At The Movies: Lady Gaga livens up House Of Gucci; The King's Man is a messy period epic

Lady Gaga plays a woman whose confident charm, over time, curdles into murderous rage in House of Gucci. PHOTO: UIP

House Of Gucci (M18)

159 minutes, opens Dec 30, 4 stars

With the exception of science-fiction adventure The Martian (2015), this decade and a half has not been a great one, critically or commercially, for director Ridley Scott, maker of period epic The Gladiator (2000) and space horror Alien (1979).

With this work, adapted from the 2001 biography detailing the crime that shook the Italian fashion house, the British film-maker makes a qualified return to form. There are flashes of brilliance here, but also scenes that add nothing except give actors scenery to chew on.

It opens in the late 1970s, when Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a woman who works in her father's small freight company, meets and bowls over Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), a bookish law student destined to take over from his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who co-helms, with Maurizio's uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), the fashion empire that bears the family name.

The run time of over 21/2 hours is the result of Scott packing in a miniseries' worth of glamour, true-crime drama and family politics into one movie.

Mind you, some of it, especially the behind-the-scenes peek at what Italian villa life is like, is fantastic. Scott is in his element delivering atmosphere, whether it be on the red planet in The Martian (2015) or in a rustic Italian mansion surrounded by stables.

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Actor Jared Leto, with his face under a layer of prosthetics, is a bizarre, reality-destroying casting choice for company vice-president Paolo Gucci. His hamminess stands in contrast to the more measured performances of his castmates, including, perhaps surprisingly, Pacino.

But the film really sparks into life when Lady Gaga's Reggiani is present. The singer-actress delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the woman whose confident charm, over time, curdles into murderous rage.

The King's Man (NC16)

131 minutes, opens Dec 30, 3 stars

The King's Man is the third movie in the Kingsman action-comedy. franchise. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

The nostalgia porn trend seems to be peaking - see the science-fiction drama The Matrix: Resurrections and the superhero movie Spider-Man: No Way Home, two films which wallow in callbacks to old characters, actors and set-ups.

This third movie in the Kingsman action-comedy franchise gives a middle finger to all that, so credit must be given to director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn for swerving into fresh territory when he could have made this a safe, lazy rehash.

In this origin story of the organisation behind the shenanigans of the first two films, set in the early 20th century, tensions are rising in Europe. The pacifist Duke of Oxford, Orlando (Ralph Fiennes), does what he can to cool political temperatures.

With his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson), aides Polly (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), the Duke wrangles with characters such as the "mad monk" of Russia, Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). The priest is among the warmongers who have joined a cabal headed by the mysterious Shepherd.

The film's scope is ambitious. It heads to the trenches of France, the Boer concentration camps of South Africa and the palaces of Europe.

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The Duke pleads for peace, but is not above engaging in hand-to-hand combat against a team of villains that includes nationalists, communists and anti-royalists - as long as they hate the establishment, they are in cahoots.

This crazy quilt of revisionist history and comic-book fantasy makes for an ill-disciplined story with too many characters, all worsened by the conservative implication that anyone who wants to shake up Old Europe and its colonial empires has to be a baddie.

Perhaps with the fourth film, the Kingsman team will realise, as all superhero teams must do, that it must rise above narrow national interests.

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