Friday, February 24, 2012

Act of Valor: Explosive but emotionally barren

Act of Valor (2012) • View trailer
Three stars. Rating: R, for strong violence, torture and profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.24.12

Act of Valor opens with a prologue, as its directors — Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh — explain their decision to use actual active-duty U.S. Navy SEALS in the “drama” that follows.

You'd think that savvy American soldiers might suspect, while trying to locate
and neutralize bomb-toting jihadists, that one of them might set off her explosive
vest prematurely. Alas, this contingency apparently comes as a complete surprise
to our heroes, as they infiltrate a Mexican drug smuggler's warren of tunnels.
This decision was justified, they insist, in order to capture the boots-on-the-ground authenticity of actual firefights, and because no actor could replicate the pain of leaving loved ones behind, while deploying for each new and dangerous mission.


McCoy and Waugh, far more enthusiastic than articulate, punctuate this little sermon with clips from the movie we’re about to see: an irritating affectation borrowed from similarly phony “reality” TV shows that conclude each 10-minute segment with scenes of what we’ll see after the commercial break, and then open the next segment with scenes of what we just saw before the commercial break. (The producers of such junk programs clearly believe they’re playing to a nation of Alzheimer’s patients with no short-term memory.)

Then, their rather silly rationalization over, McCoy and Waugh cut to a short text screen that explains that what follows is “based on real acts of valor.”

Methinks the gentlemen do protest too much.

Act of Valor excels in its use of hardware, military jargon and genuinely awesome we-are-there camera work. McCoy, Waugh and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut had unprecedented access to Navy planes, boats and hardware, not to mention an aircraft carrier and an SSGN submarine. Whenever possible, shooting incorporated Navy training sessions and “practice missions” that employed live ammunition.

The result, at times, can be viewed as the best Navy recruitment film money could buy. Several of the action sequences are crisply staged and genuinely exciting, and scripter Kurt Johnstad’s core narrative certainly plays on our up-to-the-minute fears of what jihadist combatants might do, in worst-case scenarios.

Wanderlust: Yet another limp sex farce

Wanderlust (2012) • View trailer
2.5 stars. Rating: R, for sexual content, profanity, drug use and full nudity
By Derrick Bang

I decided, years ago, that American filmmakers simply don’t understand how to make a proper sex comedy. Instead of funny and erotic, the results invariably are embarrassing and smutty.

George (Paul Rudd) can't help feeling aroused when resident sexpot Eva (Malin
Akerman, right) expresses more than casual interest in him. Unfortunately,
George's wife Linda (Jennifer Aniston) finds the dynamic amusing for entirely
different reasons. On the other hand, this is a free-love commune, so who knows
what might happen?
I’m not talking about romantic comedies — which Hollywood does quite well — or the intentionally crass naked teenager romps, such as (depending on your age) Porky’s, American Pie or their myriad clones. For the most part, the latter are designed to be young male wish-fulfillment fantasies: a rather specific and narrow niche.

No, I mean true sex comedies, delivered so well by French cinema: deliciously erotic and genuinely hilarious films in the vein of, say, Cote d’Azur, French Twist, L’Auberge Espagnole, The Valet, The Closet, The Girl from Monaco, Priceless and many, many others going back to classics such as, yes, La Cage aux Folles.

As has been said many times, the French simply have that magic je ne sais quoi, when it comes to bedroom farce. Hollywood ... not so much.

And Wanderlust isn’t about to reverse that trend.

In fairness, director David Wain’s fish-out-of-water saga — co-written with Ken Marino — shows mild promise in the first act. Uptight Manhattanites George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Anniston), struggling to purchase their first slice of New York real estate — a hopelessly overpriced West Village “micro-loft” — see the dream fall apart when both become unemployed.

With no other options, they stuff all their worldly possessions into a car and head to Atlanta, where George’s brother Rick (Ken Marino) and his wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins), have offered to take them in. This road trip is a hilarious montage of pent-up frustration, simmering hostility and tearful regret: a memorable drive from hell that’ll feel familiar to anybody who recalls a trip under similarly stressed conditions.

If the rest of Wain’s film were up to this one-minute sequence, he’d have comedy gold on his hands.

Highway fatigue prompts a desperate search for overnight lodging; George and Linda wind up in the guest quarters at Elysium, a rural commune populated by colorful free spirits who make our protagonists feel quite welcome. A marijuana-laced evening proves refreshingly comfortable in the company of Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), a nudist winemaker and would-be novelist; Kathy (Kerri Kenney-Silver), a slightly dreamy chatterbox with the slowest takes in movie history; Almond (Lauren Ambrose) and Rodney (Jordan Peele), a couple sharing the excitement of their first pregnancy; Karen (Kathryn Hahn), a former porn star turned jam maker; Eva (Malin Akerman), the resident sex goddess; Carvin (Alan Alda), the troupe’s drop-out founder; and Seth (Justin Theroux), the alpha male and quasi-spiritual leader.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Oscar Follies: Indulging once again in the predictive arts

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.19.12

The Golden Globes may be more free-wheeling and snarky; the People’s Choice Awards may be more populist. For prestige and historical significance, though, nothing compares to the Academy Awards.

True, the show can be creaky, overlong and sycophantic. I sometimes worry that the folks onstage will break their arms, from patting each other — and themselves — on the back so much.

But the Oscar ceremony is what it is, and producers should stop trying to “improve” it with silly little adjustments. Last year’s attempt to attract younger viewers did nothing but embarrass co-hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and the gushing, on-stage tributes to the acting nominees have got to stop.

On the other hand, a few of the Academy nominating branches really do need to get their acts together. How, for starters, could The Adventures of Tintin have been overlooked in the animated feature category?

One suspects that the voters regarded its motion-capture technology “suspect” in some manner, but that’s ludicrous. Way back in the day, Max and Dave Fleischer’s first Superman short cartoon garnered a 1941 Oscar nomination; its rotoscoped animation style is a direct forerunner of motion-capture.

Besides, if Andy Serkis can’t get an acting nomination — despite heavy lobbying — for his nuanced performance as the ape Caesar, in last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, then clearly the motion-capture technique involved is regarded as CGI animation, rather than live action. And if it’s animation, then Tintin was robbed.

Although irritating, that hiccup pales in comparison to the behavior of the Academy’s music branch, which this year deemed only two (!) tunes worthy of a best song nomination. That’s absolutely daft, not to mention a gross insult to the many talented songwriters who fielded the 39 submissions initially considered.

Blame a 2009 voting rules change, which since then has required songs to score at least 8.25 (on a scale from 6 to 10) to earn a nomination. If fewer than five songs do that well, we get fewer than five nominees. If no song gets at least 8.25, then the category is eliminated.

Say what?!?!?

That’s clearly brainless, and it gets worse: Music branch members only watch clips that include the eligible songs, as opposed to viewing each entire film. How, then, are these voters able to evaluate — and now I’m quoting the actual music branch rules — a given song’s “effectiveness, craftsmanship, creative substance and relevance to the dramatic whole”?

I added the italics. Couldn’t help myself.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty: Spread the word!

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) • View trailer
Four stars. Rating: G, and suitable for all ages
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.17.12

Those already familiar with Studio Ghibli need not be reminded of Japanese animation impresario Hayao Miyazaki, famed for classics such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro, the latter lending its corpulent title character to the company logo.

When necessity finally prompts Arrietty to reveal herself, Shawn initially is
astonished by her tiny size. But he quickly overcomes his surprise, realizing
that in every respect, Arrietty is much like any other kid his own age. More to
the point, they'll need to work together to defeat a common enemy.
Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are synonymous with lush, painterly work, done in the elegant, hand-drawn manner that we rarely see today. We tend to forget the gorgeous beauty of early Disney animated films — Snow White and Pinocchio, in particular — and Miyazaki and his colleagues are among the very few keeping that style alive.

Vibrantly alive.

The introductory garden setting of The Secret World of Arrietty — Japan’s highest-grossing film of 2010, and only now making its way to our shores — is luxuriously fashioned, with an impressive eye for detail: ladybugs taking flight, droplets of water clinging briefly to leaves before falling earthward. It feels like a magical place, and in a way it is: Any setting that teems with life is deemed magical by Miyazaki.

No surprise, then, that this film opens as a tiny girl, standing perhaps as tall as a cigar, flees from a pursuing cat. The girl reaches the shelter of a nearby house’s basement, safe behind the grill of an air vent; the feline yowls in frustration.

The girl is Arrietty, and this film is Miyazaki’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s 1952 children’s classic, The Borrowers. Miyazaki produced and co-scripted this project — sharing the latter credit with Keiko Niwa — and turned over the director’s chair to protégé Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who has worked as an artist/animator on Studio Ghibli films dating backing to 1997’s Princess Mononoke.

The Japanese setting notwithstanding, this film follows Norton’s book reasonably well; since we never leave this isolated house and its garden, it obviously doesn’t matter whether the nearest big city is Tokyo, Toledo or Tunbridge Wells.

Arrietty (voiced in this U.S. version by Bridgit Mendler) lives with her parents — Pod (Will Arnett) and Homily (Amy Poehler) — in the basement beneath a house owned by the elderly Jessica (Gracie Poletti). Arrietty and her family are “borrowers”: tiny people who collect cast-off items discarded or forgotten by the much larger “beans” (human beings) who mostly remain unaware of their existence. Rare sightings are written off as rumors and urban legends.

This Means War: Intermittently funny battle for love

This Means War (2012) • View trailer
Three stars. Rating: PG-13, and quite generously, for profanity, violence, sexual content and plenty of smutty dialogue
By Derrick Bang

Most films benefit from the guiding hand of a competent director ... which is, after all, the point of the entire endeavor.

Are CIA agents ever this cute? FDR (Chris Pine, left) and best friend Tuck (Tom
Hardy) size up the opposition before plunging into a furiously choreographed
battle. Alas, this melee will have dire consequences, when one baddie gets away
and swears revenge.
On the other hand, some films succeed in spite of ham-fisted directors, and This Means War is a perfect example. The director who prefers to be known as McG — born Joseph McGinty Nichol — never has been what could be termed a thoughtful filmmaker; his oeuvre runs to flashy action fare such as Charlie’s Angels and Terminator Salvation.

In fairness, he also delivered a genuinely heartfelt drama with We Are Marshall: apparently a bid for respectability.

But his tendency toward wretched excess obviously proved too great a temptation, when it came to This Means War. McG’s egregiously stylistic flourishes constantly get in the way, and he appears to have fired his continuity supervisor; key plot points and minor details come and go at random.

Granted, the script is something of a hodge-podge to begin with; one gets a sense that writers Timothy Dowling, Marcus Gautesen and Simon Kinberg didn’t agree on much. But the core premise is cute and engaging: Best-buddy CIA agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) accidentally wind up dating the same woman, a Consumer Reports-style product tester named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon).

FDR and Tuck figure this out quickly, and agree to let Lauren’s heart choose between them ... without telling her any of this. (She never sees them together.)

At first, with minimal emotional involvement, FDR and Tuck have no trouble keeping things honorable. Unfortunately, as they both begin to fall for Lauren, their behavior becomes increasingly petty, their determination to sabotage each other’s date nights increasingly nasty (and funny). Eventually, the friendship and working relationship begin to fray.

Bad timing on that, since a vengeful villain from a recent mission has promised to kill them both.

And Lauren? Heck, after being dateless for so long — the usual plot point that raises eyebrows, when dealing with somebody of Witherspoon’s blinding charm and hotness — she’s in seventh heaven, courting two hunky guys with an uncanny knack for catering to her interests, hobbies and passions.

No surprise there: FDR and Tuck have mobilized surveillance teams to bug her entire life and research every detail from her past. When these junior operatives worry aloud about privacy issues, FDR reassures them with the catch-all answer: “Patriot Act.”

Utterly preposterous, to be sure, but laden with potential. Most importantly, Pine, Hardy and Witherspoon plunge enthusiastically into every crazed detail.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The 2011 Oscar Shorts: Tiny sparks, mighty flames

The 2011 Oscar Shorts (2011)
Four stars. Unrated, but certainly suitable for all ages
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.10.12

Oscar season — just a few weeks to go! — means that it’s time for another cherished part of the annual ritual: the road-show program of Academy Awards short subjects.

A little boy enters a most unusual family business, in Pixar's thoroughly
charming "La Luna."
Until quite recently, access to these short films remained limited; a few popped up randomly on PBS or cable/satellite channels, but for the most part we never saw more than the glimpses afforded during the actual Academy Awards broadcast. This changed five years ago, thanks in great part to the increased marketability of feature-length documentaries.

Folks take notice when films such as 2005’s March of the Penguins rake in just shy of $80 million in the United States alone, and when nonfiction cousins such as Spellbound and Young @ Heart out-perform mainstream alternatives. We also mustn’t overlook the popularity of efforts by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock.

And so, thanks to the involvement of art houses such as Sacramento’s Crest Theater — and what I imagine must be nightmarish contractual arrangements, with 10 different films involved — we now have the opportunity, each year, to savor cinema’s answer to the novella and short story.

In some cases, the short-short story.

Beginning with the live-action nominees, Norwegian director Hallvar Witzo does wonderful things with scripter Linn-Jeanethe Kyed’s Tuba Atlantic, a droll study of how 70-year-old Oskar (Edvard Haegstad) handles some rather unsettling news from his doctor. The prognosis: only six more days of life. (“That’s very precise,” Oskar mutters.)

Oskar (Edvard Haegstad) hates seagulls; their shrill cries are upsetting his
precious few remaining days of life. Young Inger (Ingrid Viken), assigned to
help him "prepare" for his fate, scarcely understands this old coot, but she's
determined to make a difference as his moral hourglass runs out.
Oskar’s a cantankerous coot, living alone at the edge of the bitterly cold ocean. He has embraced novel methods — involving a machine gun and dynamite-filled fish — of killing the raucous seagulls that make sleep impossible. His beloved isolation is invaded by the inappropriately cheerful Inger (Ingrid Viken), a bubbly teen with a mission, as a Jesus-preaching “Angel of Death” assigned to help Oskar through the “five stages” of accepting his fate.

Both these characters are captivating misfits, forever living in the shadows of more successful siblings. Inger suffers the humiliation of braces, while her sister dates two boys; Oskar long ago lost touch with his brother Jon, who moved to the United States. Oskar initially wants nothing to do with Inger’s “ministrations,” of course, but events — and a huge, rather peculiar “something” concealed beneath a massive tarp, and pointing out toward sea — will conspire to build a most unlikely relationship.

This film’s one shortcoming: The white subtitles, often projected against the setting’s snow-white background, can be very difficult to read. Do your best; the effort is worthwhile.

From the archives: January 2008

Some predictions come back to haunt us.

On the strength of her charming performance in the lightweight but otherwise entertaining 27 Dresses, I anticipated a healthy big-screen career for Katherine Heigl. Little did I know that she'd prove to have the poorest judgment — or the worst agent — in Hollywood. In four short years, she has abused her 15 minutes of fame to the point that her new films disappear before they have time to be noticed. She has become synonymous with lame romantic comedies.

So, I got that one wrong.

On the other hand, I correctly anticipated Daniel Day-Lewis' well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for There Will Be Blood, despite thoroughly disliking the film itself. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson is an acquired taste at best; his films are too long, too misanthropic and much too cynical for my generally cheery nature.

Unhappily, his film wasn't the month's worst experience: That dubious distinction was claimed by Untraceable, a vile, depraved torture-porn flick disguised as a mainstream cop thriller. I pity the poor patrons who wandered, unsuspecting, into theaters granting a screen to that turd in the swimming pool. Indeed, I heard from a few, one of whom memorably wished that he'd read my review sooner.

The news wasn't all bad, of course; it never is in January. Many of the great Academy Awards contenders granted only limited December release finally make their way to our Northern California market in January, and I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie Wilson's War, The Great Debaters and The Bucket List. Really, how can you go wrong with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman trading well-scripted barbs?

Mad Money, like 27 Dresses, was an amusing trifle; National Treasure: Book of Secrets became one of the last decent films Nicolas Cage made (Kick-Ass excepted). There's somebody else who desperately needs career guidance.

Finally, The Orphanage demonstrated anew that the best scary movies are the ones that play with our minds, rather than hurling viscera at the screen.

Step into the Wayback Machine, and check 'em out:

The Bucket List

Charlie Wilson's War

The Great Debaters

Mad Money

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The Orphanage

There Will Be Blood

27 Dresses


Safe House: Grim, fast-paced peril

Safe House (2012) • View trailer
3.5 stars. Rating: R, for strong violence and occasional profanity
By Derrick Bang

Robert Redford read books, seeking clandestine patterns and hidden messages he never expected to find. Ryan Reynolds babysits a high-tech apartment for 12 hours every day, bouncing a tennis ball against empty walls.

After a year of nothing but dull monitor duty, junior CIA operative Matt Weston
(Ryan Reynolds) suddenly gets the call he thinks he's been waiting for: the
order to activate the safe house he has been babysitting. As the old saying goes,
though, be careful what you wish for: You may get it.
Suddenly, inexplicably, both men are on the run: targeted by callously efficient assassins, unable to distinguish good guys from bad guys, unwilling to turn to once-trusted colleagues.

Safe House is Three Days of the Condor for the post-Bourne generation: a sizzling, fast-paced thriller that pits cinema’s beloved man on the run against overwhelming, unknown and frequently confusing odds. And if Reynolds doesn’t quite have Redford’s graceful charm, he more than compensates with frustrated anguish and stubborn determination.

In short, Reynolds’ Matt Weston makes a thoroughly engaging and sympathetic hero: a good guy who deserves far better than the fate into which he has fallen.

David Guggenheim’s script for Safe House includes more than a few echoes of Condor, at times following that 1975 classic’s blueprint a little too close for comfort ... up to and including the cynical postscript. But Guggenheim also spins his plot into some fresh directions, and Swedish director Daniel Espinosa — making a stylish English-language feature debut — utilizes the story’s South African setting with imagination and verve.

Matt, chafing after 12 grindingly dull months playing “housekeeper” to this empty CIA safe house in Cape Town, has one bright spot in his otherwise tedious existence: French girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder), a young doctor in training. But she’s about to accept a post back in Paris, and — try as he might — Matt can’t persuade his friend and case officer back home, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), to get a transfer approved by Harlan Whitford (Sam Shepard), the deputy director of operations.

Elsewhere in Cape Town, disgraced CIA field agent Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), having just obtained some highly valuable intel from a colleague in MI6, finds himself on the run from a squad of killers led by the relentless Vargas (Lebanese actor Fares Fares, nightmarishly credible as a stone-cold killer). Having exhausted all other options, Frost surrenders himself at the American Consulate.

Back in the States, Whitford, Barlow and branch chief Catherine Linklater (Vera Farmiga) are practically giddy with delight; Tobin, once one of the CIA’s best black ops assets, has eluded capture for a decade while aiding splinter cells and trading incendiary secrets to the highest bidder.

Whitford orders the Cape Town safe house activated; Matt is told to expect visitors. A few hours later, Frost is dragged in by field agent Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) and a team of interrogators. The next few moments flirt with the questionable justification of torture, but Espinosa doesn’t dwell on moral ambiguity; within minutes, the safe house is assaulted by Vargas and his men, still after Tobin, and determined to leave no witnesses.

How did they know where to look?

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island — Harmless adventure

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) • View trailer
Three stars. Rating: PG, and pointlessly, for fantasy action and mild profanity
By Derrick Bang

This film has one of the silliest scripts I’ve ever encountered.

That’s not necessarily an unkind indictment; take it more as a warning. Most films require a certain suspension of disbelief; this one demands that we abandon disbelief entirely.

On this very mysterious island, things that are supposed to be large, are
small ... and vice-versa. That'll mean plenty of huge insects waiting to
menace, from left, Hank (Dwayne Johnson), Gabato (Luiz Guzmán), Sean
(Josh Hutcherson) and Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens).
It genuinely feels as though writers Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn and Richard Outten were busily scribbling pages as the film was being shot, and madly handing fresh sheets to director Brad Peyton just in time for the next scene. Logical continuity? Forget it. Character development? What’s that?

All concerned appear to have aimed for the viewership that has made Scooby-Doo such a long-running franchise, and more recently embraced deliberately silly action shows such as the Cartoon Network’s Level Up. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily; there’s something to be said for jes’ plain dumb fun.

On the other hand, at times Journey 2: The Mysterious Island flirts with something a few rungs further up the intellectual ladder. At such moments, I was reminded of Disney’s marvelous 1962 adaptation of Jules Verne’s In Search of the Castaways, which gave Hayley Mills one of her better ’tween roles. She and co-stars Maurice Chevalier and George Sanders dealt with an avalanche, an earthquake, a volcano, a flash flood, alligators, jaguars, mutineers and cannibals, all while somehow retaining a level of droll sophistication that this film can’t deliver at its best moment.

Clearly, veteran director Robert Stevenson — who also gave Disney The Absent-Minded Professor, Mary Poppins and The Love Bug, among many others — understood the formula far better than young Mr. Peyton here, whose only previous big-screen credit was 2010’s Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.

The prosecution rests.

But I truly come not to bury this film, but to praise its virtues ... however modest they may be.

For starters, there’s something to be said for skipping the angst and exposition that normally would lace the first act of such a story. Peyton and his writers waste no time dumping our heroes into the adventure of their lives, and then it’s just one catastrophe after another, as we breezily race through this film’s economical 94 minutes. You may find it silly, but you certainly won’t be bored.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Woman in Black: Laughably gloomy

The Woman in Black (2012) • View trailer
Two stars. Rating: PG-13, for dramatic intensity and numerous scenes of children in peril
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.3.12

This film opens with such promise.

Having deliberately encouraged the nasty, black-garbed specter of Eel Marsh
House to show itself, Arthur Kripps (Daniel Radcliffe) hopes to bring closure
to the tormented spirit, thus eliminating its campaign of terror against the
residents of a nearby village.
Sherlock Holmes’ England comes to vibrant life at the hands of production designer Kave Quinn, and star Daniel Radcliffe seems fully comfortable in this early 20th century setting. Scripter Jane Goldman concisely sketches a tragic back-story for this bereft young man — a solicitor named Arthur Kipps, whose wife died in childbirth — and director James Watkins gently surrounds us with an atmosphere of melancholy.

The mood turns intriguing, then ominous, as Kipps' legal firm sends him to the tiny, remote village of Crythin Gifford (actually Halton Gill, in the middle of Northern England’s Yorkshire Dales: a truly lovely location). Mrs. Alice Drablow, a reclusive widow and sole resident of outlying Eel Marsh House — separated from the rest of the community by a lone roadway that floods with each high tide — has passed away; the estate is in something of a mess.

Kipps’ job is to ensure that no late-stage codicils might be lying about the paper-strewn mansion, thus invalidating the will filed back in London.

The local villagers are wary and terrified of ... something ... that they fail to share with Arthur. Eel Marsh House is haunted, of course, by The Woman in Black; this big-screen adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1982 novel is — by design — a classic Victorian ghost story.

Unfortunately, the film’s rich atmosphere goes to waste once we move past this prologue and its essential details; the story quickly runs off the rails, becoming sillier by the moment. Nothing makes sense, least of all the villagers’ increasingly idiotic response to a curse they’ve apparently lived with for years.

Worse yet, Watkins sabotages his own efforts at building nervous tension by relying increasingly on in-our-face smash cuts, accompanied by both shrieks from the eponymous phantasm and discordant screeches from Marco Beltrami’s thoroughly obnoxious score.

In other words, we’re never actually frightened by these proceedings, merely startled by very loud noises. There’s a big difference, and the distinction — Watkins’ failure to generate actual terror — quickly grows tedious.