The Republicans win! (At the box office)

The rest of the economy is in the shitter, but the movies seem to be doing better than ever (wasn’t that true in the Great Depression, too?). At any rate, last month apparently was the most lucrative January at the box office in history, taking in about a billion dollars. Not that there is a lot of competition, January being the year's nadir for film releases. Nonetheless, that figure is a sign of a thriving industry.

Looking at the rather dismal lineup of movies that came out that month, I’d have to say that the big turnout is a sign  of something else. While the Republican agenda might not have swayed many voters at the polls, it does seem to be drawing them to the cineplexes. Nearly every film that made money last month seems to reflect some aspect of John McCain’s Presidential campaign.

Check out last weekend's winners, for example. The top film, “Taken,” raking in $24.6 million, in which Liam Neeson plays a CIA type out to rescue his daughter from kidnappers, could be seen as an infomercial about the danger of terrorism and the need to resort to extra-legal methods to combat it.

Coming in at #5 with b.o. of $8.6 million is Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” in which he plays an aging, right wing, reactionar and  intolerant asshole. Who does that remind you of? I thought the character was intended ironically, but do mass audiences do irony?  Either way, it has accumulated $111 million since its release.

Trailing at #7 but still going strong with $6.75 million is Renee Zellweger's “New in Town.” She’s an elitist unmarried professional woman who for some reason ends up in an icy boondock in Minnesota. No Sarah Palin, that one! What laughs as she’s humiliated and ends up learning a lesson in good old family values and a woman’s proper place!

Then there is the enigma of “Paul Blart, Mall Cop,”  number two (appropriately, apparently) with grosses this week of $14 million (and number one on our critic Brooke Holgerson’s admittedly premature list of the worst films of 2009). It might be the most successful January release of all time, piling up $83.4 million in its first two weeks alone and compelling Lane Brown of “New York” magazine to name a new movie genre after it — the “Blart” (as opposed to “Art,” perhaps) film. As yet the exact definition is still evolving: "The only things Blarts usually share,” says Brown, “are family-friendliness, an inexplicably enormous gross, and a screenplay that seems like it was probably submitted on a dare (also, it helps if a participating actor publicly refers to it as a 'piece of shit.')"

Or as Jeffrey Wells, not putting too fine a point on it, concludes in his comment on the new genre in “Hollywood Elsewhere:” “If I may be so bold, a ‘Blart’ is a film that has hit the jackpot with the lower end of the American middle-class gene pool.”

With folks, in other words, like this guy?


Meanwhile, full disclosure. I haven’t seen any of the above films except for “Gran Torino.” As noted below I was spending much of January at the Palm Springs Film Festival with a bunch of other elitist morans.

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