* * * Cars 2
Directed by John Lasseter. Written by Ben Queen. With the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy and Michael Caine. (G)
Who killed the electric car? That's one of the burning questions stalking Cars 2, along with “Whatever happened to Larry the Cable Guy?” and “Who ordered a Cars 2?” This sequel to Pixar's 2006 movie about a cocky NASCAR racecar (voiced by Owen Wilson) who learns important life lessons in the dusty town of Radiator Springs finds Lightning McQueen signing on for a World Grand Prix sponsored by billionaire electric car Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) to promote his gasoline alternative Allinol (because an electric car still won't get you very far). McQueen nervously takes along rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), who proceeds to embarrass his best friend by backfiring and leaking oil at a swanky party where he gets mixed up with British superspy car Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his Jaguar sidekick Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who think his redneck act is a cover. They enlist Mater in their plan to stop the evil Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann) and his conspiracy of lemons (including a Pacer and a Gremlin), owners of the world's largest untapped oil reserve, from sabotaging the race. “They laughed at us — but now it's time to laugh back,” says the Professor, a Zündapp Janus, and Mater can empathize.
Globetrotting from Tokyo to Paris to the Italian Riviera and finally to London, Cars 2 is A Child's First James Bond Movie, as well as an introduction to what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Kids will experience the comforting helplessnes of conspiracy ideation, while their parents ponder how Pixar's most red-state franchise turned so blue.
* * 1/2 Page One: Inside the New York Times
Directed by Andrew Rossi. (R)
Early in Page One: Inside the New York Times we're brought into a meeting in which the editors decide what will be on tomorrow's front page. But how the Times decides what's news takes up little of Andrew Rossi's documentary, which follows the storied newspaper through 14 months of upheaval: declining ad revenues, layoffs and a barrage of new media antagonists — the Huffington Post and other content aggregators (which would have nothing to aggregate were it not for the Times and its brethren), Twitter and other baffling business models. Meanwhile, Sam Zell was driving the Tribune Company (of which this paper is a part) into bankruptcy, investigative reporting became the province of the nonprofit ProPublica (partnering with “legacy media” like “60 Minutes” and the Times), CNN began a partnership with the hipster-sleazeballs of Vice magazine, and a tow-headed Aussie named Julian Assange became the new Daniel Ellsberg. The new Times building was essentially mortgaged, its fire-engine red staircases looking eerily prophetic.
Rossi touches on all of these issues (none of which will be news to anyone in his audience), but focuses on the Times' Media Desk, where its reporters find themselves at the center of the story. Chief among them is David Carr, without whom it would be fair to say there would be no movie. An ex-crackhead and single father with a sharp tongue and the streetwise swagger of a tabloid newshound, he passionately defends old media, even after succumbing to Twitter.
But there is a danger in being embedded (just ask Judith Miller), and Rossi suffers the usual blind spots, never really examining the fundamental shifts in the industry because he hasn't interviewed the photojournalists who now must pay their way to war zones and shoot on spec, or executives whose business model relies on “citizen journalists” and crowd-sourcing. Departing Times executive editor Bill Keller's recent change of heart on WikiLeaks makes this film already dated, as does technology's inexorable progress. Is the iPad the do-over the Times has been looking for? (iTunes certainly didn't help the music industry.) And will the new paywall fail with a generation reared on free information?
!Women Art Revolution (!W.A.R.)
Directed by Lynn Hershman Leeson. (NR)
In 1969, a group of women in New York's Art Workers' Coalition, frustrated with even this left wing of the male-dominated art world, founded Women Artists in Revolution (WAR), whose activities, it's perplexing to point out, aren't actually discussed in Lynn Hershman Leeson's !Women Art Revolution (!W.A.R.). Leeson, who began interviewing female artists as an undergraduate at Berkeley, spends much of her documentary on West-Coast organizations led by the divisive Judy Chicago, although attention is given to A.I.R., the first women's cooperative gallery, which was co-founded in New York by the late Nancy Spero, who was also a founding member of WAR.
“War” is a loaded word, as is much of Leeson's language. We “were prevented from seeing” the work of female artists, as if they had been incarcerated in a Chinese prison. Leeson says she was one of these women, recalling how a buyer returned one of her paintings after finding out a woman did it (how did that happen?), how for decades after she couldn't sell a painting and that an institution refused her gift of her life's work. She doesn't mention that she's the chair of the film department at the San Francisco Art Institute, has made three films starring Tilda Swinton and is a Guggenheim fellow. Similarly, Spero recalls having to grovel at the feet of Leo Castelli lieutenant Ivan Karp; it's never mentioned that her husband was Leon Golub, which would make her something less than an outsider.
Many female artists found it easier to enter the art world through performance (which would seem to play into the art world's prejudice that women can't paint), but the nature of these performances is sometimes glossed over. Barbara T. Smith complains that people thought she was having sex with any man who walked into the gallery in her 1973 work “Feed Me,” but according to the Los Angeles Times, she did have sex with three men during the all-night performance. The fact is, there are a lot of young, good-looking naked women here, and being young, good-looking and willing to take one's clothes off continues to be one route women can take to get ahead in the art world. When the Guerrilla Girls asked “Do women have to get naked to get into the Met?” this is not what they meant.
Although you'd never know it from Leeson's film, the majority of artists in the last Whitney Biennial were women and women now dominate the nonprofit sector of the art world. But they're not commanding the prices of their male colleagues, even if they paint big-breasted ladies like Lisa Yuskavage or play the slut like Tracy Emin. A more honest documentary would have addressed the obstacles facing female artists who prefer looking to being looked at.