“Life,” “Beauty and the Beast” underwhelm movie reviewers

Jared Skinner, Features Writer

After seeing two movies this past weekend, I walked away so underwhelmed that I didn’t want to review either. So, in honor of the fiercely mediocre efforts put forth by Hollywood this weekend, I decided that it would be appropriate to just give a half-length review of both.

I’ll start with the more disappointing film first. “Life” is the latest project from the notoriously average director Daniel Espinosa and stars A-list actors Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal.

“Life” certainly wears its influences on its sleeve, and that’s no sin. In fact, some of the sequences are occasionally thrilling. What is a sin, however, is that the movie fails to offer anything to expand upon the now conventional trope of encountering unfriendly extraterrestrial life in outer space.

The actors are hardly given anything to do and performances seem almost exclusively phoned in except for Gyllenhaal and the talented Hiroyuki Sanada, who are sadly given the flattest and most conventional characters to work with. Despite this, there are some effective sequences and even some rather gorgeous camerawork at times. Even the malevolent creature ends up being an enjoyably twisted little monster to look at.

But despite its technical attractiveness and crisp look, “Life” can’t manage to outrun any of its influences. Shots are reminiscent and even lifted straight from space classics like “Alien,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Gravity.” In addition, the characters are so nondescript and faceless that there is little attachment to anyone on this space station. Late in the second act, the writers even try to shoe-horn in some emotion that destroys any pacing it had been developing.

Therefore, any thrill “Life” manages to illicit is neutralized by its dryness of tone, shallow characters and conventional exercising of genre clichés.

The second movie I saw was “Beauty and the Beast,” and that pretty much went as expected. Continuing with Disney’s drive to reinterpret their classic tales into live-action blockbusters, Beauty and the Beast is not as good as the recent “Jungle Book,” but is a perfectly excusable adaptation.

Director Bill Condon actually did quite a good job with a handful of these classic musical numbers, and gilded every scene with a copious amount of rustic charm and fairy tale splendor. However, the new songs added mostly in the film’s second half are noticeably weaker than the original content and cause the two-hour runtime to lag just a bit.

Emma Watson does a fine job as Belle, nailing her opening number even if she manages to fade as the story progresses. Dan Stevens was a serviceable Beast and the castle’s many inhabitants add a good amount of charm. And if you’re concerned about that gay character, don’t be. It’s inoffensive and vaguely humorous, albeit pandering and very tame for a story that has shades of bestiality.

If you’re a fan of the original, you will most likely enjoy watching this visually pleasing version of the 1991 Disney cartoon, unless you’re a traditionalist in which case I encourage you to remember that the Disney original still isn’t an original (it was based on a 1740s French story).

In any case, both of these movies lent a hand in contributing to a lackluster theater experience. Almost totally deficient of ingenuity and creativity, they contributed to a strong feeling of having seen it all before, diminishing the escapist magic and sense of discovery that both films should inspire.

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