Lectures For Lifelong Learners!

“House of Gucci” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The King’s Man

History records that on December 30, 1916, Russian nobles tried to poison “Mad Monk” Grigori Rasputin with cyanide. When this failed, they chased him down, shot him, and for good measure, due to the rumors of his indestructibility, threw him through a hole in an icy river. Two things history does not record: 1) that Rasputin, played by Rhys Ifans in “The King’s Man,” was stabbed after a very balletic duel; and 2) that he was actually slain by British operatives Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and Conrad Oxford (Harris Dickinson) in order to keep Russia involved in World War I because they’re pulling out meant that Britain would get overrun by Germany.

This is, of course, because “The King’s Man” is a work of fiction that uses a lot of imagination in rewriting early twentieth century history. But rather than go the way of the “Young Indiana Jones” television series from the 1990s, in which Indy just so happened to cross paths with a new historical figure every week, the story here is more pointed. A mysterious, shaven headed figure holds secret meetings in an old barn and gives orders to the likes of Rasputin, Mata Hari (Valerie Pachner), Gavrilo Princip (Valerie Pachner), and Erik Jan Hanussen (Daniel Brühl). If you slept through tenth grade history and don’t remember what these folks did, “The King’s Man” will remind you in its own special way, with many creative liberties taken. Stuffy historians will undoubtedly point out the unlikelihood of these people having grand conspiratorial meetings, not to mention the logistics of how they would travel to the meeting place, but for those who can ignore such things it is an entertaining indulgence. Simply suspend disbelief and concede that the world’s problems circa 100 years ago were due to a small group of miscreants out to bring chaos. The fact that the meetings reminded me of the ones that Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil held in the “Austin Powers” movies only adds to the tongue in cheek charm.

The Oxfords don’t just meet up with baddies though. They also are chummy with Lord Kitchener, he of the famous British World War I recruitment poster, lovingly recreated with the visage of Charles Dance, the go to British actor for stern, steely-eyed authority figures. As World War I rages, young Conrad desperately wants to fight. Orlando, who had seen war up close in Africa in his youth, is entirely against it. Orlando looks to Kitchener to assist in keeping Conrad out of the war, and Kitchener obliges. History of course intervenes as Kitchener travels by steam ship for a meeting in Russia.

The Orlando and Conrad relationship is interesting, mostly because it’s inserted into a “Kingsman” franchise movie. On its own, the dynamic between a son who wants to go to war and a father who wants to prevent it is engaging. When Conrad finally does get his way, the scenes of horrific World War I trench warfare are appropriately gut wrenching and captivating. Extracted from the greater plot of “The King’s Man” this incredibly well told and amazingly acted story would make a fantastic movie in its own right.

Then when all the drama and taking of death and killing in a serious, mature manner is done, we get back to a more “Kingsman” approach: treating it frivolously and having our main characters take lives without a second thought. This is especially the case for Orlando’s partners, sword master Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and expert sniper Polly (Gemma Arterton). To them, enemies might as well be paper targets or practice dummies. All sophisticated introspection “The King’s Man” has about violence and killing gets tossed out the window for the third act. That is balanced, however, by some flashy fight choreography and some suspenseful entertainment. And let’s get real, that’s what we want and expect from a “Kingsman” movie. Rent it.

Also New This Week

House of Gucci

Money can buy many things, but one thing it can’t buy is class. While the Gucci family may have made a fortune through their luxury clothing and accessories, as portrayed in “House of Gucci,” there’s something de classe about them. They dress well, live in finely furnished mansions and penthouses, and drive expensive cars, but interact like they’re on a season of “Jersey Shore.” That’s the vibe they give off, and it’s a strong one.

At the center of the story is Maurizio Gucci and his relationship with wife Patrizia (Lady Gaga). We see how they met, and more importantly we see the reactions to her from Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), which are polar opposite. Cousin Paolo (Jared Leto) has less to say about their relationship and more to say about his role in the company, particularly as a designer, and for someone who in real life was vice-president of Gucci and had five children (not mentioned here), his portrayal is not flattering.

There are only occasional subtitles that help us know what year it is, but the passage of time is easily spotted by changes in hair style. Patrizia is the best one to look at to know if there’s been a time jump. I didn’t count, but I’d venture to guess that Gaga goes though around ten hairstyle changes throughout “House of Gucci.”

As time moves forward, it’s not just the hair that changes. The relationship between Maurizio and Patrizia ebbs and flows until it’s complicated for good by an old flame of Maurizio’s named Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin). Patrizia’s reaction to this is extreme, but not entirely unpredictable. Early in “House of Gucci,” after Maurizio and Patrizia meet at a party one evening, she seeks him out during the day and arranges for him to bump into her. I noted at the time that it was more stalker-y than cute or romantic. Something about the way she sought him out and manipulated the situation didn’t sit right with me, like her intentions weren’t pure, or that she was a bit off in the head. Turns out it’s the latter. While two hours and thirty-eight minutes is a long time for a movie whose central message is one all young men learn sooner or later, i.e., don’t stick your you-know-what in crazy. Overall, though, the pace of Ridley’s Scott’s direction and the antics of the characters is enough to make it time well spent. Rent it.

More New Releases

“American Underdog,” the story of NFL MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming a football star, starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Ser’Darius Blain, Dennis Quaid, Adam Baldwin, and Bruce McGill; and “Night of the Demon,” a 1980 Bigfoot movie I remember for a scene in which a biker accidentally pees on the sasquatch and faces some harsh consequences.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover and author of the novel “Takedown,” which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and more. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.