Review: ‘Bingo Hell,’ starring Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell, Richard Brake, Clayton Landey, Jonathan Medina, Bertila Damas and Grover Coulson

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Richard Brake in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell”

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Oak Springs, the horror film “Bingo Hell” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latino, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A working-class city affected by gentrification gets targeted by a sinister gambling mogul, who promises to make people rich by playing bingo. 

Culture Audience: “Bingo Hell” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching horror movies that put more emphasis on campiness than being scary.

Clayton Landey, Bertila Damas, Adriana Barraza, L. Scott Caldwell and Grover Coulson in “Bingo Hell” (Photo by Brian Roedel/Amazon Content Services)

“Bingo Hell” takes a good concept for a horror movie and squanders it on a cheap-looking flick that’s short on scares and too heavy on campiness. It’s like a very inferior episode of “Tales From the Crypt” but made into a movie. Not even the charismatic talent of “Babel” Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza can save this misguided and monotonous film, because the “Bingo Hell” filmmakers make her protagonist character into a simplistic and annoying parody of a busybody senior citizen.

“Bingo Hell” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie touches on issues that many underprivileged people of color face when they are priced out of neighborhoods that become gentrified. However, this social issue is flung by the wayside when the movie devolves into a predictable and dull story about a demon taking over a community, culminating in a badly staged showdown with no surprises.

Gigi Saul Guerrero directed “Bingo Hell” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Shane McKenzie and Perry Blackshear. For Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror anthology series (another Blumhouse production), Guerrero directed and co-wrote 2019’s “Culture Shock,” which did a much better job of combining horror with socioeconomic issues of race and privilege in America. One of the worst aspects of “Bingo Hell” is the movie’s musical score, which sounds like irritating sitcom music. The score music (by Chase Horseman) is very ill-suited for a horror movie that’s supposed to be terrifying.

In “Bingo Hell,” Barraza plays a widow named Lupita, a feisty, longtime resident of the fictional U.S. city called Oak Springs. Most of Oak Springs’ residents are low-income, working-class people. Senior citizens and people of color are a large percentage of the city’s population. Lupita, who lives by herself, has been getting letters in the mail from real-estate developers asking her to sell her home, but she refuses.

As an example of how she feels about being unwilling to sell her home, an early scene in the movie shows Lupita getting one of these letters, from a company called Torregano Real Estate. She takes a lit cigar and stubs it on the letter. Lupita rants to anyone who listens that no amount of money can make her sell her home. She also doesn’t like that some of her friends have taken offers to sell their homes, and she fears that more of her neighborhood friends will also sell their homes and move away.

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Lupita hates that her neighborhood is being gentrified, when she walks down a street and sees a young hipster woman drinking coffee, Lupita deliberately bumps into the woman so that she spills the coffee. Lupita pretends to be sorry for this “accident,” but she really isn’t sorry. She has a smug grin on her face, as if she’s glad that that she caused this mishap. Lupita is a senior citizen in her 60s, but she has the emotional maturity of a 16-year-old.

Lupita is a stereotypical nosy old lady who has to be in everybody else’s business because she has too much time on her hands. One by one, she visits her four closest confidants. Yolanda (played by Bertila Demas) is a friendly owner of a hair salon, where gossipy grandmother Dolores (played by L. Scott Caldwell) is a regular customer. Just like Lupita, Dolores says she doesn’t want to sell her house.

Clarence (played by Grover Coulson) is a laid-back mechanic who’s been working on one of his vintage cars for years. He’s been working on it for so long, it’s become an inside joke among these friends. Morris (played by Clayton Landey) is a “regular guy” plumber who comes into the hair salon one day to do some pipe repairs. Morris has a crush on Yolanda. Since they are both single, there’s some flirtation between them that’s not very interesting.

The community has been talking about the mysterious death of a widower named Mario (played by David Jensen), who is shown dying in the movie’s opening scene. He is sitting at a table in his home with a crazed look on his face, as he says: “I sold the house to him. I love him.”

A sinister-sounding male voice in the distance can be heard saying, “She would be so proud,” in reference to Mario’s late wife Patricia. Mario suddenly begins gorging on bingo balls until he chokes and dies. Meanwhile, a suitcase of cash is seen nearby in the room where Mario has died. All of these are obvious clues about what’s to come later in the story.

Meanwhile, Dolores has been having some family drama at home. Her rebellious teenage grandson Caleb (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) and Caleb’s single mother Raquel (played by Kelly Murtagh) have come to stay with Dolores because Raquel has been having financial problems. Dolores’ son is Caleb’s father, who is described in the movie as a deadbeat dad who is not involved in raising Caleb.

Raquel and Dolores frequently clash because Dolores thinks that Raquel is a terrible mother who’s too lenient with Caleb (who’s about 15 or 16), while Raquel thinks Dolores is too strict and a failure as a mother because Dolores’ son turned out to be an irresponsible person. The movie wastes a lot of time with this family squabbling. The only purpose is to show that Raquel is money-hungry but she’s too lazy to want to find a job, which is an attitude that affects her decisions later in the movie.

It’s also problematic that the one character in the movie who’s a young African American male is portrayed as someone who commits crimes. Caleb’s misdeeds include breaking into cars. It’s such a lazy and unnecessary negative stereotype that is over-used in movies and TV. This gross stereotype doesn’t accurately represent the reality that most African American teens are not troublemaking criminals.

Dolores spends a lot of time at Oak Springs Community Center East, where she and some of her friends like to play bingo. The community center is also a place for support-group meetings. Eric (played by Jonathan Medina) is a local man in his 30s who leads a support group meeting.

Lupita invites Eric to the next bingo game, but he declines, by saying: “Bingo is not my thing. Maybe in 50 years, when I’m your age.” Eric isn’t disrespectful to Lupita, because he calls Lupita and Dolores “legends” of Oak Springs. Lupita feels good enough about the community center that when she finds a $100 bill on the street (the bill is covered with a mysterious white gummy substance), she donates the $100 to the community center by dropping the bill in a donation box.

Not long after this act of generosity, a big black Cadillac shows up in town. The driver calls himself Mr. Big (played by Richard Brake), a gambling mogul who speaks in an exaggerated Southern drawl and has an evil smirk. Mr. Big has come to town because he’s opening Mr. Big’s Bingo, a gambling hall specifically for bingo games.

Mr. Big talks in the type of grandiose clichés that you might expect from a carnival huckster or an infomercial hawker. He shouts to a crowd in Oak Springs: “They say that money can’t buy happiness! I disagree! You know what kinds of people believe this nonsense? Losers! Now tell me, Oak Springs, are you losers?”

Mr. Big makes a big splash in the community by showing off his wealth and with a flashy ad campaign where he promises that people can win thousands of dollars per game at Mr. Big’s Bingo. After this bingo hall opens, people in the community who play at Mr. Big’s Bingo inevitably get greedy and competitive. Because it’s a horror movie, you know where this is going, of course.

The horror part of “Bingo Hell” is frustratingly undercut by hammy acting from Brake and the aforementioned sitcom-like musical score. Meanwhile, the characters in the movie act increasingly like caricatures, as the cast members give average or subpar performances. What started out as a promising portrait of how gentrification and greed can cause horror in a community turns into a silly gorefest with ultimately nothing meaningful to say and nothing truly frightening to show.

Prime Video premiered “Bingo Hell” on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘The Virtuoso’ (2021), starring Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish and Anthony Hopkins

May 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anson Mount in “The Virtuoso” (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Lionsgate)

“The Virtuoso” (2021)

Directed by Nick Stagliano

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ohio and unnamed parts of the United States, the crime drama “The Virtuoso” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An assassin finds out one of his hit jobs might be his most dangerous assignment when he has problems finding his murder target.

Culture Audience: “The Virtuoso” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching badly written and tedious movies about assassinations.

Anthony Hopkins in “The Virtuoso” (Photo by Lance Skundrich/Lionsgate)

The first clue that “The Virtuoso” will be an annoying, witless bore is within the first five minutes, when the main character starts droning on in voiceover narration about what’s happening on screen. It’s never a good sign when movies over-explain things that don’t need to be explained, but it’s even worse when the explaining is for things that don’t even make sense and no amount of explaining will help. The lead character is supposed to be an expert assassin, who thinks so highly of himself that he calls himself a “virtuoso,” but he makes so many dumb mistakes, viewers will be left with the impression that this drama is really an unintentionally bad comedy.

However, there’s nothing really funny about “The Virtuoso,” unless you consider it a cruel joke that Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins ended up in this bottom-of-the barrel dud. Viewers will be more intrigued by speculating how Hopkins found himself in this embarrassing mess of a movie than intrigued by the dull, so-called mystery that’s supposed to be the film’s main plot. “The Virtuoso” director Nick Stagliano (who co-wrote the movie’s atrocious screenplay with James Wolf) was extremely lucky to get a talented actor on the caliber of Hopkins to be in this forgettable garbage.

“The Virtuoso” is one of those pretentiously conceived films where all of the main characters are supposed to be so mysterious that they don’t have any names. The movie’s locations are mostly unnamed, but “The Virtuoso” was actually filmed in New York and Pennsylvania. Anson Mount is the lead character, a loner assassin who is seen doing a hit job in the movie’s opening scene. This character is credited as The Virtuoso in the movie’s end credits, but he’s such an idiotic bungler, that calling him a “virtuoso” is too generous.

In the movie’s opening scene, the assassin is staked out in a hotel room, where he shoots a middle-aged man in another hotel room across the street. And just to make this movie look “edgy” (when it’s actually very unimaginative), the shooting takes place while the targeted man (played by Blaise Corrigan) is having sex with a much younger woman (played by Estelle Girard Parks), who is not his wife. In this hit job, the assassin is so precise in his shooting that he is able to shoot off several bullets at his target, starting with the groin area, without any bullets hitting the woman.

She screams in terror and then quickly leaves the room, but not before robbing the dead guy of whatever cash was in his wallet. She doesn’t call for help because she knows that the murdered man is the type of person who wouldn’t want the cops around. And she doesn’t want to stick around to answer any questions.

In a voiceover, the assassin predicts all of these actions because he knows exactly who was in that room when he did the hit job. He also predicts how long it will take before the police arrive, so he can make his getaway. What he doesn’t explain is how he had the good luck of the murder victim having his hotel window curtains wide open so the assassin could clearly see where to shoot in the room.

Get used to this assassin over-explaining every single thing he does, as if he’s dictating an instruction manual called “Assassinations for Dummies,” because this constant narration plagues almost the entire movie. Here’s a sample of what he says in voiceover narration about this particular hit job: “With this employer, you rarely get more than a name—sometimes not even that. It adds to the risk, and it adds to the fear.”

When he calmly walks out of his hotel room after murdering his target, the assassin continues to drone on about how to be a top assassin: “It’s vital that you show no urgency. You trust your planning, your accuracy. You’re a professional, an expert devoted to timing and precision—a virtuoso.”

The assassin lives with his dog in a remote, unnamed wooded area, because as he over-explains in the narration, a “virtuoso” assassin is supposed “live off the grid as much as possible.” He get his mail by renting a box at an independent, privately owned mail service, not the U.S. Postal Service. And he never uses his real name.

The assassin has a mentor (played by Hopkins), who oversees the hit jobs that the assassin does. The next assignment that the assassin has is to murder a corrupt CEO, who was indicted on an unnamed charge, but the indictment was recently dropped by a judge. The assassin travels to Ohio to complete this mission.

It’s another murder where he shoots at his target from a nearby building. This time, the scene of the murder is on a street that looks like it’s in a business district of the city. And the target gets shot while driving in his car, which crashes into a reacreational vehicle camper that’s parked on the street. The CEO’s car and the camper explode. And something happens that the assassin could not predict: A woman, who was an innocent bystander, happened to be standing on a sidewalk next to the camper when it exploded, so she caught on fire and died.

The assassin makes a hasty exit back to his remote home. And because he prides himself on not killing innocent victims, this mistake has left him shaken to the core. He screams out in emotional pain and guilt. Although this screaming scene is supposed to be serious, it’s done in such an over-the-top way that viewers might laugh when they see it. Throughout the movie, the assassin has guilt-ridden flashbacks and nightmares of seeing the woman screaming in agony while engulfed in flames.

Viewers will find out a little bit more about the assassin and his mentor in a scene that takes place in a graveyard during the day. The assassin is there to visit the grave of his father. And then, the mentor suddenly shows up unannounced, almost as if he had been following the assassin (or hired someone to follow him), so he knew exactly where his protégé would be at that exact moment. The mentor has followed the assassin there because the assassin hasn’t been answering the mentor’s phone calls.

During their conversation, it’s mentioned that the assassin, his late father and the mentor all served in the military. The assassin’s father and the mentor were soldiers together during the Vietnam War. And in the movie’s best and most harrowing scene, the mentor delivers a monologue that only a few actors such as Hopkins would be able to deliver with credibility and gravitas. The monologue describes in vivid and horrific details a Vietnam War experience that the mentor had with the assassin’s father, when they were ordered to massacre all the people and animals in a Vietnam village, and what happened to a toddler boy who tried to escape.

The assassin’s mentor gives this monologue as a way to tell the assassin to “get over it” when the assassin seems to be mentally cracking under the guilt of accidentally killing an innocent bystander during a hit job. The mentor says that the dead bystander was just “collateral damage,” and that when these things happen, assassins just need to be professional and move on. “We humans are homicidal killing machines,” the mentor coldly tells the assassin. Privately, the assassin vows to himself to never allow this mistake to happen to him again.

And that’s why the assassin’s next assignment exposes the idiocy of this story. He takes an assignment where he doesn’t really know who his target is except that it’s someone whose identity is somehow connected to the words “white rivers.” Knowing full well that he could kill the wrong person due to mistaken identity, the assassin takes the assignment anyway.

The rest of the movie is a silly slog of the assassin going to a small town, where he encounters people who might or might now know who his target is, and one of them might be the actual target. All of the possible targets are people who spend time at a local diner called Rosie’s Cafe. They include:

  • A cop named Deputy Myers (played by David Morse), who’s immediately suspicious of the assassin when he sees him in the diner.
  • A waitress who calls herself Dixy (played by Abbie Cornish), who works at Rosie’s Cafe.
  • A sleazeball named Handsome Johnnie (played by Richard Brake), who has a criminal record and a gun.
  • A timid woman (played by Diora Baird), who is Handsome Johnnie’s new girlfriend.
  • A quiet loner (played by Eddie Marsan), who carries a gun with him.

And so, in this empty-headed story, the assassin who’s supposed to be as discreet and undercover as possible, shows up and starts asking people if they know anything about “white rivers.” He might as well have just worn a sign that said, “I’m a Stupid Assassin and I’m Here to Let People Know I’m Looking for My Target With My Biggest Clue About My Target’s Identity.” He acts more like a bumbling detective than a “virtuoso” assassin. What was that lecture he was saying in the beginning of the movie about “planning” and “accuracy”? Pure crap.

And since this is a small town, and the assassin hangs out at the diner acting like he’s looking for someone, it doesn’t take long before the word gets out that this stranger is probably up to no good. Needless to say, “The Virtuoso” is so sloppily written that the assassin’s process of elimination in figuring out the identity of his target makes absolutely no sense and contradicts the vow that he made to himself about not killing the wrong people.

“The Virtuoso” tries very hard to be like a neo-noir thriller, but the washed-out and dreary cinematography and monotonous editing just drag down this already sluggishly paced and nonsensical film. Fortunately for Hopkins, his screen time in “The Virtuoso” is no more than 20 minutes. His graveyard monologue really is the best thing about this terrible film. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. However, even the best acting in the world couldn’t save this very clumsy and vapid movie.

And because “The Virtuoso” recycles as many tired stereotypes as possible, the waitress and the assassin find themselves attracted to each other. Too bad Mount and Cornish have very little believable chemistry together. And since “The Virtuoso” is a very “male gaze” movie, only the women have nudity in the sex scenes. The only thing to say about the big “reveal” at the end is that it’s another very predictable cliché that’s a big yawn, assuming that any viewers who make it that far in this mind-numbing and plodding movie haven’t fallen asleep by then.

Lionsgate released “The Virtuoso” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 30, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on May 4, 2021.

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