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Volume 2, Number 5

This Week's Reviews:  Scream 3, Liberty Heights.

Video Reviews:  Scream, Scream 2.

This Week's Omissions:  Beefcake.



Scream 3

(Dir: Wes Craven, Starring David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Neve Campbell, Parker Posey, Patrick Dempsey, Emily Mortimer, Scott Foley, Lance Henrikson, Deon Richmond, Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, Liev Schreiber, Kelly Rutherford, Patrick Warburton, Lynn McRee, and Roger L. Jackson)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

(Note:  with the exception of a few remarks that tell the ending of Scream 2 and mentioning characters in the first two, therefore admitted their survival, this review spoils nothing from the previous Scream films)

Anyone that has known me for the last four years would know my unparalleled adoration for the films in the Scream series.  Admittedly, none of them are material to make my top ten lists in their respective years, but there is so much refreshing joy in viewing these films.  I was late to get into the first Scream, but I more than made up for that by seeing its (somewhat insufficient) sequel seven times in the theatre.  I literally have spent more time with the Wes Craven series than any other horror film series.

And that is the real reason that I adore these films so much.  I have been through years of bad horror films, and there are few things more pleasurable than a self-referential genre film that steers away from spoof.  Scream delivered that such a film and I have been obsessed since.

The sequel, made and released a year after its predecessor in 1997, was a bit of a disappointment for me, lacking the thrilling pizzazz of the original while veering more towards comedy.  Of course, that did not keep me from seeing it a record amount of times (I had thought of seeing Eyes Wide Shut enough times to knock Scream 2 out of that record, but EWS's length kept me from seeing it more than five times).

Now there is a third sequel.  But Scream 3 is not really a sequel, but much more of a finale in a trilogy, which is exactly what Scream and Scream 2 writer Kevin Williamson had envisioned.  In fact there is little in the third part that comes from the second part, I do not remember the film even mentioning Debbie Salt, Mickey, Derek, or Chief Lewis Hartley, the film is much more of an outgrowth of the ending of the first film.

And I actually think that works for Scream 3Scream 2 was a quickie, fun sequel, nothing more.  It was like one of those episodes of The X-Files that has very little to do with the conspiracy theories.  If Scream 3 had tried to come off Scream 2, it would have been weighed down by the whole Billy's mother problem that literally killed the ending of the second one (I have read the first draft of Scream 2, with an alternate ending, and think that the startling ending there would have served the film much better).

Scream 3 does, however, pick up with the characters where we last saw them, even if it does not give a damn what they went through earlier.  Sidney (Campbell) is in hiding in Monterey, where she has begun anonymously counseling women in crisis over the phone (I liked it when Sidney gives Laura as her name to a caller worried about giving her own name).  She may seem to be happy in seclusion, but loneliness has spurned nightmares, for Sidney now sees her dead mother coming after her in dreams.  Life might be a little easier for Sidney if a killer was not on the loose again.  The set of Stab 3, a Hollywood sequel to what happened in Stab and Stab 2, which told of Scream and Scream 2 (have I lost you yet?), is being attacked by a ghost masked killer, who is killing members of the cast.

Whoever this killer is, he (or she, or they) wants to find Sidney and is hoping to get this information from those close to her.  The person in closest contact with Sidney is Dewey Reilly (Arquette), who has now been taken on as a technical advisor on the set of Stab 3.  He, along with Gale Weathers (Cox) and the romantically advancing film version of Gale (Posey; comic overacting at its best), is on the trail of this killer while trying to keep him (or ... well, you get the picture) from finding Sidney.

All is put together in this final chapter of the Scream films, and the conclusion is extremely amiable.  I have no problem in saying that I liked this film more than the original, quite the achievement (the only other times I can recall preferring a horror sequel to its predecessor are Nightmare on Elm Street 3 [produced by Scream and Nightmare director Wes Craven] and House 2: The Second Story [which is actually mentioned in Scream 2 as being better than the original; for the record, it is not that House 2 is so good, but that House is so bad].  The film ties everything together and even makes the first Scream more understandable (there has been one thing plaguing me about Scream that was finally put to rest with Scream 3).

Craven has again shown highly able direction in the art of horror films, far better work than any of the films he has directed besides the other Scream films (talk about a haunting final shot).  I found the dialogue, though admittedly rough at times, and story by Ehren Kruger (following Kevin Williamson's departure to do television and last year's Teaching Mrs. Tingle) to be far better than Williamson had done in the first two.

The Scream franchise is over, not only standing as one of the best horror series ever, but as one of the best trilogies of all time.


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Liberty Heights

(Dir: Barry Levinson, Starring Ben Foster, Adrien Brody, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, Orlando Jones, Justin Chambers, Carolyn Murphy, Rebekah Johnson, David Krumholtz, Richard Kline, Vincent Guastaferro, James Pickens, Jr., Anthony Anderson, Frania Rubinek, Kiersten Warren, Evan Neumann, Kevin Sussman, Gerry Rosenthal, and Charley Scalies)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Early in Liberty Heights, we see a young man, Ben Kurtzman (Foster), and his friends musing on the sign outside a local swimming pool saying "No Jews, dogs, or colored."  This statement of segregation does not seem to hurt Ben and his friends, all from the Jewish Baltimore neighborhood off of Liberty Heights, since they reason that only Jews would care.  In their minds, dogs see little difference, and coloreds could care little since they never go to the beach.

But as minor as this detail may be, this occurrence only opens the audience to where Ben is in life, and there is much to learn from here on.  Those beautiful, wet vixens that he spies from the outside of the pool will seem mere foibles after he learns about sex and its implications.  Much more so, Ben will also grow to understand the segregation that he and the Negroes of Baltimore have been thrown into.

That seems to be the goal of Liberty Heights, to convince the audience that Jews were just as segregate by the blacks in 1954.  Unfortunately, Levinson seems lost in this goal, he has scenes in which even the Jews are mistreating the blacks (of course, the blacks take on the stereotypical angry reaction to this).  I think that Levinson was sure of what he wanted, but it does not come across at all.

I happened to find the film to be enjoyable, nevertheless.  Its coming of age drama worked, if not in the way that Levinson probably wanted.  Levinson is a very able director, coming off the terrific Wag the Dog (no, I'm not forgetting Sphere, I'm just acting like it never happened), and this is a film that might stand out otherwise.  I'm one to sing the praises of Avalon until I'm blue in the face, and, admittedly, Liberty Heights is a disappointment for Levinson's Baltimore series (including the overrated Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon), the next to least in the series.

Ben and his brother Van (Brody) have quite a story to tell, each with similar implications of returned love from afar.  While they are making movements to woo the out-of-grasp girls they are after (for Ben, the problem is that she is black, for Van, it is that she is already taken by a friend), the real heart of the film is in the subplot involving their father (Matnegna) and some mixed dealings in his gambling racket.  If the film had been about the father and his problems, it could have been a great film, but that story does not really begin to stand out until the last third of the film.

The Levinson's screenplay and direction are both able, I particularly liked Levinson's choice as the final image of the film (though it would have worked more if Levinson had not included some stuff in the credits).  Mantegna is terrific, giving what may very well be his best performance to date.  I also found Neuwirth, as the mother in the family, Foster, and Brody to all be enjoyable in their roles.  Of course there are some bad apples in the cast, namely Murphy, as the girl Van pursues, Jones, as the black man dealing with Mantegna, and Rubinek, as the stereotypical Jewish grandmother in the family (though I did like her in Avalon).

Liberty Heights could have very well been one of the best Jewish melting pot films ever, but it falls flat.  Too bad, I really needed another Avalon.


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Video Reviews:  With the release of the third and (supposedly) final chapter in the Scream franchise, I thought it was only right that I include my old reviews of the previous two films.  Some of the remarks here probably seem rather dated, which is understandable since they were written in 1996 and 1997.  



Scream

(Dir: Wes Craven, Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, W. Earl Brown, Joseph Whipp, Liev Schreiber, Drew Barrymore, Henry Winkler, Priscilla Pointer, Lawrence Hecht, Kevin Patrick Walls, Troy Bishop, Ryan Kennedy, and Roger L. Jackson)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

Horror fans should love this film, but I, an admitted horror film hater, had very low expectations at its beginning. I mean, of the six Halloweens, I only liked the first and of the nine Friday the 13ths, I hated them all. So when Wes Craven said he was making another slasher film, I of course thought here comes another Serpent and the Rainbow or Nightmare on Elm Street sequel but instead I come to find a very witty and in-joke filled thriller, that in all actuality is not really a horror film. I'd have to put more thought into it but I would say that Scream is probably the best horror-type film I've seen since Halloween came out. Believe me, this is no Psycho or Rosemary's Baby but boy does it put some of the films it steals from to shame.

Few horror films can pull off the in-jokes Scream does: in a major death scene, the killer's masked face is seen in the victim's eye ( la Stranger's on a Train), the opening has a woman terrorized by a seemingly prank caller (When Strangers Call), in one scene Ulrich climbs in Campbell's window and is almost caught by her father (Johnny Depp did this in Nightmare on Elm Street), the theme from Halloween plays during a pivotal sequence, a janitor (director Wes Craven) is seen wearing the same sweater and hat that Freddy Krueger wears, and the characters in this film must abide by a certain set of horror film rules to keep from getting killed.

The story is that teens are being killed one by one during the days counting up to the anniversary of the murder of the mother of one girls in this small California town (Campbell). She is being terrorized by this masked figure and gets the help of her friends to stop the violence. Meanwhile, a tabloid reporter (Cox) comes into town and begins to construct what is happening and the Barney Fife-ish deputy named Dewey (Arquette) is trying to get to the bottom of things.  A video geek (Kennedy; who many have told me strikes a very high resemblance to me in character) puts together a set of rules from horror films to go by so he and his friends will not be killed. Even Campbell's father is missing. And all of these characters are suspects, or is it someone I haven't mentioned?

Scream is a very meandering film that deserves everyone's viewing. The acting of both Ulrich and Arquette have been scrutinized by me in the past and I must say that their acting really isn't that bad for once in their career, especially for Arquette who gives probably the second best performance (only to Kennedy). Campbell makes up for making The Craft last year, and Barrymore is very enjoyable in the extremely well made 15 minute opener. Horror homage that do not stray to all-out spoof is hopefully a new genre that will start with this and follow with the already planned two sequels. Truly scary and funny, you, horror fan or not, must see this film.


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Scream 2

(Dir: Wes Craven, Starring Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Jamie Kennedy, Jerry O'Connell, Liev Schreiber, Elise Neal, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, Duane Martin, Laurie Metcalf, Lewis Arquette, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia DeRossi, Jada Pinkett, Omar Epps, Philip Pavel, Tim Hillman, Tori Spelling, Heather Graham, Luke Wilson, David Warner, and Roger L. Jackson)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

If you often read my reviews then you may remember my pretty high B+/***1/2 out of 4 review almost exactly a year ago to Scream. Well for all those Scream fans out there, I must admit that I have grown to love the film even more. Let me make this point: my two favorite films are The Godfather and Pulp Fiction. In the past 5 years I have seen Pulp Fiction maybe six or seven times, in twenty five years I have seen The Godfather some five times, but I have seen Scream at least twenty or twenty-five times. So you can guess that I have been extremely hyped over the release of Scream 2. Since the first was such a treat on how it put down the horror genre, the second would be twice the fun since it is the thing that made the horror genre so bad: sequels. The sore thing is that this is not exactly true. While Scream 2 is good, it is immensely over shadowed by it's predecessor. It can be seen as trying so hard to do out itself that it is evident that screenwriter Williamson forgot that he was supposed to make the audience think and be excited instead of returning to the same bang-talk-stab-talk-sex-bang-talk sequence that horror films have used much too often.

If you are reading this review and have not seen the original, then stop reading and go rent the original. It is two years since the senseless murders in Woodsboro, Calif. and the four survivors from the original have gone on to other things: Gale Weathers (Cox) has written a book on the killings that has now become a film, Stab (which is the setting for the really interesting opening with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps), Sidney Prescott (Campbell) is now in college with fellow survivor Randy Meeks (Kennedy), and Dewey Riley is no longer able to do police work since the stab he got in the first severed a nerve and left him with a limp and slight loss of use in one arm. The new characters are as follows: movie freak Mickey (Olyphant), new boyfriend Derek (O'Connell), new best friend Halle (Neal), new cameraman Joel (Martin), and Cotton Weary (Schreiber; who was seen in a news report in the first film) is along with Weathers to get his hands on the last few seconds of his fifteen minutes of fame. The only problem is that I really can't say too much about the plot because it is so hush, hush. But of what I can tell you is that there is a copycat killer of the first film and he or she or they (I must keep from giving anything away) begins right after the release of Stab and that chances are you will never predict the killer(s?).

The returning actors are great, but two of the new comers are problematic, Olyphant is uninteresting and O'Connell is not a very good actor. The writing is as always cutting edge (no pun intended) and Craven out does himself in the direction. But as that ending came off as a nice gesture, I must admit, I felt a little cheated. Once again, another sequel that just cannot live up to it's earlier companion.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
2000, Cinema-Scene.com

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