Tag Archives: Adriana Barraza

Escarabajo Azul

Blue Beetle

by Hope Madden

There’s something in the bones of the new DC movie Blue Beetle that’s very familiar. Very Spider-Man. Very Captain Marvel. Very Green Lantern, The Flash and Shazam.

Mainly Shazam.

And director Angel Manuel Soto capably builds a recognizable plot from those bones. An unlikely protagonist (Xolo Maridueña) takes on superpowers without really wanting to, goes through an awkward phase of figuring out how to use them, then stumbles into danger and crime, and must eventually accept his fate and save humanity.

Blue Beetle delivers solidly on each of those plot points. Where it really makes its presence known, though, is in the way it fleshes out those bones.

Blue Beetle is unapologetically, vibrantly Latinx. It is stunning how a change of perspective revives a story.

Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer (Miss Bala) writes rich, funny, fully developed characters and a winning cast takes advantage. Maridueña charms in the lead role while Belissa Escobedo’s sarcastic sister keeps him in check. George Lopez steals scenes as the looney, tech savvy, conspiracy theorist uncle and Nana (the great Adriana Barraza) kills it.

Plus, Susan Sarandon hams it up as villainous billionaire (is there any other kind?) Victoria Kord. It’s fun. But it’s not the film’s differentiator. This Mexican American superhero isn’t separated from his family, his neighborhood, his backstory or culture. Indeed, those roots not only strengthen the hero himself, but the entire film.

The story of underdogs facing down corporate greed, of the terrors of the global military industrial complex, the blight of gentrification, the joy of a good telenovela and every joke springs naturally and lands better because of the cultural context the filmmakers use to ground their story.

The plot may not break new ground, but the film itself feels revolutionary. Like Nana.

Games of Chance

Bingo Hell

by Hope Madden

Sometimes a title really hits you, like Bingo Hell. Maybe because the idea of playing this game makes me lose the will to live.

Co-writer/director Gigi Saul Guerrero has a slightly different use for the image of folks hunched over their boards hoping to win something from the community chest. A veteran of the horror short film, Guerrero pulls together conflicted thoughts about gentrification and neighborhood loyalty, poverty and affluence, and the sketchy influence of organized gambling for her first feature.

Speaking of veterans, Adriana Barraza — reliable as ever — leads the film as Lupita, the aging but spunky heart of her community, Oak Springs. She doesn’t dig gentrification. Watching members of her community take the cash and bail because they don’t have the cash to pay newly exorbitant rents doesn’t break her heart, it fuels her rage.

Lupita is a spitfire and Barraza’s relish with her outbursts drives the film’s energetic, campy outrage. Bingo Hell has social commentary to spare, but it’s not preaching. It’s attacking.

Guerrero’s film, part of Amazon Prime’s 2021 Welcome to the Blumhouse program, doesn’t oversimplify causes and solutions. Still, it delivers its recommendations as more of a blunt instrument than a surgical tool.

It is much fun to watch Barraza and other mature actors (L. Scott Caldwell, Grover Coulson, Clayton Landey) inhabit characters with agency and some degree of complexity, but it’s Richard Brake who offers Barraza the best sparring partner. Effortlessly sinister, the underappreciated character actor delivers another memorable baddie.

With characters to root for, violence to spare, and a healthy acceptance of chaos, Bingo Hell is pretty fun.