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Starring: Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Normani Kordei Hamilton, Dominique Thorne, Ben Medelsohn, Jack Chapion

Director(s): Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden


Since premiering their short Gowanus, Brooklyn at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have forged careers marked by fresh story sensibilities, rigorous character complexities, and outstanding performances. A mind-blowing mixtape and joyful ode to the ’80s, Freaky Tales imaginatively fuses styles and cinematic influences with giddy abandon, yielding a pastiche of pulp, pop, comic books, anthology horror, Old Testament wrath, and kung fu by way of a bloody crescendo that leaves no appendage unsevered. The supernatural storm brewing above Oakland empowers its ensemble of underdog warriors with a spirit of righteous retribution as they take on bullies, corruption, racism, misogyny, the Man, and the Lakers. A stirring anthem to solidarity and Oakland’s egalitarian, countercultural, and multicultural spirit, Freaky Tales reminds a world of wrongdoing that this is what you get when you mess with the underdogs — after all, there are more of us.

Written By Darren Zakus

Rating: 4 out of 5

Freaky Tales is nothing less than a jaw-dropping extravaganza of entertainment that transports audiences back to Oakland, 1987 in the latest film from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, delivering a hilarious, violent and bloody trip to the cinema featuring an all star cast that is certain to thrill audiences.

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have a diverse filmography ranging from critical independent dramas like Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, to directing Marvel Studios’s Captain Marvel which grossed over a billion dollars at the box office. Their latest film has them returning to their independent roots with a film about Oakland, California set in 1987. It’s a film featuring four interconnected stories showcasing different sides to Oakland, with the locations of the story being drawn from Fleck’s memories of growing up in Oakland. In terms of style, Boden and Fleck have crafted a film that can only be described as Tarantino-esque, showcasing their versatility as writers and directors in their ability to create brilliant films across a wide range of genres.

Films featuring multiple interconnected storylines are always tricky, as you have to spend enough time devoted to each storyline to ensure that they stand on their own merit, while weaving them into a larger narrative that ties them all together. Many films have tried this before, some to great success, but also many to limited effect as they have taken on more than the film can narratively support. With only four stories, Boden and Fleck have more than enough time to fully develop each story and the characters within them over the course of the film, while also laying the groundwork for how they all piece together in the film’s final chapter. Stylistically speaking, each chapter features a different style of story, including a music based chapter with Normani and Dominque Thorne, a crime based chapter featuring Pedro Pascal, and the absolutely bonkers final chapter where Boden and Fleck channel their inner Tarantino. And when I say their inner Tarantino, I mean an incredibly gory vision of violence that delivers shocking moment after moment, guaranteeing a mind blowing experience for the audience that you won’t be able to stop talking about. On their own, they’re all wonderful short stories with Normani and Pascal’s chapters being the strongest, all piecing together to create an insane fictionalized narrative that captures the atmosphere of The Bay area in 1987.

In terms of casting, Boden and Fleck have assembled a truly magnificent cast full of some of the most popular actors today and a great group of up and coming talents. Pascal is nothing short of excellent as Clint, a man performing one less job for his employer before starting a family with his wife. As we have come to know over the past few years, Pascal brings a quiet stillness to Clint that lets you into his character’s emotional state with ease, while also having a hardened and dangerous side to him that makes for one character you don’t want to mess with. Dominique Thorne and Normani are luminous in their chapter as Barbie and Entice respectively, delivering two lively performances that light up the screen. Their chapter concludes with a rap battle sequence where Thorne and Normani will literally blow the roof off of any cinema that the movie is showing due to the thunderous applause their performances will elicit. Jay Ellis is electrifying as Sleepy Floyd in what can only be described as a star making turn in the film’s final chapter where he proves himself not only a strong actor, but one truly badass action star! Ben Mendelsohn once again finds himself in a darker role, which is where he always delivers his best work, while this film features one of the last performances of the late Angus Cloud. Cloud gives a truly great performance, making his death that much sadder as he was such a talented young actor who had only scratched the surface of his potential. And rounding out the main cast is Jack Champion and Ji-young Yoo, both of whom are strong additions to the cast in their small roles.

On screen, Oakland in 1987 is recreated with incredible detail that helps to bring the film to life. The sets never feel grand, capturing everyday locations in Oakland and how they would have been during the time period with a grounded realism, such as the ice cream shop where Barbie and Entice work or the movie theatre showing The Lost Boys where many of the characters cross paths. The wide range of costumes are incredible, ranging from the hip-hop styles of Barbie and Entice and the clothing of the gang of Champion and Yoo’s characters, and the film’s soundtrack is packed with great hip-hop and rap songs that only elevate the atmosphere of the film.

It is clear from the entire film that Boden and Fleck not only have a strong love for the Bay Area, but for cinema as a whole. It’s no more evident in than in the film’s third chapter where Pascal’s Clint visits a video rental store, which features one remarkable cameo appearance. You will hear the actor’s voice before you see their face, instantly recognize it and dismiss it because you cannot believe that they got this individual for the film, before they appear on screen in the best scene of the film. And by the time the film finishes, you cannot think of a more perfect casting choice than who Boden and Fleck got for the role, which is the cherry on top of an already great film.

Even writing this review, it is hard to find words to describe Freaky Tales as it is a truly one of a kind film. With an ambitious narrative tying together the four individual tales, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have found themselves with another hit film on their hands. With an all star cast led by powerful performances from Pedro Pascal, Dominique Thorne, Normani and Jay Ellis, combined with an infectious style that captures the culture of Oakland in 1987, Freaky Tales is bound to be one of the most talked about films of the year with its wicked humour and shocking concluding chapter that will literally make your jaw hit the floor.

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