TALE OF TALES (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Nudity, some Violence and Bloody Images

TaleofTales poster

Directed by: Matteo Garrone

Written by: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone & Massimo Gaudioso

(based on the PENTAMERONE by Giambattista Basile)

Starring: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, John C. Reilly, Toby Jones, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave & Christian Lees

Three Italian fairy tales serve as source material for director/writer Matteo Garrone’s beautifully grim English-language debut TALE OF TALES. Despite its whimsical sense of imagination, this fantasy is strictly for adults only as lots of gruesome violence and seedy sex are prevalent in the seemingly simple storylines. This is an anthology, so I will briefly review each tale on its own merits before summing up my thoughts on the film as a whole. What remains consistent through all three tales are breathtaking production values and stunning visuals. Lots of real Italian castles and unique locations were used throughout the filming process. The atmosphere of TALES is a brilliant mix of whimsical humor and dark violence throughout. Without further ado, I’ll make my way onto the tales themselves…

TaleofTales 1

THE QUEEN: In the kingdom of Darkwood, a selfish Queen (played by a remarkably cold Selma Hayek) only wishes for a child and shows absolutely no affection towards her husband (John C. Reilly in an unusually straight-faced role). When a mysterious necromancer arrives at the castle, the royal couple are given a magical alternative method of conceiving. As with most morality tales, things don’t quite go according to plan. This story takes a few enjoyably dark twists and turns as it goes along. It seemed like multiple fairy tales were combined into a single tale and somehow didn’t overwhelm the narrative. The conclusion leaves a bit to be desired though, because it comes and goes so quickly that the viewer is left scratching their head. The lack of a solid ending slightly diminished what might have otherwise been the best story in this anthology. B

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THE FLEA: In the kingdom of Highmountain, a quirky King (Toby Jones) becomes fascinated by a flea that grows to enormous size. Meanwhile, princess Violet (Bebe Cave) longs to get married and see the world outside her father’s walls. Little does she know that her father’s obsession with the gigantic parasite will offer her a way out of the castle, but not in a “happily ever after” way. This fairy tale is my favorite of the three. It perfectly balances the mixture of fantasy and horror that the movie seemed to be aiming for. This segment constantly shifts as the narrative becomes darker, but also manages to maintain a PRINCESS BRIDE sense of whimsy. Though Toby Jones is great as the borderline insane King, the best performance comes from fresh-faced Bebe Cave as Violet. She’s a cross between Disney princess and slasher final girl, which is a winning combination in my book. If the other two stories had measured up to this tale’s quality, then TALE OF TALES would be a potential masterpiece. A

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THE TWO OLD WOMEN: In the kingdom of Stronghold, the lustful King (played by a wonderfully smarmy Vincent Cassel) tries to quench his sexual appetite through countless orgies and one night stands. He may have finally found a future Queen when he hears lovely singing from a nearby cottage. The beautiful voice actually belongs to one of two elderly sisters. This would-be romance (in which the King attempts to woo his love through a wooden door) results in trickery and abuse between the sisters…and there’s also a bit of magic involved. I love the ideas behind this story, but feel that a couple of important scenes were missing. This is especially true of the final moments. While the ending itself is a perfect way to cap off this dark fairy tale, there were a couple of incomplete scenes before it arrived. The occasionally distracting jumps in narrative keep this story from being as stellar as THE FLEA. As a result, this is the second-best of the three tales. B+

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As you might have guessed from the plot descriptions, you’ll want to keep the kiddies away from these cinematic fairy tales. If you’re hungering for a fantasy that contains dark themes, morality tales, creatively horrific visuals, and a sense of wonder, TALE OF TALES will more than likely satisfy your craving. The special effects, visuals, and acting are great and I never quite knew where these twisted fairy tales were heading, in spite of their familiar set-ups. Though a couple of narrative stumbles that keep it from perfection, TALE OF TALES is a wonderfully weird creation that should satisfy fantasy and horror fans in equal measure!

Grade: B+

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