Access to controversial figures is not always possible for documentary makers, but director Alex Gibney hit the jackpot with this breathtaking portrait of fallen cycling idol Lance Armstrong. In Gibney’s previous film, We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks, Julian Assange was only an archive presence, but here he has unprecedented access to the famously abrasive Armstrong: cancer survivor; seven-time Tour de France winner; charity figurehead; American sports legend. The original idea was to chart Armstrong’s attempt to win the Tour again four years after retiring in 2005, but the film (entitled The Road Back) wasn’t completed. So when Armstrong’s systematic cheating was established, the disgruntled documentarian returned to confront the man, interviewing him a mere three hours after his still-startling confession to doping on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The movie shifts between brilliant archive of his rise to fame, the 2009 comeback footage and the events of 2013; it’s a staggering contrast: on the one hand the aggressive competitor castigating, even bullying, all who accused him of drug taking; on the other, a humbled shadow of a legend forced to accept a spectacular fall from grace. You don’t have to be a sports fan to find this an utterly absorbing ride, because it’s also a wider story about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Even in sport. There’s no beautiful lie here, just the ugly truth
The 11th Star Trek motion picture is a prequel to the original TV series – a canny decision from producer/director JJ Abrams (Mission: Impossible III), tasked with reviving the franchise following the largely unloved TV series Enterprise. A big budget ($150 million) and top-flight digital effects designed to snare a new audience combine with a scene-setting scenario and enough in-jokes to satisfy the old guard. Big and noisy, but equally interested in relationships, it really works. A young, impulsive James T Kirk (Chris Pine), made cynical by a pre-credits tragedy, reluctantly attends Starfleet Academy and stows aboard the USS Enterprise. Here his frosty relationship with Vulcan first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto from TV’s Heroes) thaws in the grip of an epic, time-travelling battle with Eric Bana’s impressive Romulan foe, Nero. Light relief is provided by Simon Pegg’s offbeat engineer Scotty and an already grumpy Dr “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). With the help of his young and pretty cast, Abrams has managed to successfully reboot a 43-year-old formula.
Even horror maestro George A Romero admits his 1973 cult favourite wasn’t a satisfactory treatment of the devastating effect a biochemical disaster has on a small town. So this upgrade from Sahara director Breck Eisner is a much more worthwhile remake than most. In an expert reinvention, sheriff Timothy Olyphant and his pregnant wife Radha Mitchell try to escape the deadly virus that’s turning the local population into zombie-like psychopathic killers and spreading faster than the panic it creates. Appropriating many iconic images from the original, Eisner buffs them up and puts the suspenseful action on a far bigger canvas by using wide-open spaces to superbly creepy effect. The horror moments are equally well staged and sustained, with the car-wash attack a particular highlight. Not only is the film effective in making points about potential quarantine dangers, but also in how they could be horribly mishandled, and it’s all frighteningly underlined by the shocking finale.