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Scream 4 scares up a good time, and score another victory for Paul Giamatti in Win Win

by Mark Burger

Halloween comes early for horror fans with the release of Scream 4 , the latest collaboration between director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson — and their first since Cursed (2005), an ill-fated werewolf saga that was more dog than wolf.

The surviving cast has been reassembled: Neve Campbell as erstwhile heroine Sidney Prescott, recently having authored a self-help book on her experiences; David Arquette as indestructible cop Dewey Riley, now the sheriff of Woodsboro; and Courteney Cox as former TV newswoman Gale Weathers, now married to Dewey but longing for excitement.

Sidney’s come home during the anniversary of the murders, and in movie parlance, that’s a coincidence too good to pass up. Before too long, the threatening phone begin anew and the black-clad Ghostface Killer is slicing and dicing. The prime target seems to be Sidney’s niece, Jill (Emma Roberts), around whom bodies tend to fall. Sidney definitely, fearfully sees history repeating itself as the killer draws closer.

Time has been very kind to Campbell, Cox and Arquette, all of whom scarcely look any older then last they teamed for a Scream. They’re comfortable in their characters but not content to simply coast on them. There’s also a bittersweet tone to the onscreen relationship between Cox and Arquette, who met on the set of the original film and married, but are now separated. They’re an attractive screen couple, that’s for sure.

Others of note in the cast include Hayden Panettierre, Mary McDonnell, Rory Culkin, Alison Brie, Brittany Robertson, Anthony Anderson and Marley Shelton, in a sassy turn as Dewey’s adoring (and adorable) new deputy. Of course, there’s also the invaluable vocal contribution of Roger Jackson as the voice at the other end of the phone.

There are the requisite in-jokes and cameo appearances (Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Heather Graham, etc.), but the film doesn’t want for suspense or savagery. There are some particularly nasty kills here, which ought to certainly please Scream fans who have come this far.

The balance of humor and horror, one of the most distinguishing (and distinguished) trademarks of the Scream files, is a tricky business. Because the success of the original films had such an impact on subsequent films in the genre, rendering what was once a fresh take into something rote — the makers of Scream 4 are compelled to further expand and toy with the very elements that they introduced, otherwise they’d just be going through the motions.

A protracted third act wedges in a number of last-minute twists — this is very much a whodunit — but at least the story comes to a conclusion. That’s not to say there couldn’t be further sequels, but the end isn’t a blatant inclination toward one.

In the horror sweepstakes, even after all this time and a deluge of inferior imitators, the Scream franchise remains a cut above. Scream 4 is a good one to go out on.

Win Win , the latest film from writer/director Tom McCarthy (and the opening-night offering of this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem) provides yet another chance for Paul Giamatti to shine in a role that by now has become familiar: the hard-luck neurotic you can’t help but love… even if you know he’s doing wrong, and perhaps more endearing when he knows he’s doing wrong.

He’s done it before (most recently in Barney’s Version, for which he took home a Golden Globe award) and may well do it again, but there’s an unmistakable, irresistible quality to his screen persona.

Giamatti’s Mike Flaherty is a New Jersey lawyer and wrestling coach laid low by consistent failure in both endeavors. It’s only when he encounters Kyle (newcomer Alex Shafer), the grandson of one of his clients

(venerable Burt Young), that the illusory promise of greatness begins for him.

The set-up of the story seems conventional, but McCarthy’s approach is anything but, which becomes a problem when the film begins to seriously flag in the third act — although the actors are ultimately able to hold it together. Because of them, Win Win emerges as, yes, a winner.

In addition to Giamatti, there’s Amy Ryan, wonderfully confounding all expectations in the seemingly thankless role of Mike’s wife Jackie, and Bobby Canavale as his best bud Terry. The ever-reliable Jeffrey Tambor, as Mike’s assistant coach, hasn’t enough to do but it’s sure nice having him around.

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