The pain started early with the February release of 50 Shades of Grey. Despite heavy publicity and the anticipation of inexplicable fans of E.L. James’ “novel,” the best most of us were hoping for was a lot of high camp sleaze. Sadly, the film failed to deliver on the Showgirls promise. The uniformly dull, rigidly po-faced feature consisted mostly of contract negotiations between two of the least believable characters of the year. Sex hasn’t looked this boring since the release of the Paris Hilton sex tape. Sitting through it was the real act of sadomasochism.
A lot of people spent 2015 eagerly awaiting George Lucas’ long-promised new film. They got it with the animated fantasy Strange Magic. If the name doesn’t sound quite as familiar to you as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you’re not alone. On opening weekend, it pulled in $5.5 million—making it the smallest opening for an animated film released in over 3,000 theaters. Production on this vanity project was underway for years. Not that you could tell by the final product—a generic fantasy mishmash of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Labyrinth and American Graffiti. And, yes, it was a musical featuring old pop songs like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” and ELO’s “Strange Magic.”
You can’t blame 20th Century Fox for wanting to steal a bit of that sweet Marvel/Disney money by milking some of the few comic book characters they’re still keeping a deathgrip on. (Ant-Man raked in $180 million, for crying out loud.) But really, there was no excuse for director Josh Trank’s rambling, thoroughly non-exciting reboot of Fantastic Four. Even Roger Corman’s notoriously unreleased 1994 version was good for a few laughs.
Reboots, remakes and sequels are still par for the Hollywood course. And frankly, a lot of this is our own damn fault. If movie studios give up and hand us no-effort garbage like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and we reward them for it (Kevin James’ numbskull slapstick earned $71 million), we kinda deserve what we get.
Johnny Depp, meanwhile, continued his full-tilt career immolation (Dark Shadows? The Lone Ranger? Transcendence? Tusk?) with the release of Mortdecai. Despite its origins as a well-regarded series of comic caper novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli, this art thief romp costarring Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany was a box office bomb, landing Depp in the category of “Most Overpaid Actor of 2015.”
Every year sees an increasing number of Christian faith-based films. They attract a loyal audience and make good money at the box office, but few have the budget or talent to compete with mainstream Hollywood cinema. And a handful stand out as laughable attempts to force ultraconservative values on American audiences. This year’s silliest Jesus-based outing was Rik Swartzwelder’s retrograde romance Old Fashioned. In it, the Evangelical writer-
Crackpot Christian creationists and New Age conspiracy theorists came together in anno 2015’s most baffling effort, the geocentric documentary The Principle. Yup, this rabidly anti-science doc seriously attempted to discount the blasphemous Copernican idea that the Earth revolves around the sun. Actress Kate Mulgrew (who captained a ship into outer space, for crying out loud) narrated the film. She (and most of the scientists involved) later disavowed the film, saying they were tricked into appearing in it without being told what it was about. What better symbol for the intelligence of the entertainment industry in 2015 than a film that drags scientific understanding back to 1500 AD?