishes five men after ejecting himself from his deceased uncle's high-tech BMW.
This is just one of the many changes from the book, which came out in 2000. Others may seem politically correct in this post Sept. 11 age. For instance, in the book, Sayle is a diabolical computer magnate of Egyptian descent, bearing the improbable first name of Herod. Horowitz says that he chose the name of the King of Judea as a joke, a pun on Harrod's, the famous department store in England, and he chose Egypt as his bad guy's country of origin because, as he says almost without irony, "Egypt seemed like such a neutral country in a way. I didn't want to make a political statement."
Horowitz says he wrote many of Rourke's lines, including the ones when his Sayle complains of being bullied and traumatized by his English schoolboy peers "with passion." Although Sayle is unquestionably a bad guy, Horowitz says that "he's still motivated by something very human."
Besides the Bond movies, the other obvious influence on Horowitz has been J.K. Rowling. At the time that Rowling burst on the scene with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Horowitz was writing comic novels about a young boy with magical powers. Horowitz, who says he is "an enormous fan" of the Potter books, immediately switched to writing about someone in the real world.
Alex has no magical powers. He may be viewed as a sexier version of Harry Potter, but his gifts all come from hard work, years of training in the martial arts and mountain climbing. Still, it is difficult to think of him as being devoid of wizardry when he can beat up members of the Special Forces and speak several foreign languages at the age of 14. Horowitz, who knew little of his own father, does not necessarily see any of himself in Alex: "If you make him Jewish, that makes him belong more to one group of kids than others. In a world where adults are at each others' throats, kids are all basically at heart the same."
-- Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer