Film of the week: Citizen K
A convenient modern bogeyman for the West, Russia's veil of secrecy shows no signs of lifting; nor does its regime look like being free from corruption charges ranging from state-sponsored assassinations to election rigging to sports doping.
Not helping matters is the broad and fervent support that immovable autocrat Vladimir Putin enjoys on home soil while the rest of the world regards him with suspicion.
Alex Gibney is an Oscar-winning documentary film-maker who loves nothing more than such complicated real-world scenarios. Enron, the Church of Scientology and child sexual abuse in Catholic diocese are among the murky environs he has waded into with forceps in hand. Putin's Russia is an obvious subject for the New York film-maker, and as with all these things, there is often no better cipher for the broad than the very particular.
Enter one Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a once-titanic zillionaire who erupted out of the chaos of the break-up of the Soviet Union, when a culture of lawlessness and 'gangster capitalism' created a chasmic wealth divide that still exists there to this day. Khodorkovsky, one of a handful of mythologised 'oligarchs' who pretty much pulled all the strings, made eye-watering amounts of money through banking and oil, but fell foul of Putin's vindictiveness when he called out state corruption. Show trials culminated in a ten-year stretch in prison before he and his family were forced into exile in London.
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While Gibney can sometimes overdo the 'Hollywood' in his documentaries - production snazz, emotive scores - a central core of credibility comes via the roundedness of this portrait of someone who admits to being no angel in his early years.
Today, Khodorkovsky is poacher-turned-gamekeeper, lobbying for change in Russia while an arrest warrant keeps him away (just as it's designed to).
As a primer for what has befallen Russia in the modern era, what with its limping economy, wide-scale corruption and hackneyed politics, Citizen K is a success, something to file near the social-realist dramas of Andrey Zvyagintsev.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Jumanji: The Next Level
Cert: 12A; Now showing
Two and a half years on from the first reboot, the full Jumanji cast, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart are back to do it again, with some extra help. Inevitably this film does not have the novelty value of the first but it romps along and delivers what it promises.
For reasons that don't matter, the friends all end up back inside the video game of Jumanji - but so do Spencer's grandfather (Danny de Vito) and his friend Milo (Danny Glover). The difference this time is that characters and avatars get mixed up which means, for instance, the cranky arthritic grandfather finds himself in the body of Dwayne Johnson - which also means you have Dwayne Johnson doing Danny de Vito.
The film is based on the characters, dialogue and action rather than plot and the odd vaguely risque reference should delight children without horrifying parents.
★★★ Aine O'Connor
Cert: Club; Selected cinemas
Both The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth marked Lauren Greenfield out as a shrewd documentarian who knew how to find an engrossing human subject and give them plenty of rope. Both looked at the distorting quality of extreme wealth and consumerism, and this up-close portrait of Filipino political matriarch and former first lady Imelda Marcos fits with this recurring theme.
But Marcos, 90, whose husband Ferdinand ruled the Philippines for 21 years before being ousted in 1986, is more than a mere ostentatious curiosity, making this Greenfield's most substantial film yet.
Greenfield is careful to balance the vast shoe collections and showers of banknotes with victim testimony about the notorious period of martial law Imelda's husband imposed on enemies of the state.
It proves an unnerving duality: the camp, untethered pomp of this glamorous relic from the Asian nation's political Camelot, and the blind, greedy villainess whispering in her dictator husband's ear. You'd almost call her a sad figure were it not for the influence she continues to wield as we watch her son run for election, the implications of corruption in the developing world writ large on the screen.
★★★★ Hilary A White
Now showing Netflix
Michael 'Transformer' Bay's films come in one size only, and his latest film is as extra-large as anything he has ever done. Not a film for people who like their movies meaningful or to have detailed characters and plot, it is a bonanza for fans of massive action films with wisecracking characters, explosions, chases and guns.
6 Underground are a group of six people who fake their deaths to have the freedom to right major wrongs. Funded by their billionaire leader One (Ryan Reynolds, below), he and the other six (Melanie Laurent, Dave Franco, Corey Hawkins, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ben Hardy and Adria Arjona - the maths become apparent) are pursuing an evil tyrant (Lior Raz). Deadpool writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese lend their signature wisecracks to the script, although it can be a little hard to understand. All the focus is on the action; it is violent, graphic at times and there is a lot of swearing.
★★★★ Aine O'Connor
Club Cert: Now showing, IFI
Kantemir Balagov, a remarkable filmmaking Russian talent, was not even born when The Unwomanly Face of War was published in 1985. In it Svetlana Alexievich had collected the oral histories of Russian women's experiences of WWII and the harrowing accounts inform this, Balagov's second film.
Slow, beautiful and harrowing, it is based in Leningrad in 1945 around two young women, like everyone in the city, trying to live peacefully in the aftermath of war.
It opens on a pale, blonde and remarkably tall woman, Iya, called Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) frozen in the busy laundry of the hospital in which she works. The women around her are used to her seizures and she is well-regarded by patients and her boss, the principled but jaded Nikolay (Andrey Bykov). In the hospital the focus is on the effects of war on men. But when Iya's friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the front, the focus shifts to what the women have faced.
The facts are stark but delivered quietly, the horror is left to speak for itself and the film creates an extraordinarily powerful emotional punch of a society brutalised, traumatised and inured at the same time.
★★★★ Aine O'Connor
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