Nov. 12 2013 08:27 PM

Documentary The Armstrong Lie,' about the disgraced cyclist, leads our rundown of movies screening around town

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The Armstrong Lie

Alex Gibney has become one of America's most prolific documentary filmmakers; in the last few years alone, he's completed films on controversial figures such as Eliot Spitzer and topical subjects like WikiLeaks and the economic crisis. 

With The Armstrong Lie, Gibney attempts to grapple with the Lance Armstrong doping scandal by looking at his own past history with the once god-like cyclist who's become an international pariah. In 2009, Gibney and his camera crew followed Armstrong during his comeback campaign to win the Tour de France. This footage becomes the film's skeleton, a reference point for Gibney to return as he chronicles his subject from angry young man to champion. 

As one interviewee says of Armstrong, "the urge to dominate" factored into every one of his decisions in a sport fueled by doping on an epic scale. This applies to Gibney's relationship with Armstrong, as well, as the cyclist attempted to control the focus of the filmmaker's footage through deception and manipulation. 

It's a complex web that inextricably links director and subject, a situation that buries the film's greater themes (corruption, greed, institutional failure) under a mountain of conflicting interests. Spending time with Armstrong doesn't make us any more (or less) sympathetic to his situation; nor does it stress the importance of his failures as a public figure. All it does is deflect the viewer from understanding the nuances of his deceit.

The Armstrong Lie might have begun as a personal attempt by Gibney to remedy his own tainted memories of a subject that pulled the wool over countless nonprofits and corporations, an entire sport and the public. But the result is a meandering, stretched and sometimes troubling portrait of a cryptic liar who remains obtuse even as the credits roll. 

Opening

Arab Film Festival San Diego: In its second year, this three-day showcase of Arab cinema will screen a diverse and dynamic group of features and shorts from Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Palestine. It runs Friday, Nov. 15, through Sunday, Nov. 17 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.

Blue is the Warmest Color: A high-school student discovering her burgeoning sexuality falls in love with a blue-haired art student in this French epic that won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The Armstrong Lie: Filmmaker Alex Gibney traces the downfall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, who had his seven Tour de France titles stripped after it was revealed that he'd been using illegal substances to boost performance. 

The Best Man Holiday: A collection of college friends reunite for the holidays after 15 years, revealing a host of grudges and romantic intentions that have been simmering under the surface for years. 

Évacateur: The Morton Downy Jr. Movie: An honest and evocative look at the controversial talk-show host who held the entire nation's attention in his grasp long before the reality-television revolution. Screens Nov. 16 through 20 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park. 

How I Live Now: While on vacation in the English countryside, a defiant city girl (Saoirse Ronan) begins to see the world anew. But her coming-of-age is suddenly interrupted when a new world war breaks out. Screens through Nov. 21 the Ken Cinema.

Operación E: This Colombian thriller tells the story of a young boy caught up in the guerilla war between government forces and revolutionaries, providing an unusually human view of the conflict. Screens through Nov. 21 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

One Time Only

Casablanca: Romance doesn't get much more tragic than it does in this ill-fated love story between an American expatriate in Morocco (Humphrey Bogart) and an old flame (Ingrid Bergman) fleeing the Nazis. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, through Saturday, Nov. 16, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills. 

Kill Bill: Vol. 1: The Bride (Uma Thurman) seeks revenge against the brutal hit squad that killed her family and left her for dead in Quentin Tarantino's masterful action film. Screens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at Arclight La Jolla. 

Haunter: Presented by the Film Geeks, this spooky New Zealand ghost story is about a teenager (Abigail Breslin) who has a supernatural experience, only to find herself in the middle of a murder plot. Screens at 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No matter how many times they screen this thing, it's always a hit. Screens at midnight Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Ken Cinema. 

Jesus Henry Christ: A young boy conceived in a Petri dish sets out to find his biological father despite the reservations of his feminist mother (Toni Collette). Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the San Diego Public Library in East Village. 

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea: A young Israeli and a young Palestinian attempt to overcome distance and ideological conflict to forge a lasting relationship. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at the Scripps Ranch Library. 

Kill Bill: Vol. 2: The second installment to Quentin Tarantino's magnum opus about one pissed-off assassin (Uma Thurman) bent on revenge is a gripping spaghetti western that ends in sublime fashion. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, at Arclight La Jolla.

Now Playing 

Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico. 

The Motel Life: Two brothers living on the fringe of Reno, Nev., experience a shift in their relationship after they are involved in a fatal accident. Screens through Nov. 14 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. 

San Diego Asian Film Festival: The 14th annual event will screen more than 140 films at different venues around San Diego and feature galas, panel discussions and filmmaker Q&As. Ends Nov. 16.

Spinning Plates: Foodies will undoubtedly fall for this documentary about three very different restaurants and their unique owners. Screens through Nov. 14 at the Ken Cinema.

Thor: The Dark of the World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.

12 Years a Slave: Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.

About Time: In Richard Curtis' (Love Actually) charming modern fable co-starring Rachel McAdams, a young man discovers he can travel through time and seeks to use his power to find his soul mate.

Ender's Game: Orson Scott Card's classic sci-fi novel about a young pilot fending off an alien threat finally gets adapted for the big screen, surely angering fans everywhere. Harrison Ford co-stars as a growling general.

Free Birds: This animated film follows two combative turkeys (voiced by Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson) as they try to get the gobbler off the holiday menu by traveling back in time. 

Last Vegas: A foursome of aging Oscar-winning actors (Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Robert De Niro) play seniors who head to Las Vegas for one final hurrah of debauchery and camaraderie. 

All is Lost: A nameless Man (Robert Redford) battles extreme weather and technology failure to keep his small sailboat afloat in this thrilling tale of survival from director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call).

The Counselor: Director Ridley Scott brings esteemed author Cormac McCarthy's first feature screenplay to life. The story centers on a corrupt lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who gets in deep with a drug kingpin (Brad Pitt). 

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: After grossing out America in 3-D, Johnny Knoxville gives his grumpy, ill-mannered, senior-citizen sketch character a feature-film platform. 

Kill Your Darlings: The major icons of the beatnik movement meet at Columbia University in 1943 and spend their early years writing, drinking, dreaming and falling from grace. Stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. Ends Nov. 14 at Hillcrest Cinemas.

Carrie: A supped-up remake of the classic 1976 horror film that nobody asked for and probably no one will like. But, hey, that's Hollywood! Stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular shy girl turned telekinetic monster.

Escape Plan: Action icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger play aging inmates trying to escape from a super-maximum security prison by combining their brainpower. Talk about a work of fiction. 

Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.

Deep Sea: A glorious ocean exploration with Del Mar's own veteran underwater filmmakers and explorers, Howard and Michele Hall. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.

Gravity: Sandra Bullock plays a marooned astronaut struggling to survive an epic space disaster in Alfonso Cuarón's breathless adventure film.

Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and stars in this coming-of-age story about a young New Jersey lothario addicted to the fantasy world of pornography.

Enough Said: The latest slice of modern melodrama from director Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) features a mosaic of confused couples. Stars James Gandolfini in his last screen role.

Rush: Ron Howard's biopic about the bitter rivalry between Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who battled for track supremacy throughout the 1970s.

Prisoners: A desperate father (Hugh Jackman) takes the law into his own hands after his daughter disappears, despite the ongoing investigation by a dedicated police officer (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Insidious Chapter 2: More horrific and ghostly images from director James Wan, the devious auteur behind Saw, The Conjuring and, of course, Insidious

Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: The venerable edgy 'toon-fest has returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's La Jolla location with a 20th-anniversary show that runs through Nov. 23.

Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.

Calendar

See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7