CITIZEN K – movie review

CITIZEN K
Greenwich Entertainment/Amazon Studios
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alex Gibney
Screenwriter: Alex Gibney
Cast: Mikkhail Khodorkovsky, NYMikhail Gorvachev, Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Petukhov, Leonid Nevzlin,
Screened at: Critics’ link, 12/17/19
Opens: January 15, 2020

Citizen K (2019) picture s_id875062.jpg

I would like to have been in Moscow to observe the well-preserved body of Vladimir Lenin on the day that “Citizen K” was released. You can be assured that he would be turning over in whatever receptacle is holding his bearded frame, because somehow the gods might have allowed Lenin to watch this movie and weep for what happened to his country, to his fondest dream. Instead of a paradise for workers and peasants, the former Soviet Union, having lost its satellite empire and given up communism, did not replace it with the kind of capitalism that Milton Friedman or Michael Bloomberg or New York Times economist columnist Paul Krugman would cherish. Russia is now under the influence of a wild-west kind of capitalism that some of us here in the U.S. can understand, given that in our country one percent of the citizens owns some twenty-five percent of the wealth. Inequality is even worse over there: at one point the oligarchs, the seven richest men in Russian, controlled fifty percent of the economy. Maybe Putin’s interest in gobbling up parts of Ukraine and feasting his eyes as well on the former satellite countries is his desire to distract the Russian people for what is being done to them.

“Citizen K” Alex Gibney, whose 2005 doc “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” lays out the case for a corruption that led to the company’s demise, now concentrates on two factors in the Russian economic and political goings-on. One subject is Putin, now the head of his country for eighteen years. The other is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the oligarchs and perhaps the richest man in Russian, whose fall for criticizing Putin led to the state’s seizure of his asserts and his imprisonment in Siberia for ten years. Gibney’s camera switches from president to oligarch, the former winning a series of fake elections while the latter, exiled in London and still holding on to hundreds of millions of dollars stashed safely in countries like Ireland, directs his venom toward the current Russian system.

Gibney has a way of making documentaries into thrillers as he did with Enron, though in this case he relies too much on a hugely intrusively score to give the impression that he is filming not a doc to enlighten us so much as a thriller to capture our emotions. Zipping through a series of historical events that pave the way to the present Russia, Gibney, ignoring Lenin and completely and showing a quick, archived film with Stalin’s picture, points us past Gorbachev’s glasnost era (Gorby is still considered by many in Russia to have single-handedly caused the Soviet Union’s end), through Boris Yeltsin’s turn at bat. With the government about to collapse once again leading perhaps to a return to Communism, Yeltsin bargained with the oligarchs. The state would borrow money from them knowing that they could not be paid back. And the oligarchs would own Russia’s leading assets, including oil.

During that time Khodorkovsky—whom we see as a young man and then as a figure aged largely by his stay in Siberia—by himself created the country’s first commercial bank while at the same time picking up Yukos, a number of Siberian oil fields, at pennies on the dollar. Khodorkovsky is later blamed for the murder of a Siberian oil town mayor who had claimed that Khodorkovsky evaded taxes, and guess who would be the leading suspect, given that it even happened on the oligarch’s birthday! Putin, moving rapidly up the political ladder, determined to go against Khodorkovsky at a time that the rich man exposed state corruption. K was arrested on fake charges and sent on a seven day’s journey to a Siberian prison. One must wonder why Putin did not simply have the man poisoned or shot, as he has been charged of doing for several other opponents.

Behind the lenses, Mark Garrett and Denis Sinyakov give us the long view of Russia’s seat of government while switching to a one-on-one series of interviews with a seated Khodorkovsky. This may not be a Michael Moore type of doc, loaded with wit and humor, but with its quick pacing and a script that allows us in the audience to understand at least a little of what our adversaries in Moscow are doing, it serves as entertainment and enlightenment equally.

126 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

ACTIVE MEASURES – movie review

ACTIVE MEASURES

Super Ltd
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jack Bryan
Screenwriter: Jack Bryan, Marley Clements
Cast: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Michael McFaul, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Hall, Michael Isikoff, John Podesta, Jeremy Bash, James Woolsey, Evan McMullin
Screened at: Dolby24, NYC, 8/9/18
Opens: August 31, 2018

 

In the concluding scene of Spike Lee’s terrific new movie “BLACKkKLANSMAN,” the director shows an extended close-up of the American flag, upside down, the sign of distress. Anyone who doesn’t get all the news from Sean Hannity must realize, just as Spike Lee does, that the U.S. is underdoing serious problems: forget about the temporary successes like full employment (largely with crap wages) and a booming stock market (why not tax corporations 0%, and then watch a real boom)! Jack Bryan, whose previous ventures includes “Life After Dark: The Story of Siberia Bar,” about the demise of New York’s most dangerous bar and not about Siberia at all, this time targets both our own President and the man who rules Siberia, among other areas of that country, Vladimir Putin. Bryan, whose final scene is a large, simple sign stating “Resist,” is not calling upon moviegoers to resist the tactics of Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and former Russian ambassador Michael McFaul, but rather to push back against the corruption in our present administration, which has already seen a record of number of high level government employees fired or turning in their resignations. If the head of Human Resources in any major corporation hired people who left their jobs by the hundreds, that department leader would be gone soon enough.

Still, despite the plethora of talking heads to afford us layer after layer or information about our current dangerous administration, Bryan focuses on one issue to avoid diluting his screed against President Trump. And that is his belief (and that of any thinking person) that Trump is Putin’s poodle. People who go to this film will already have a good idea of what “Active Measures” covers from watching the un-Fox news channels, especially CNN and MSNBC (with a special gold star for the Rachel Maddow Show), but here we have archival films showing Putin to be a dangerous man and, by extension, any person in thrall to the former Soviet KGB officer must be a threat to our country a well.

Putin is a fellow who, like many of his countrymen, is furious about the break-up of the Soviet Empire, the surrounding of his country by former satellite nations like Ukraine who are NATO members. He desires to restore the bad old days of Soviet imperialism. Letting nothing get in his way of the dream of empire, he has already invaded Georgia, Ukraine, and annexed Crimea to his land. He is suspected of ordering assassinations of his chief critics whether in Russia or outside. And here is the key point: he has been manipulating American elections not only since the Trump campaign of 2016 but of our internal matters for decades earlier, with hundreds of spies still living in our great republic, some right in Manhattan’s Trump Tower. This brazen attempt to influence our politics is what the Russians call “active measures.”

With a script that Bryan wrote along with Marley Clements (in the latter’s freshman entry into the script-writing pool), we get the impression that outside of Trump himself, the baddest guy is Paul Manafort, now on trial for tax evasion and money laundering, while giving air time to a number of Russian oligarchs, principally the people who took advantage of the restoration of public business to the private sector and who came out millionaires from bargain prices. Putin used social media, Facebook in particular and, like Trump. also Twitter, to spread false stories to politically naïve and less informed Americans, with such fake news as the absurdity that Hillary was connected to a child pornography ring out of a pizzeria. We don’t know whether the Russian interference put Trump over the top, although not in popular votes, but it didn’t hurt. Nor should a sovereign nation like ours tolerate interference in what should be a sacred annual rite of going to the polls. And we certainly should not have to put with a president who disrespects Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while glorifying Vladimir Putin.

Bryan’s most powerful point is this: what is our chief executive doing sucking up to an adversarial country’s leader, suggesting, as many of us have heard, that Putin has something big against Trump which he is using for blackmail? The film is well researched, the most comprehensive look to date at Putin-gate compressed into just 112 minutes, with an impressive array of not only major political figures but also the scenic backgrounds of important meetings like the G20. If Trump is really committing high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of impeachment and removal, why is he still in office when Nixon was chased out, even by fellow Republicans, for doing not even one-quarter of these activities?

Unrated. 112 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+