After a snowy Wednesday in Park City dampered some of the arrival fanfare of previous festivals, Sundance soaked up the sun on Thursday’s opening day. With plenty of powder to lend an idyllic backdrop to selfies and social media updates, the festival crowd was buzzing in line for the day’s largest film opening: “Freaky Tales,” taking the coveted early evening spot at the Eccles Center. Dozens of stand-by hopefuls were left in the cold for the popular event though, which kicked off the festival with a riotous screening.
The film marks a Sundance homecoming for director Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, whose breakout hit was the 2006 Sundance favorite “Half Nelson”; the pair most recently helmed the decidedly not indie 2019 superhero flick “Captain Marvel.” “Freaky Tales” is a return to their scrappy roots: An anthology horror-thriller-comedy that pays tribute to ’80s Oakland, the film stars Pedro Pascal, Jay Ellis, Normani, Dominique Thorne, Ben Mendelsohn, Ji-Young Yoo and the late Angus Cloud — not to mention a secret A-list cameo from an actor with Oakland ties that brought the house down.
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The anthology film unfolds as a collection of stories, including a punks-vs.-nazis spin on Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” and a rap battle featuring Normani and Thorne. There’s also an intense revenge tale featuring Pascal as a just-retired sports gambling enforcer. But the true showstopper arrives as an outrageous action movie tangent starring Ellis, which features dozens and dozens of white supremacists getting murdered and offers many tips of the hat to classic kung fu movies, including a conspicuous yellow jump suit akin to the one worn by Bruce Lee in “Game of Death” and again by Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.”
“Freaky Tales” is also a love letter to the Bay Area — specifically the region’s music, with a soundtrack stuffed with local favorites like E-40, Metallica and Too Short, who also appears in the film as a narrator, is an executive producer, and whose 1987 hit gives the film its name.
The Sundance audience was very animated during many sequences in the film, frequently clapping and cheering at the triumphant moments and shocking gore.
The film’s last title card, reading “In loving memory of Angus Cloud,” ended the screening with a resounding round of applause. Taking the stage for a Q&A after, Fleck and Boden brought out several of the film’s biggest names, including Too Short, Pascal, Normani and Ellis.
When asked to recount his favorite day on set, Ellis shared a story about joking around with Pascal, Mendelsohn and Cloud, who died last July at his family’s home in Oakland.
“Rest in peace to Angus. He gave such a great performance,” Ellis shared.
The film is one of several looking for distribution and the audience at Sundance was filled with executives from Netflix, Sony Pictures Classics and Neon.
Sundance’s opening day has featured several buzzy premieres, including the debuts of the documentary “Girls State,” as well as “Veni Vidi Vici,” a scabrous look at the ultra-wealthy, and “Between the Temples,” a comedy with Carol Kane and Jason Schwartzman.
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