FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
• Few sporting heroes have had as precipitous a fall from grace as Lance Armstrong. He’d beaten cancer and gone on to win seven Tour de Francetitles and the Livestrong charity he founded had generated hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer survivors. But after years of aggressively fending off doping accusations, the “Armstrong lie,” as a French newspaper dubbed it, could withstand no more. As the legal battles and investigations piled up, Armstrong came forth with his qualified, primetime confession to Oprah and the multi-million dollar edifice that was the Lance Armstrong brand caved in.
Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney started following Armstrong in 2009, before the doping scandal really broke loose. Gibney was originally making a comeback story, a film he called The Road Back, about Armstrong’s emergence from retirement in a quest to win his eighth Tour. That all changed as former teammates began to expose Armstrong’s deceptions. And for Gibney, not only did he have to re-evaluate what he was doing with his film, but it also became personal. Putting himself in the frame, the director felt compelled, with The Armstrong Lie, to tell the audience he felt cheated, like another cog in the Armstrong branding machine. Gibney demanded an on-camera explanation, providing a telling interview. Armstrong’s greatest regret appears to be that he got caught.
The narrative of Gibney’s two-hour documentary is thorough but feels a little choppy as it jumps from the drama and hoopla of the Tour to interviews putting Armstrong’s doping activities within the context of a culture of doping. Armstrong himself remains something of an enigma. We see how the fatherless boy, turned angry young man, managed to channel his fierce competitiveness in a positive way to fight cancer. But he was also a domineering bully who made life a misery for anyone who threatened to expose him.
I’m looking forward to the Coen brothers’ latest movie, the comic drama Inside Llewyn Davis, due for release on Christmas Day. A meditation on the trials and tribulations of artistic ambition, it follows a struggling solo singer-songwriter as he finds himself at a career crossroads on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the winter of 1961. The reviews from Cannes were very favourable. Parallels have been drawn with the Coens’ earlier musical drama, 1930s-set O Brother, Where Art Thou? with its strong period soundtrack and the way the titular character, played by a bushy-haired Oscar Isaac, finds himself on a Homeric-like odyssey of misadventures – much of his own creation – in his bid to make a career breakthrough.
Coen fans should also note Vancity Theatre has timed a Coen brothers mini retrospective over Christmas, dubbed Coenpalooza! with screenings of old faves such as Raising Arizona, Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski.
Another to watch for at Vancity Theatre is The Summit (from the 6th). On a cloudless day on August 1, 2008, 25 climbers attempted to scale the Himalayan peak of K2. Eleven never came back. Debut director Nick Ryan attempts to uncover the mystery of what happened that fateful day, on the world’s second highest and one of the most deadly mountains, using first person accounts, re-enactments and footage shot by climbers.
Robert Alstead is making Running on Climate, www.runningonclimate.com