Combustible Celluloid
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With: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Stacy Martin, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees
Written by: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, based on stories by Giambattista Basile
Directed by: Matteo Garrone
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 133
Date: 04/22/2016

Tale of Tales (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

No Kings Attached

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Well-made and weird, this collection of Italian fairy tales is still missing something; it could have been funny, sexy or thrilling, but instead it's clinical, like spying on bugs under a microscope. Director Matteo Garrone once made a terrific modern Italian crime movie (Gomorrah), but otherwise, he has struggled to find the right tone for his tales (The Embalmer, Reality, etc.), and Tale of Tales is yet another example of his missing the mark.

A queen (Salma Hayek) wants a child desperately. An old man tells her that she can become pregnant if her husband (John C. Reilly) kills a sea monster and if she consumes the heart, prepared by a virgin. Years later, she has a son (Christian Lees), but, weirdly, there also exists his exact twin (Jonah Lees), born of the virgin girl. Meanwhile, another king (Toby Jones) raises a giant flea, which eventually leads to his terror-stricken daughter's marriage to an ogre. And another king (Vincent Cassel) pursues a woman whom he thinks is beautiful, but she is really an old hag who has magically transformed. She succeeds in becoming queen, until her lonely sister (Shirley Henderson) interferes.

In switching between the three main threads, stays too long in each, and the movie never really builds an enticing rhythm. Likewise, none of the tales stands out; they all have the same constant thrum, and nothing perks up the storytelling. Some moments, such as the sea monster or the giant flea, feel like they should elicit some kind of reaction, but they just don't; it's like they're pieces in a museum. It's an interesting but lackluster attempt to bring Giambattista Basile's tales to an American audience.

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