Movie Review ~ Scream (2022)

Just when you thought it was safe to stop #Scream -ing…

The Facts:

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Sonia Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner, Reggie Conquest, Chester Tam, Roger L. Jackson

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Rated: R

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: “What’s your favorite scary movie?” may now be a cultural touchstone phrase forever related to the classic film Scream, but it’s always been a litmus test to see where the person being asked falls on the scale of horror fandom.  If the answer is a deep cut, something from the Italian Giallo master Dario Argento or French cult vampire director Jean Rollin, you know you’re dealing with someone that has ventured further than the confines of their neighborhood video store.  Answering with a more commercially minded offering like a Friday the 13th or a Halloween tells you you’re in the presence of a person that doesn’t mind some blood, gore, and jump scares.  Get a response from a Frankenstein fraidy-cat and you may want to reconsider suggesting anything stronger than a black and white Universal classic.

For many, the answer to the question posed by the killer to Drew Barrymore’s doomed character in 1996 is, in fact, the very movie that asked it to begin with.  Scream opened to soft business in Christmas only to grow into a word-of-mouth hit, so much so that by the time the enjoyable sequel was released in 1997 both films had the distinction of being 1997’s top earners.  Fans of the franchise are legion, and after two more sequels (one in 2000 and the last one in 2011) it has amassed a devoted base that can and have spent much time arguing over the official order of quality, though you’d be hard pressed to find a list that doesn’t put the one that started it all in the prime spot. For the record, I’m a 1, 2, 4, 3.

Though the title lived on in television under the guise of an MTV scripted series with no ties to the original cast or setting, the first two seasons attempted to tell a continuing tale before killing off much of its YA cast.  I didn’t even bother with the third, standalone season, and from what I’ve heard that was for the best.  After the success of the continuation of Halloween in 2018, it still was a surprise when it was announced in March 2020 that Radio Silence, a filmmaking collective which found success in indie horror before making a snazzy showing in 2019]’s impressive Ready or Not, would direct and executive produce a fifth Scream movie incorporating original cast members with a new group of teens stalked by a vengeance-seeking killer.  As a dedicated fan of the films and the franchise in general (not to mention a number of the previous films Radio Silence has produced), I was thrilled for another gathering of my favorite cast members and a return to the whodunit slasher film that I have a true fondness for. 

Needless to say, as we move forward into the meat of the movie, this is a spoiler-free zone.  Aside from watching the first trailer for the movie the day it was released, I haven’t watched any other marketing for the film so can’t say what may be in the previews that could be a potential spoiler…but I won’t be giving away anything that could ruin your experience.

Well…maybe one thing.  And that’s my feeling toward the finished movie.  Surprising myself, I left the theater after my screening of Scream (which, it should be strongly stated, is Scream 5, no matter how the filmmakers and studio try to spin it) sort of aghast at how much against it I felt.  The more I heard how many people did like it, the more I was wondering if I just saw something different or my tastes had changed…but this was almost directly after gleefully binge-watching the previous four films.  Delivering on the “goods” if you will (read: killings, blood, and guts) but shortchanging fans that know their Woodsboro ins and outs with a number of discrepancies and head scratching choices, the screenplay from James Vanderbilt (White House Down) and Guy Busick attempts to make connections to the past at the outset but abandons its own efforts by the messy end.  Worse, the film suffers from a strong case of the unlikeables, characters and cast members that either don’t appear long enough to create much of an impression before they’re sliced or grate on the nerves to the point where you feel like paging Ghostface stat to get on with the show.

It’s been twenty-five years since the original murder spree changed the sleepy town of Woodsboro forever.  The survivors of the attack a generation ago have encountered several copycat slayings over the subsequent years but for the last decade there has been a peaceful silence which has allowed lives to be led without much fear.  Then Tara (Jenna Ortega, Insidious: Chapter 2) gets a phone call while alone in her house and hears a voice familiar to us but unfamiliar to her.  Remember, Stab (the movie within Scream 2 based off of the events in Scream 1) came out over two decades before and its sequels have long since fizzled out.  Poor Tara should have stayed up to date on her old-school horror trivia because things don’t go well for her when quizzed on her knowledge of Stab and Woodsboro’s sordid history.

Hearing the news about her sister from a town far outside of Woodsboro, Sam (Melissa Barrera, In the Heights) returns with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid, Rampage) just as secrets from her family’s past and a clever killer targeting those with ties to the 1996 murder spree emerge from the shadows.  Teaming up with Tara’s friends, among them Amber (Mikey Madison, It Takes Three), twins Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sound of Violence) and Chad (Mason Gooding, Booksmart) and Wes (Dylan Minnette, Prisoners), Sam and Richie eventually realize they’ll need the help of the remaining few who’ve experienced this before if they have any hope of surviving the game plan of a killer (or killers?) always several steps ahead of them.  Enter Dewey, Gale, and Sidney.

To say the film feels lighter the moment even one of the legacy cast members is on screen is an understatement.  Originally meant to be killed off in the first film and then set to die in the sequel, original director of the first four films Wes Craven and his producing partners had such a strong reaction to David Arquette’s (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) portrayal of Deputy Dewey Riley (not to mention his popularity with fans) that they made sure to shoot endings where he lived.  And you’ll be especially glad he did because his presence in this entry is so useful, bringing not only that trademark goofiness to the role but an emotional sweetness that has always defined the role and made it unmistakably his.  Noticeably absent for much of the film are Courtney Cox (Masters of the Universe) and Neve Campbell (Skyscraper), but they’re like that time Madonna made all of us at her concert wait two hours after the opening act before she went on.  By the time she showed up, we were more than antsy but when she did…it was completely worth it.  Same goes here and not only do Cox and Campbell fit right back into their characters like no time has passed, they highlight the biggest problem with the movie for me.  The acting.

I’m not sure what’s up with this cast but I think each and every one of them I’ve seen and liked far better in other projects.  Here, it’s like no one was acting in the same movie or playing off of one another to any winning effect.  It’s never more evident than with Barrera who has some of the strangest line readings, coming off as emotionless when the scene calls for drama and often absent as strong support for those she is acting opposite. I felt for Ortega who is acting her face off, performing the role like it’s the last thing she’ll ever do.  I wish the performance (which, to be clear, is solid) was in a different movie she was headlining.  Brown is another standout, finding herself a nice match for the dialogue which has some hints at original scribe Kevin Williamson’s quick meta banter but never reaches that same smirking bar which made Williamson’s screenplays, for lack of a better word, iconic.

Which brings me to another low-ish point.  Vanderbilt and Busick don’t have Williamson’s knack for snappy phrasing, relying much more on accessing the characters F-Bomb portal than having them volley back-and-forth.  While Brown gets those nice moments to explain the rules surrounding a ‘requel’, too many references are made to fifth entries not living up to their potential, being ill-advised, not being titled correctly, etc…. basically heading off all the naysayers at the pass and beating the critics to their punches.  In that way, the script starts to feel like it’s apologizing for itself instead of creating its own playing field. A few missed opportunities along the way exist, making you wonder if there wasn’t more to the story that was left on the cutting room floor or if the screenwriters are saving something for potential sequel routes. 

Perhaps you can tie some of it back to that Wes Craven touch which guided those first four films.  Dying of brain cancer in 2015, Craven was never going to be a part of this new film and while no one is claiming the previous sequels to be flawless (let’s face it, as fun as Scream 3 was, it was also silly and falling apart at the seams) or that Craven was a can’t miss director, he set the look and feel of the franchise from the start…down to Marco Beltrami’s score which I was also sad to see wasn’t back. Yet…you just can’t divest yourself from feeling that if directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett were attempting to honor Craven they would have displayed some of his knack for spotting acting talent on the cusp of greatness. Going into more details is definitely tipping the scale toward spoilers…but we can chat after you’ve seen it and I can explain more.

I’m disappointed for myself that I didn’t like the movie a little more than I did.  This isn’t about living in any kind of past because onward we must travel, especially if we want the things we hold dear to continue to thrive.  Personally, I hope this Scream makes huge bucks (all signs point to a big YES in that department) and more films in a similar vein are made.  I would ask, please, that the same kind of focus is put on the key pieces that elevate a movie to classic status though.  The original cast and script of 1996’s Scream simply can’t be beat, even all these years later.  I can’t say the same for this continuation…but trust me, I wanted to. 

Now…I’m a 1, 2, 4, 5, 3 person.

31 Days to Scare ~ Scream (2022) – First Look Trailer

Synopsis: Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Release Date:  January 14, 2022

Thoughts: It’s been 10 years since we’ve heard that familiar voice on the phone calling the latest batch of doomed flavors of the month (quick…how many of the teenage cast members of Scream 4 are still a ‘thing’?) and so the return of Ghostface is being met with an expected marked frenzy.  Going the 2018 Halloween and 2020’s The Grudge route and leaving off any numerical suffix, 2022’s Scream is the first not to be directed by Wes Craven who passed away in 2015.  In the hands of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett (also known as Radio Silence, the team behind 2019’s Ready or Not), we’re back in Woodsboro for a new series of murders that tie into the events from a generation earlier. 

As excited as I am for this new installment, I almost wish I hadn’t watched the lengthy preview because…boy does it show a lot more than I wanted to see.  I know this cast is huge and the body count has the potential to be plentiful but seeing the fates of several characters (and perhaps a healthy bit of the opening) feels like we’re being served far too much before we’ve even sat down to eat.  Fingers crossed the twists make up for the trailer spoilers, but this is the last time I’ll watch any promo materials for the film before it is released.

Movie Review ~ In the Heights

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Lights up on Washington Heights, a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big.

Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  It’s been good to get out of the house and see several movies in the theaters these past weeks.  I didn’t think I’d be able to say that as recently as a few months ago but the experience has been a welcoming one.  As much as I love going to the movies and the feeling of getting the rush of excitement as the lights go down before any expectations can be met or missed, some small part of me aches for the moments of magic that are rarely found amidst the CGI created worlds of fiction.  I used to chalk it up to childhood nostalgia for films of my youth setting an unrealistic bar no modern film could ever hope to meet, but every now and then a movie, a performance, a scene, a look, just sends this wave of, and forgive me if this is schmaltzy, serenity over me and I recognize it as a familiar emotion I felt when I was much younger. 

The film version of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical In the Heights was not the first movie I saw in theaters since they reopened and after I was fully vaccinated.  It was not a stage show I was a fan of and my coolness toward it was a chief reason I avoided Lin-Manuel Miranda’s next show, Hamilton (ever heard of it?), believing I’d again leave the theater unaffected after the massive hype. (Of course, like the rest of the world I’m a Hamil-fan)  Also, I’ll be totally honest and say that Miranda himself, pure genius and goodhearted soul though he is, had failed to win me over after all the years of his shameless mugging at awards shows.  As a fan of musicals and, of course, film musicals I was looking forward to In the Heights but it wasn’t one I was super busting down the theater door to get to.  So how is it that the feeling I described above, the movie magic moment, hit me like a ton of bricks before anyone had spoken a word?

Yes, it’s true.  The moment the Warner Brothers logo came onscreen and we see a first glimpse of NY’s Washington Heights neighborhood through the lens of cinematographer Alice Brooks (Jem and the Holograms), I felt my face flush and eyes tingle with the threat of, could it be?, actual tears.  My shoulders relaxed down and my stomach flipped over.  What exactly was happening here?  While I can attribute some of my emotions to just being a big softie in general (don’t spread that around), there was something almost imperceptibly moving about the film in its simple opening moments. That feeling remained for the rest of this captivating modern musical.  It’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s joyous, and it’s a perfect film to see on the big screen if you can make it happen. 

Taking over the role Miranda created and played onstage, Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born) is Usnavi, the owner of a corner bodega in an ordinary neighborhood of Washington Heights with dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic and restoring the bar his father owned before immigrating to the U.S.  With no immediate family ties to keep him there, all he worries about is the elderly woman who raised him, “Abuela” Claudia (Olga Merediz, The Place Beyond the Pines), and his young cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV, Vampires vs. the Bronx) who lives with his troubled father (an almost unrecognizable Marc Anthony).  Just as he makes up his mind to head back to the D.R. and bring the two with him, the chance of a relationship with hairdresser Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) whom he loved from afar for years puts all of that into question.

Over the course of several days, Usnavi is the nucleus around which numerous characters and stories circle.  We don’t see the world of Washington Heights totally through his eyes but he is the driving force of the piece, and his storyline is pivotal in the lives of many of his neighbors and close friends.  Nina (Leslie Grace), the daughter of the proprietor of a family-run cab company, has returned home from her first year at an Ivy League college with doubts on returning. As she rekindles a romance with Benny (Corey Hawkins, BlacKkKlansman) an employee of her father’s, Kevin (Jimmy Smits, The Tax Collector) tries to persuade his child to seize the opportunity she has been afforded through her hard work and his sacrifice.  The high cost of rent has forced salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) to move her business to another borough, upsetting her regular clientele.  With dreams of something more than working in a salon, Vanessa is hoping to secure an apartment closer to Manhattan where she can pursue her passion in fashion design, but her current address is making this hard to achieve.

When a winning lottery ticket is sold at Usnavi’s bodega with a payout of $96,000, it changes and challenges the dreams of many of the neighborhood residents right about the time a massive blackout hits their part of the city, plunging their nights into total darkness and asking them to survive in the sweltering heat.  As the temperature rises, so do the stakes for every kind of relationship that exists in the close-knit neighborhood, leading to a cathartic finale which feels like the breath of fresh air type of release we all could use right about now.  Utilizing newly implemented bookends created for the film was a wise choice by screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes (who also wrote the original musical) because onstage it’s easy to just hit the audience with a wall of music right away.  Opting to ease into it instead reinforces Usnavi’s role as the narrator and removes him having to speak directly to the camera which robs some of the realism that helps propel the movie forward emotionally.

Oh, the music.  I forgot to mention the music.  I’m almost convinced that In the Heights would work just as well with the music removed (not that I’d want that) but the music is a whole other piece to dissect that I won’t delve as deep into.  I will say that Miranda had to trim or remove a number of songs and that frees the movie to open up more and thereby showcase the stronger pieces and voices.  Like onstage, the number “96,000” is an absolute showstopper and I wouldn’t be surprised if audiences in the theater or at home applaud when it’s over.  Set at a local pool (filmed on location at the Highbridge Pool in Washington Heights) it’s intricately choreographed like a Busby Berkeley musical with so much energy emanating from the screen I swear I was nearly levitating in my seat by the time it was over.

Even more than the staging, it’s one of the best sung films musicals I’ve seen in quite some time.  Barrera and Grace have fantastic voices and are pitch perfect in the acting department as well, same goes for Hawkins and the always under-utilized Smits who is so good they combined two roles in the stage musical to create this one for him.  The original Mimi in the Broadway cast of RENT, Rubin-Vega regrettably doesn’t show up in film much but is a ball of fire as the gossipy hairdresser and I loved that Hudes changed her relationship with her business partner Carla (Stephanie Beatriz, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) and also made them romantically involved.  You have to wait a bit for Rubin-Vega to get her moment in the spotlight due to some rearrangement of material but it’s worth it when it arrives.

The biggest names to remember associated with the movie version of In the Heights are Ramos and Merediz.  Not only are they going to nab Oscar nominations for their work but Merediz is going to be fighting off other nominees to claim her Best Supporting Actress award for the next six months.  As the kindly “abuela” to all the neighborhood in one way or another, Merediz is the only Broadway actor to recreate their role onscreen and it’s not hard to see why.  The role is played to perfection and her big number, “Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith)” is not only beautifully staged by director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) but performed with the kind of raw emotion and honesty that is next to impossible to capture without adornment on film.  For his efforts, Ramos is delivering the kind of star making performance that comes along rarely in film, perhaps he learned a trick or two from working with Lady Gaga on A Star is Born.   It only takes a few frames of film to understand he possesses the charisma and natural talent to go a long way past the highs In the Heights will surely take him.

Like the stage show, the film does feel overly episodic at times and storylines are picked up and dropped seemingly at random, but that’s a small nitpick in what is generally a free-flowing movie that doesn’t feel like it clocks in at nearly two and a half hours.  And I suppose I could mention that while it is lovely to look at in the moment, a song that defies the law of gravity feels a tad out of place and overly effects-laden when the rest of the film is largely grounded in the realism of the neighborhood…albeit with a little magic thrown in here and there. 

Delayed from its original release date of June 2020, Warner Brothers could have released this one at any time during the past year, but they decided to wait until the time was right…and the time is absolutely right for In the Heights to make its debut.  With the country experiencing a heatwave and the chill of the air-conditioned movie theaters beckoning (it will also be available on HBOMax), I can see In the Heights being a favored destination for many over the coming weeks.  Do yourself a favor, a kindness even, and see it on the big screen.