Tale of Tales

TALE OF TALES, drama, not rated, The Screen, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Once upon a time there were three king­doms, ruled by three odd­ball kings, in sto­ries that oth­er­wise do not seem to have much to do with one an­other. They’ve been culled from the sem­i­nal col­lec­tion of Gi­ambat­tista Basile, a Neapoli­tan con­tem­po­rary of Shake­speare’s, whose Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trat­ten­e­miento de pec­cer­ille (The Tale of Tales, or En­ter­tain­ment for Lit­tle Ones) is the ear­li­est known source for the Brothers Grimm and the Western canon of fairy­tales.

Mat­teo Gar­rone, the Neapoli­tan di­rec­tor who gave us the gritty true­crime Go­mor­rah (2008), here plunges into the world of fan­tasy with his first English-lan­guage film. Vis­ually, it’s mostly splen­did. In terms of pac­ing, edit­ing, and sto­ry­telling, not so much.

It must be em­pha­sized up front that “En­ter­tain­ment for Lit­tle Ones” isn’t what it used to be. In our cau­tious, pro­tec­tive cul­ture, the blood, gore, and sex that runs ram­pant in these tales would put them be­yond the reach of Amer­i­can chil­dren till they’re el­i­gi­ble to vote — if the film were rated, which it is not.

The first tale in­tro­duces the King and Queen of Longtrel­lis, played by John C. Reilly (who seems more like the King of Queens than a me­dieval monarch) and Salma Hayek. The queen wants a child, they’ve had no luck the tra­di­tional way, and a sooth­sayer pre­scribes eat­ing the heart of a sea mon­ster, pre­pared by a vir­gin. The king dies slay­ing the mon­ster but pro­cures the en­trée, which is suit­ably pre­pared, but the vir­gin has a taste to test the sea­son­ing, and she and the queen pro­duce iden­ti­cal al­bino sons (Chris­tian and Jonah Lees) from their sep­a­rate wombs.

Up the val­ley in the King­dom of High­hills, His High­ness (Toby Jones) has a pet flea that grows to the size of an Alfa Romeo. He also has a mar­riage­able daugh­ter, Vi­o­let (Bebe Cave), whom he prom­ises to who­ever can pass a cer­tain test, and we all know how those deals can go bad.

And across the way, the King of Strong­cliff (Vin­cent Cas­sel) has a se­ri­ous sex ad­dic­tion that takes us through a saucy mé­nage à trois and the af­ter­math of an orgy, un­til he hears a beau­ti­ful song and falls in love with the singer sight un­seen. That’s key, be­cause the voice be­longs to an ugly old crone. The crone and her equally cro­nish sis­ter are played by Shirley Hen­der­son and Hay­ley Carmichael in heavy makeup. You as­sume that one of them is go­ing to some­how be trans­formed into a young beauty, strip­ping away the la­tex wrin­kles like a con­tes­tant on the old TV show Mas­quer­ade Party. But things don’t al­ways work out the way you ex­pect.

The lo­ca­tions and the cos­tumes are mag­nif­i­cent, the cin­e­matog­ra­phy is lush, and the act­ing is solid (you can’t fault Reilly for be­ing mis­cast). But scenes run too long, and the sto­ries in­ter­twine like bram­bles around Sleep­ing Beauty’s cas­tle, and some­times they’re nigh im­pen­e­tra­ble. — Jonathan Richards

The reigns must fall: John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek

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