By Lynn Venhaus

A bizarre and strange reimagining of Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera “Carmen,” this experimental film is also oddly compelling.

That’s because of the chemistry of the two leads Melissa Barrera as Carmen and Paul Mescal as Aidan. They are haunting in a modern story long on magic realism and short on backstories, character development and motives. Even the time and place aren’t definitive.

And because the fragmented and unfocused screenplay is the most frustrating aspect of the gritty film, what we glean from the tragic romance co-written by Oscar winner Alexander Dinelaris (“Birdman” in 2015), Loïc Barrère, and Lisa Loomer is that there is little resemblance to the classic opera but a smidgeon of similarity to the 1954 film “Carmen Jones.”

However, there is a tormented soldier and a fierce young woman both drawn to each other because of circumstances.

Carmen and her mother are mysterious women living in the Mexican desert, and the discharged Marine Aidan, now back home, has PTSD.

The daughter is forced to flee after her mother Zilah (Marina Tamayo) is murdered while she dances flamenco-style. Then, during a dangerous border crossing, Carmen is rescued by Aidan, who takes a job working as a border guard. His first night isn’t exactly what he had in mind, and he’s now on the run with a stranger.

Lots o’ baggage is obvious but not revealed. The pair head to Los Angeles where she seeks her mother’s best friend, the mercurial Masilda (Rossy De Palma), who owns a nightclub, La Sombra. The exotic entertainer gives them a safe space to hide but the police are on their trail. (Fun fact: De Palma, a Spanish actress, has been in multiple Almodóvar films.

Melissa Barrera as Carmen

The very fit couple spend a good deal of time physically running while they try to avoid getting caught.

In his feature film directorial debut, French choreographer Benjamin Millepied is fascinated by doorways and other symbolism, crafting a dreamscape using the color red as a visual nod to the iconic opera (and Pedro Almodóvar’s bold use of color in his films, anyone?).

Millepied, who choreographed “Black Swan” (starring his wife, Natalie Portman, in her Oscar-winning role), uses interpretive dance numbers in an attempt to propel the muddled story.

Barrera, a Mexican actress who was in the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” as Vanessa, is not a trained dancer but her grace and technique are impressive. She has played Sam Carpenter in the fifth installment of “Scream” and its follow-up “Scream VI,” and has a hypnotic quality to her performances.

She pairs well with Mescal, the Irish actor Oscar-nominated this year for “Aftersun,” who competently dances with her in the desert and at the club. They also sing (separately) in the movie.

Composer Nicholas Britell has crafted an intriguing original score, further enhancing his reputation that includes three Oscar-nominated compositions (“Moonlight,” “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Vice”) and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme for “Succession.”

Julieta Venegas and Taura Stinson wrote lyrics to Britell’s music for several songs, and a French choir is used as soundtrack background.

Not sure why more dance and less opera are a means to connect the characters, but the concept is “inspired by,” and not a remake per se. I think it is equally confusing to those who are familiar with the opera and those who’ve never seen it before.

While one can applaud the ambition and certain moments, overall it is not a satisfying experience.

Paul Mescal as Aidan

“Carmen” is a 2022 drama with music and dance directed by Benjamin Millepied and starring Melissa Barrera, Paul Mescal and Rossy De Palma. It is rated R for language, some violence and nudity and the run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes. The movie opens in select local theaters on May 12. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Lynn Venhaus

What’s your favorite scary movie? Horror film nerds, this “Scream VI” is for you.

If you have followed the California teenagers through the slasher series since 1996, this sixth chapter — the ‘sequel to the requel,’ keeps the scary meta movie-verse chugging along with all the tricks of the trade.

Shocking killings. Innocent victims. Flipping formula. Characters self-aware of horror movie conventions. Twisting those rules and structures to keep viewers guessing. Subverting expectations. Make it bigger, elevated and raise the body count. Bring it on – and there are still surprises to be seen, along with more blood and gore.

Following the last Ghostface killings in 2022’s “Scream,” the four survivors leave Woodsboro behind and start a fresh chapter in New York City.

No doubt “VI” is set up for co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett to finish their trilogy, with a seventh –and possible final one, but time will tell. This chapter is a satisfying conclusion, if it is, but they also leave the door open. (But please, bring back Neve Campbell!).

Their set pieces are impressive – even for the most jaded moviegoer. An intensive scene involving crowded subway cars filled with Halloween revelers in classic scary masks ramps up the tension as only this franchise can. Touche! And then there is the ‘meta’ shrine to “Scream” and the “Stab” movies based on the real-life murders.

While at 2 hours and 3 minutes, this chapter gets to be a tad tedious as we lurch to the big reveal. But the fact that they keep coming up with fresh ways to surprise us, kudos to how smart and clever not only the directors are, but also screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick.

Building on what creator Kevin Williamson started 27 years ago, and horrormeister director Wes Craven did for the first four films, “VI” features a great deal of terror, brutality, and anxiety as it continues the saga with an appealing cast of characters.

Williamson, who wrote the original, sequel and chapter four, was an executive producer of the fifth and this sixth film.Since the beginning, he was able to capture youth behavior and culture so well. Craven died in 2015.

The creative team provides fan service and homage to the “OG” duo. With the growing market for the horror genre, these “More Four” – Bettinelli-Olpin, Gillett, Vanderbilt and Busick, had to up their game, and they have, for the most part, succeeded – they make us care about the “Core Four.”

Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega

The Carpenter sisters have returned to be the revenge targets — Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), along with their hometown pals, twins Mindy and Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding, Cuba Jr.’s son, and Jasmin Savoy Brown), now that they’ve escaped to New York City. Their uncle was film-geek Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) and Sam’s dad was the first Ghostface Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich),

Because of their notoriety associated with the brutal serial killings, they are no longer considered poor victims, but social media has fanned the flames that Sam orchestrated the killings herself. Barrera, who evokes sympathy from the get-go, has a fragile psyche and will need to build her strength as she attempts to avoid danger. But she shows her mettle splendidly.

Apparently, someone with intimate details of all the murder and mayhem in Woodsboro wants to wreak havoc into their lives and inflict great harm. Jealousy has been a theme – along with twisted psyches — since the first film in 1996.

That bold launch, featuring Drew Barrymore as the first high profile victim Casey Becker, which introduced Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Courtney Cox as tabloid reporter Gale Weathers, and David Arquette as Dewey Riley as a local policeman, became the highest grossing slasher film ever until the David Gordon Green “Halloween” reboot in 2018.

The holiday dress-up aspect of Halloween plays an intriguing factor here as well, after all the “Core Four” are in college and Tara wants to party while Sam is super-protective of her half-sister. They have a complicated relationship, but their bond is as important as their conflicts.

And what’s a “Scream” movie without a party? Both Barrera and Ortega are seasoned pros and capably carry the convincing horror movie tropes along. They work well with the twins, as they all are attending Blackmore College.

The new cast members include Chad’s nerdy roommate Ethan, played well by Jack Champion, most recently seen in the “Avatar” sequel, and the sisters’ trampy roomie Quinn (Liana Liberato), whose dad is a NYPD detective (Dermot Mulroney).

The directors made the horror film “Ready or Not” in 2020, and two of its stars, Samara Weaving and Henry Czerny, figure significantly here.

Cox returns as a legacy character. Last seen in “Scream 4,” Hayden Panettiere reprises Kirby Reed, now an FBI agent. The women aren’t used a lot, but they are effective.

Roger L. Jackson, who has supplied the creepy altered voice of Ghostface, which sends shivers down spines, is up for round 5.

To me, the disclosure of the killer isn’t ever as strong as one would like, and here is no exception.

Yet, in this latest chapter, the Easter Eggs are plentiful, the nostalgia factor duly noted and the snarky humor still lands.

“Scream VI” is a 2023 horror film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. It stars Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Hayden Panettiere, Courtney Cox, Dermot Mulroney, Tony Revolori and Samara Weaving. It is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, and brief drug use and the run time is 2 hours and 3 minutes. It opened in theaters March 10. Lynn’s Grade: B

A Ghostface on the subway on Halloween

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.