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
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.