Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Fourteen Mexicans sit huddled in a battered truck. One girl reads the Bible, praying that she will safely reach the promised land. A young man pulls from his backpack a worn out teddy bear that plays a tune with a small voice saying, “I love you,” a memory of the son that waits for him in California.
Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto puts a face to the immigrant experience, all those individuals who, like so many before them, are willing to risk everything to come to America. Cuarón wrote the screenplay for Gravity, which his father, Alfonso, won an Academy Award for directing. Jonás not only directed Desierto, but was also writer, editor, and producer. The film has been a labor of love, taking him seven years to bring to the screen. “I took a trip through the U.S. Southwest where I encountered first-hand stories surrounding immigration and the often cruel and violent story of the migrant journey,” he said. “I was very moved and immediately felt compelled to outline the film – which happened before writing Gravity.” His father serves as a producer of the film.
The truck carrying the immigrants is still miles from the U.S. when it breaks down. Three men have been paid to take the Mexicans to the border. After reporting the truck problem, one is ordered by his boss to stay with the truck, while the other two will escort the group the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the trip will take them on foot through some of the harshest and most unforgiving land between Mexico and the U.S. (The film was actually shot in the state of Baja California Sur where, according to press information, the only access was by dirt roads, with no cellphone coverage, and temperatures in the triple-digits.) Cuarón’s desire to have the terrain share equal credit with the characters only adds to the film’s sense of isolation.
Gael García Bernal
The desert isn’t the only enemy the immigrants face. Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has appointed himself the de facto border patrol. Rather than capture any immigrants he spies, however, he guns them down. “I used to love it here,” he tells his German shepherd, Watcher. “I hate it here. It’s messing with my brain. I’ve got to get out of this hell.” Having identified immigrants as the source of his unhappiness, Sam is ruthless, picking off his victims with his rifle equipped with a scope. Fueled by the liquor he’s been consuming, he shows neither glee nor remorse as the bodies begin to fall. One man who is injured but not dead, is finished off by Watcher, a gruesome sight.
Soon there are just two survivors, Moises (Gael García Bernal), the father desperate to get back to his son in California, and Adela (Alondra Hidalgo), whose mother wanted her to escape the dangerous situation in her village. She wonders out loud what her mother would think now, watching her and Moises fleeing a serial killer across the desert. Moises’ situation is particularly poignant. He had been living with his wife and son in Oakland when he was stopped because his car had a broken tail light. Although he had applied for a resident visa, “one thing led to another,” and he was soon sent back to Mexico.
Bernal, who has been acting in Mexico since childhood, is now making his mark in the U.S. This year he won a Golden Globe for playing a conductor in Amazon Prime’s Mozart in the Jungle. His performance in this film should raise his profile even more, on both sides of the border. His Moises isn’t the strongest of the group, but the more determined to survive in order to get back to his son. Morgan, whose resume is equally impressive, with credits on TV (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Showtime’s Weeds) and film (Watchman, Taking Woodstock), manages to make Sam more than a one-dimensional villain. In contrast to the immigrants, he’s the one without a country, someone who no longer fits in and lashes out with a vengeance at those he blames.
Desierto is an important film, particularly at such an important moment for our nation.
Desierto opens nationwide on October 14, 2016. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Top photo: (L to R) Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Gael García Bernal
Of all of Dame Agatha Christie’s huge body of work, And Then There Were None (title changed from the politically incorrect 10 Little Indians) was both the best selling and by far the most horrific. It was in many ways the precursor to modern ‘slasher’ tales only with its trademark English country cottage feel and Christie’s superb psychological insight. Other Christie novels had detectives who came into save the day; And Then There Were None not only had no detectives, but also no ‘heroes’ in any sense at all. The ten guests and staff members are all murderers beyond the reach of the law, but not beyond that of an unknown fiend who begins picking them off.
It’s actually a terrific set-up for the screen, but all the past English language adaptions of the work, including stage adaptions, have sought to ‘soften’ the brutality and terror of the finale by creating survivors and/or suggesting that certain protagonists were actually innocent after all. Thankfully, the latest 2015 BBC three-hour mini series decided to hell with such attempts at cheering up the piece and gives us the most lurid, bloodiest, fatalistic, and horrific telling of the story yet. In fact it arguably goes further than Christie’s original text making some of the past killings more graphic (though this is also about making more dramatic flashbacks as well) and adding more drugs and sex. Some might criticize BBC for taking such creative license with the text but really, Christie would probably have done so in the original herself if the times would have permitted it.
To that end some of Great Britain’s biggest stars have been recruited for the show. Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises) as Detective Sergeant William Blore whose past lethal act of police brutality seems all too topical. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Woman in Gold) as Justice Wargrave the Hanging Judge. Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Hours) as the cruel religious zealot Emily Brent. Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Die) as the pitiful drunk Dr. Armstrong. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October) as the world weary, shell-shocked General MacArthur. Douglas Booth (Noah, Jupiter Ascending) as callous playboy and reckless driver Anthony Marston. Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena, Becoming Jane) as guilt ridden housekeeper Mrs. Rogers and Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edge of Tomorrow) as her abusive husband. Each one is perfectly cast.
But the main focus is on Vera Claythorne (relative Australian newcomer Maeve Dermody) and Phillip Lombard (Aidan Turner of Poldark). Vera is a moody dour presence; ostensibly the sort of bright, resourceful independent young woman who would generally be the heroine of a Christie novel but here’s she’s slowly revealed to be capable of profound evil. Lombard is an utterly amoral mercenary who’s killed 21, but he’s also refreshingly honest. He’s the only person on the island to freely own up to his sins. The two of them have a white hot chemistry together that’s just as much about their mutual dark sides and capacity for violence as it is about the fact that they’re both stunningly attractive people. Its undoubted one of the most twisted ‘romance’ stories on screen.
What the latest BBC adaption truly understands about the story (set in 1939 as Britain is just on the brink of war) is how the traditional “English’ trappings of the piece serve to underline the horror of the tale rather than diminish it. Everyone on the island is (initially) dedicated to playing along to the roles of their assigned stations – guests cannot behave as servants and vice versa – and behaving as if it’s a perfectly ordinary house party even when the killing starts. But as the body count climbs everyone’s manners and even basic civility drop away. Stripped of their pretensions to gentility we see the moral depravity of these ‘respectable’ people and with it an indictment of the hypocrisy of ‘polite society’ altogether.
And Then There Were None can be seen on Amazon Prime.
At the end of the first season of Amazon Prime’s Bosch, the LAPD detective, pushed a nemesis (Captain Harvey Pounds played by Mark Derwin), through a plate glass window. The altercation earned Bosch a suspension, even though he had just brought down a serial killer and solved a decades old murder of a child. Bosch emptied out his office, locked up his home high in the Hollywood hills, and went off to visit his daughter, Maddie, in Las Vegas.
When season two begins, six months have passed and thanks to testimony from Sgt. John Mankiewicz (Scott Klace), who backed up Bosch’s account that Pounds provoked the assault, Bosch is reinstated. (Pounds is reassigned to the art theft division.) Handing over Bosch’s gun and shield, his immediate supervisor, Lt. Grace Billets (a terrific Amy Aquino), tells Bosch, “Try holding onto them this time.” And there’s the rub. Bosch is a talented detective whose instincts and attention to detail are on full display in the very first case thrown his way. Yet he’s battle scared, war weary and has little patience for a bureaucracy whose rules often thwart his efforts to put away the bad guys.
With Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, Michael Connelly has created one of the most charismatic characters in crime fiction. Connelly, who worked as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times before turning out books, also writes the best police procedurals in the genre. Bosch’s second season draws from three of Connelly’s best sellers – Trunk Music, The Drop, and The Last Coyote – that were all page turners. No surprise then that Bosch’s 10-episode second season is a binge watcher’s dream.
When the body of a porn film producer, Tony Allen (Ludwig Manukian) is found in the trunk of his car, Bosch and his partner, Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector), are handed the investigation. The murder looks like a mob hit – trunk music – particularly when the trail leads to Las Vegas where Allen often went to gamble and find strippers for his films.
(L to R) Jamie Hector as Jerry Edgar, Jeri Ryan as Veronica Allen, Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch
Allen’s wife, Veronica (Jeri Ryan), lives in one of L.A.’s tony communities, the entrance gate watched over by a former L.A. police officer, Carl Nash (Brent Sexton). Veronica married Allen after appearing in one of his porno films, but now tolerates her husband’s many affairs. “Not exactly broken up,” Bosch tells Edgar after they question the widow.
Meanwhile, the city bureaucracy that Bosch lives to hate is undergoing a makeover. Deputy Chief Irvin Irving (Lance Reddick) has made a deal with the devil, agreeing to support District Attorney Rick O’Shea’s bid for mayor. If O’Shea (played by Steven Culp), is elected, Irving hopes to be made police chief. Yet with O’Shea’s shady background, on full display in season one, Irving knows he’s taking a chance. Bosch has been at odds with O’Shea so having the D.A. elevated to mayor will not only make Bosch’s job more difficult, but will reenforce everything he already knows about the corrupt nature of L.A. politics.
(L to R) Jamie Hector as Jerry Edgar, Lance Reddick as Irvin Irving
Irving has his hands full on the home front, too. His son, George (Robbie Jones), recently joined the LAPD and has taken on a dangerous undercover assignment. Irvin has been lying to his wife, Connie (Erika Alexander), that their son is out of danger, reassigned to a desk job rather than still on the streets. Yet as the investigation accelerates, Irvin finds it more difficult to protect George.
Meanwhile, Bosch takes advantage of being in Las Vegas to visit his ex-wife, Eleanor Wish (Sarah Clarke), and Maddie. Eleanor, who was once an FBI profiler, is now a professional poker player and very good at the table. Her second husband, Reggie Woo (Hoon Lee), lines up the games, mostly with Asians who fly in just for the chance of playing against Eleanor. Bosch has never accepted Eleanor’s way of life, particularly because it affects their daughter. Yet Reggie seems to be a stabilizing influence and has a good relationship with Maddie. The murder of Tony Allen, however, soon becomes a sink hole that threatens to swallow up both Eleanor and Maddie. Bosch must now solve the case and save his family.
(L to R) Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, Jamie Hector as Jerry Edgar
Titus Welliver is so good as Bosch that it’s hard to envision any other actor in this role. HIs facial expressions give little away when he’s examining a crime scene or interviewing a witness, which always makes the “reveal” that much more shocking. Bosch is no longer a young guy, neither is Welliver, but the actor throws himself physically into the role. Welliver also benefits from a terrific supporting cast beginning with Jamie Hector as his partner “J. Edgar,” and fellow police detectives “Crate,” (Gregory Scott Cummins), and “Barrel,” (Troy Evans).
Amy Aquino as Grace Billets
Amy Aquino’s lieutenant is a standout, delivering zingers with an acerbic smile, fighting for women on the force, but unafraid to go toe to toe with the more macho guys she supervises. She’s solidly in Harry’s corners and the scenes between Aquino and Welliver are some of the best moments this time around. Each character has vulnerabilities – they both have daughters, but can’t keep relationships going – that they share (to a point) over drinks.
(L to R) Sarah Clarke as Eleanor Wish, Madison Lintz as Maddie Bosch
Sarah Clarke, who played opposite Kiefer Sutherland on Fox’s 24, brings Eleanor Wish to life. She was Bosch’s great love, the one he lost. But their bond remains because of Maddie, whom they both adore. On the page, Eleanor always seemed a doomed character, a lost soul who knows that there’s something wrong with playing poker for a living, but she can’t seem to walk away. A fierce player in a world dominated by men, away from the game she’s vulnerable, unable to protect herself or Maddie. Clark’s portrayal is mesmerizing.
As Maddie, Madison Lintz is delightful and a young star to watch. She has the teenage act down, but somehow never manages to become annoying. Her sparing with Welliver rings true as a father-daughter relationship where there is respect and love. Although her relationship with Bosch got a late start, Maddie is determined to follow in his footsteps and become a cop, a decision that both pleases and terrifies him.
Since Connelly continues to be prolific (there are 22 Bosch mysteries in print with The Wrong Side of Goodbye coming in 2016), the Amazon series has no shortage of material for many more seasons. We only hope season three comes soon.
Bosch begins streaming on Amazon Prime March 11, 2016.