By Lynn Venhaus

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” Uh-oh.

If hearing that menacing modified voice on the other end of a landline (!) sends shivers down your spine, you may be pleasantly surprised by this “Scream,” for it delivers on the franchise’s terror and laughs.

Especially the opening scene, which skillfully amplifies the suspense, only with a couple different twists. The new home-alone heroine Tara (Jenna Ortega, of “Yes Day”) says she likes “elevated horror,” such as the 21st century game-changers “The Babadook,” “It Follows” and “Hereditary.” Touche!

But the iconic “Scream” world is among the highest-rated and most popular B-movies, those dubbed “slasher” because of the high body count, and they do not wander out of that lane here.

Round 5 is excessively stabby – those squeamish about pools of blood are warned – and the deft editing by Michel Aller puts the thrill in thriller. Why Wes Craven’s innovative original stood out in 1996 is because it flipped the formula with a wink and a smile but didn’t skimp on the scares.

|Twenty-five years after the original killing spree in Woodsboro, a new killer begins a series of murders, and first-target and ‘final girl’ Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to help find out why that creepy Ghostface mask is back.

So is the distinct malevolent voice of Roger L. Jackson. Fasten your seatbelts, and we’re off on a nostalgic wild ride, waiting to see if the new team has the right stuff. That’s the thing with series – fans are very invested and vocal, and these filmmakers know this – and run with it, mock it, and set up their own path with the serial-killer curse in the sleepy small-town of Woodsboro.

Hotshot co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who made the cheeky “Ready or Not” in 2020 and are part of a film collective called Radio Silence, are obviously fond of Craven, who died in 2015. Astute fans of scary movie tropes, they are inspired enough to craft a quick-witted reboot-sequel hybrid.

At once fresh and familiar, the ‘requel’ doesn’t reinvent the slasher horror genre in the way Craven did, but its playful poking fun at how self-aware it is helps smooth over its shortcomings.

Emulating the old tricks and jolts, this thriller has clever reveals, very gory and gruesome murders, snarky humor, and well-orchestrated tension.

Without a number, this fifth bold and brazen installment may be the most brutal, funniest, and is even more meta than “The Matrix: Resurrections.”

Its cynical commentary on internet fandom and social media outrage over major franchise missteps slyly riffs on David Gordon Green’s rekindled “Halloween” and Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” chapter of the new “Star Wars” trilogy.

Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett succeed in how self-aware this is, as do the screenwriters Guy Resick (also of “Ready or Not”) and James Vanderbilt, who wrote “Zodiac,” “White House Down” and the two Andrew Garfield “Spider-Man” movies.

However, getting the surviving original characters back together – Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) – seems to be an opportunity squandered.

They’ve been an enduring trio since 1996, including sequels in 1997, 2000 and 2011, so they lend a legitimacy to the new one.

Ex-sheriff Dewey is a bigger part of the story this time – and while a welcome sight, he’s a sad shell of his former self. The quirky Arquette plays the retired and reclusive lawman both for laughs and pathos. But the trio’s much-too-brief insertion as supporting players doesn’t do them, or their legacy, justice.

As in the previous four, the main roster is filled with screen-savvy young talent who engage as best they can, given the structure limitations. Nevertheless, we should care more about the two sisters at the center — Tara is the younger sister to Samantha, capably portrayed by Melissa Barrera (Vanessa in “In the Heights”) as somewhat of a mess.

She’s been carrying a big secret around with her, so she acted up in high school, tarnished her reputation, and skedaddled out of town. It must be an in-joke that she moved to Modesto, not exactly ‘bright lights, big city,” and works at a bowling alley.

When she gets a call that her estranged sister’s been attacked, Sam rushes home with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) in tow. He’s never seen a “Stab” movie – the faux franchise based on what happened in Woodsboro that was filming in the first sequel. For the record, “Stab” is up to seven movies referenced here.

Richie gets up to speed quickly. As Sam reconnects to her past, the screenwriters introduce us to the new characters that have links to the old gang. Twins Mindy ( Jasmin Savoy Brown) and Chad (Mason Gooding) are the niece and nephew of victim Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) and Amber (Mikey Madison) lives in the former home of killer Billy Loomis’ accomplice Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard)

Kevin Williamson, who created the original characters that launched many a career, was back for the second and fourth films, and is a current executive producer. He had a knack for capturing youth behavior and culture – and that hallmark continues, even with more jaded kids. His stamp is evident. After all, he went on to create “Dawson’s Creek” in 1998, which ran for six seasons (Does anyone else think the offspring of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid looks like Pacey?) – and develop “The Vampire Diaries” in 2009, which ran for eight seasons.

The teen party scenes, a staple, propel the funhouse jumps. A character goes into the basement alone! A character says he’ll be right back! The kids generally pay for ridiculous decisions.

And we all know what happens when characters open doors, cabinets, and refrigerators. In one of the best scenes, Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), son of Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton, another returnee), filmmakers ingeniously stretch it out as he prepares for dinner.

One of my hesitations about embracing these tales fully is that I never totally buy into the whodunit. I like how they get there, but I’m usually let down by the identity and motivations of the murderers. There are many dots to connect and sometimes they don’t.

Will this movie set sequels in motion? Time will tell, but we need to care about the new characters as much as we did the core group

One must remember what the horror movie landscape was like in the 1990s to appreciate how groundbreaking “Scream” was – a lackluster crop of stale Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger sequels. But after “Scream” rejuvenated the genre, M. Night Shamylan introduced “The Sixth Sense” in 1998 and “The Blair Witch Project” kicked off the found-footage subgenre in 1999.

Jack Quaid as Richie

Lessons will hopefully be learned about annoyance over cash-grab sequels that they make a point about so well.

“Scream” is a 2022 horror thriller that is fifth in the series. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, it stars Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references, its runtime is 1 hour, 54 minutes. It opens only in theaters on Jan. 14. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus
“In the Heights” is indescribably delicious — and one of the best movie musicals of the 21st century, splendidly transferred from stage to screen.

Bursting with exuberance and featuring a bustling street tableau, this long-awaited adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony-winning musical is teeming with colorful sights and sounds.

Besides a richly textured, pulsating score with primarily hip-hop lyrics and a salsa beat, what made the musical special is how it captures a universal story of people chasing their dreams with a specific sense of place.

Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos) is the owner of a small bodega in New York City’s Washington Heights. As the neighborhood braces for changes and people follow their dreams, family stories are revealed.

Usnavi has a crush on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of being a designer and wants to live in the West Village. His childhood friend, Nina (Leslie Grace), the “one who made it out” by landing a scholarship to Stanford University, thinks she is disappointing her dad, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits), who owns a local car service company. Nina’s love interest, Benny (Corey Hawkins), works for her dad. Meanwhile, Abuelo Claudia (Olga Merediz) dispenses love and advice as the neighborhood’s matriarch. Merediz played the role on Broadway.

And Usnavi discovers his store has sold a winning lottery ticket for $96,000 – money that could make a lot of dreams possible.

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera

As a celebration of Latino heritage, from Caribbean islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico, this film arrives at the perfect time – it’s a valuable immigrant representation and a major achievement in 2021.

Set during a blistering summer heat wave in the barrio over the course of three days, you feel “all the feels” — You will fall in love with these characters and their devotion to family, culture and finding their place in the world.

Showcasing an abundance of charisma, three stars are born: Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera as Vanessa and Leslie Grace as Nina. Ramos, most known as John Laurens and Alexander’s son Philip in “Hamilton,” sings and dances up a storm, but also has the emotional heft for good-hearted, hard-working Usnavi. Barrera and Grace dazzle in every musical number – and their personal stories tug at the heartstrings.

The entire cast is terrific — Corey Hawkins as Benny, Daphe Rubin-Vega as Daniella, Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario and Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, among them.

Jon M. Chu, who directed “Crazy Rich Asians,” has a flair for keeping things moving at a brisk pace in massive musical numbers but also creating an intimacy with the duets and personal struggles. For a movie with a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes, that is no small feat.

Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the musical’s original book plus the screen adaptation) brings it into today, with references to Dreamers (DACA), activism and current class struggles. The women characters are all strong role models, too.

Best of all are the energetic dance scenes. Vibrant choreographer Christopher Scott will have you moving and up from your seat! He brings so much joy to these lively street scenes, and their precise moves – on asphalt, park, water or sand – are striking. He is a Busby Berkeley for the modern age, keen on making the action ‘pop.’

And for Miranda’s devotees and “Hamilton” fans, there are a few tasty in-jokes. Check out the phone muzak while Jimmy Smits is on hold – recognize a signature tune? — and there is a rivalry between his “The Piragua Guy” and a Mr. Softee truck (with a certain actor once known as Mr. President – and who played Benny in the original cast). Christopher Jackson and Miranda go way back to 2002.

Miranda was the first composer to put hip-hop lyrics in a Broadway show — and the youngest to win the Tony for Best Music Score in 2009. While that is remarkable in itself, what he has managed in his career to date is awe-inspiring — and means a lot is expected from him. Next up, his directorial debut with “Tick, Tick…Boom,” basically the Jonathan Larson story, which will premiere on Netflix this fall. He credits the “Rent” composer with being one of his influences.

His “Hamilton” Dream Team of Tommy Kail, Alex Lacamoire and Andy Blankenbuehler worked together on all the stage versions of “In the Heights,” so while not specifically involved in the movie, their influence can be felt.

Miranda wrote a new song, “Home All Summer,” which plays over the credits and features Marc Anthony, who has a minor role as Sonny’s father, in addition to Ramos and Grace.

Sonny’s father wasn’t in the original musical, and there are a few alterations here, including a new framing device and ending, but it only adds to the material, not detracts. A few songs were cut from the 25, and the soundtrack now includes 17, including the new one.

Movie musicals can be a dicey proposition these days, for every “Chicago” (Oscar winner) and “Les Miserables” (Best Picture nominee), there is an epic failure like “The Phantom of the Opera” and the unwatchable “Cats.”

This is a fun, global experience that will be a certain summer sizzler. After a pandemic delay, “In the Heights” is a welcome refresher in the magic of music and movies.

“In the Heights” is a musical directed by John M. Chu and starring Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Daphne Rubin-Vega,  Corey Hawkins, Marc Anthony and Jimmy Smits. It is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references, and runs 2 hours, 23 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: The movie is in theaters starting June 10 and on HBO Max June 10 – July 11.