Sundance '24 Review | THREE SUNS | 'Freaky Tales'
Mark Harrington dishes both praise and a warning for the tribute to 1980s Oakland featuring retro animation, bloody kung fu, pulsing punk raves, rap battles, a basketball legend, and underdogs taking on nazi skinheads.
In a rollicking trip down memory lane, Oakland native Ryan Fleck again partners with longtime collaborator Anna Boden to screen their third feature film at the Festival. Prior visits to Park City featured the terrific “Half Nelson” (2006), where Ryan Gosling went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and “Sugar” (2008). After a brief but impactful stint in the MCU, directing the wildly successful “Captain Marvel,” the duo returns to Sundance with a self-proclaimed passion project. The film consists of several inter-related vignettes set in Oakland, CA in the late 1980s and features a terrific cast including Pedro Pascal, Ben Mendelsohn, Jay Ellis, Dominique Thorne, singer Normani in her feature film debut, and the late Angus Cloud.
The “Freaky Tales” begin when a mysterious green ooze delivers inspirational power to several groups of underdogs, interconnected tangentially but with purpose to counter darker forces terrifying the Oakland community. Fleck and Boden deliver an entertaining counterweight to resurging hate groups and police brutality, and the story line serves as a clever vehicle for Fleck to turn back the curtain to give us a glimpse of the love and humanity tucked in the corners of his prior everyday old haunts.
Fans of Tarantino-type violence will love the pulsating incorporation of punk and rap music, revenge kung fu, and an A-list cameo that probably went too far but for the perfectly muted response by Pedro Pascal’s character. Each sub-story is steeped in cultural and film tributes, with punchy dialogue. However, the stories themselves are unremarkable and feature good and evil with all too clear lines and formulaic villains unlike the more nuanced “Half Nelson.” So, it is best to try and catch “Freaky Tales” at the Festival, because it is the type of film that seems better than it is with Festival audience energy oozing and cheering support for such an underdog passion project.
“Freaky Tales” screening times may be found in the Sundance Program at: https://festival.sundance.org/program/film/6569fe3cfac9f47946c03a61 but the film is not available for online streaming. An additional screening was added “due to popularity.”