2023 TV & Movie Reviews: Tulsa King / Broker / The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker / White Noise

A mobster, baby merchants, a Hitler studies professor and a hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.

Tulsa King

Boardwalk Empire creator and MVP Sopranos writer (Pine Barrens, Long Term Parking) Terence Winter brings us another mob story, this time with the help of Yellowstone and Hell or High Water creator Taylor Sheridan serving as producer and Sylvester Stallone serving as the star. He plays Dwight “The General” Manfredi, a New York City mob capo freshly released from prison after 25 years to a world he doesn’t quite understand anymore. Stop me if this sounds painfully familiar and trite already. The new mob boss doesn’t much care for Dwight’s boomer ways so he ships him off to Tulsa, OK to represent the “family” in a new territory, but really it’s just to get him out of the way. Dwight is pissed and the first couple of episodes are him being like “Wow, Oklahoma sure is different than New York! Madone, you call that a cannoli?!” He meets a taxi driver (Jay Will) who he enlists to be his personal driver and shakes down a local marijuana dispensary run by Silicon Valley‘s Martin Starr. There’s a whole dumb bit where he can’t get it through his massive horse dome that weed is legal now. After three episodes, I was ready to give up on Tulsa King, especially when they began recycling old Sopranos storylines to dramatically inferior effects. However, once Dwight goes back to New York the story gets a lot more exciting both there and back in Tulsa, and while it’s never anything less than stupid, it at least becomes stupid and entertaining. It’s a bit of a shame that Tulsa King never aspires to be anything more than Sopranos light with Stallone never managing to create anything deeper than a two dimensional character. The supporting cast is solid for the most part, better than Stallone to be honest, with Andrea Savage stealing every scene she’s in as an FBI agent that Dwight catches feels for. Dana Delaney is also in the series as the most useless, one-dimensional character that adds absolutely nothing to the plot. In fact, her “meet cute” scenes with Stallone only serve to pump the brakes on anything exciting brewing in this big city crime meets little town charm story. It runs only nine 35-minute episodes and while the lead up to the finale seemed promising, the last episode completely shits the bed and underperforms, crushing whatever excitement I may have had about a Season 2. Tulsa King will be back though, because it’s wildly popular with a certain demographic I won’t be a part of for another 30 years. If I’m still alive that is, hopefully Dwight doesn’t have me whacked off after reading this review. Grade: C (Paramount+)

Broker

Broker might not offer anything new to the closely observed, domestic family drama genre but I found myself more invested in its characters than most movies released this year. A South Korean film from celebrated Japanese writer/director/humanist Hirokazu Koreeda, Broker is about a makeshift, DIY family of misfits who make money as black market baby merchants. Don’t worry, it’s not as seedy as it sounds, they simply take babies from a church’s “baby box” that have been abandoned by their parents and sell them to potential buyers who they deem as responsible and loving enough to give the baby all the love and attention it deserves. Ok…it’s a little fucked up. While the movie more or less plays like an inferior remix of Koreeda‘s last film, Shoplifters, also about a makeshift, DIY family of misfits who were merely houseless people trying to survive on the street versus black market baby dealers, the relationship dynamics between the characters as well as the chemistry between the actors is so borderline magic that I just didn’t care. Broker seriously has one of the best casts of the year, led by Parasite and Memories of Murder‘s Song Kang-ho as a laundromat owner who needs the money to pay off debts to local gangsters. Gang-Dong-won plays a church employee who erases security footage of parents dropping off the babies they eventually try and sell, and a young marvel named Im Seung-soo plays a hilarious 10-year-old orphan who helps them along the way. The movie centers mostly around them attempting to sell the baby of a young mother beautifully played by Korean singer IU, in the film’s best performance. I won’t reveal the details of why she feels she needs to sell her baby, but I will say that two detectives (Cloud Atlas Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) are hot on her trail. Broker wraps up more or less how you’d expect, but this a movie that’s really about the journey there and meeting these likeable but never hackneyed characters. There’s also a great Magnolia reference that dwarves Glass Onion‘s Magnolia reference. Grade: B+ (In Theaters)

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

As far as Netflix documentary films go, this ranks somewhere in the middle. An intriguing story for a 30-minute episode of something, bloated out another hour to achieve feature length. It centers around a viral video of a houseless bro dog (also a hatchet-wielding hitchhiker) telling news anchors how he stopped a potential hate crime in progress and a woman from being strangled to death by whacking a crazy racist dude in the head three times with a hatchet he just happened to be carrying. Extremely animated and more than a little disturbed, his wild persona attracted intense obsession from the gross echo-chamber they call the internet. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of this dude and high-profile people like Jimmy Kimmel and reality TV producers were making serious offers. That is until it came out that the hatchet wielding hitchhiker probably killed some dude. I went into this expecting the hatchet wielding hitchhiker to be the villain but honestly the opportunists trying to profit off of him were more disgusting to me, especially the original news anchor who broke the story. The only likable person in this is the hitchhiker’s cousin who seems to be the only genuine person the documentary interviews. Everyone else comes off as either proudly awful or completely full of shit. Grade: C+ (Netflix)

White Noise

I’m usually on board for a Noah Baumbach movie, a talented but not entirely unique auteur whose work seems to mostly be an odd cross between Wes Anderson and Whit Stillman. White Noise, adapted from the 1985 Dom DeLillo novel, is an absurdist comedy that needs to be way funnier than it is. It starts off promising with a hilariously awkward Adam Driver performance as a tenured Hitler Studies professor at “The College on the Hill.” The actual title of the fictional university. The first twenty minutes or so does a good job at satirizing academics, focusing on Driver and his colleagues who include a struggling ‘Elvis Studies’ professor played very well by Don Cheadle. Maybe the best but certainly funniest scene features Driver and Cheadle giving dueling lectures on Hitler and Elvis that feels more like performance art than a lesson plan. The image of Driver in his academic dress emerging from a crowd of students like Batman while regaling them with details about Hitler’s relationship with his mother made me laugh so hard I spit out pieces of my bagel. From there, the story focuses more on Driver’s family unit including his quirky but secretive wife played by the great American film director, Greta Gerwig (who is Baumbach‘s wife IRL), as well as his children played mostly by non-names. Here is where it gets a lot less interesting, less funny and more confusing. It’s clear Baumbach doesn’t quite know how to adapt this material to film and I began to wonder how much more suited this material is to someone like Charlie Kaufman or shit, even David Lynch. The movie takes left turn after left turn and after an hour you begin to get really bored, which is a shame because there’s still an hour and fifteen minutes left. The biggest problem is that for a movie this long you really need to be invested in the characters and I personally found no entry way into them. Say what you want about Kaufman or Lynch‘s bizarre work, but at least they featured protagonists you cared about even if you didn’t completely understand them. White Noise painfully limps to an unsatisfying conclusion and that point we simply don’t care how funny the first thirty minutes of it are. This is a real shame because I really like Baumbach‘s work for the most part. Driver is fantastic but it simply is not enough to carry this aimless adaptation. Grade: C(Netflix)

IN THEATERS

M3GAN (B)

Avatar: The Way of Water (B-)

Babylon (C-)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (C+)

Women Talking (C+)

Violent Night (B)

The Whale (B)

The Fabelmans (A-)

VOD RENTALS

Mindcage (F) – $6.99 rental

Violent Night (B) – $19.99 rental

The Fabelmans (A-) – $19.99 rental

Aftersun (A) – $5.99 rental

Bodies Bodies Bodies (B-) – $5.99 rental

Bones and All (B) – $19.99 purchase

Decision to Leave (A-) – $6.99 rental

TÁR (A) – $5.99 rental

Pearl (B+) – $5.99 rental

Armageddon Time (C+) – $5.99 rental

NETFLIX

RRR (B+)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (B+)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (B-)

Emily the Criminal (B-)

Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (C)

HBOMax

The Menu (C+)

The Banshees of Inisherin (A-)

The White Lotus Season 2 (C+)

Elvis (B)

Barbarian (B+)

Disney+

Eternals

Black Widow

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (C+)

Werewolf by Night (C)

West Side Story (B)

Hulu

Hellraiser (C)

Crimes of the Future (B-)

On the Count of Three (C+)

Reservation Dogs Season 2 (A-)

Prey (B)

Peacock

Nope (B+)

Halloween Ends (D+)

The Resort (B)

First Cow (A)

Puppet Master II (C)

AppleTV+

Mythic Quest Season 3 (B)

Causeway (B-)

Cha Cha Real Smooth (B)

Severance Season 1 (A-)

Black Bird (B+)

Paramount+

Top Gun: Maverick (B+)

Orphan: First Kill (B-)

Smile (C+)

Jackass Forever (B+)

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 7 (B)

Amazon Prime

The Black Phone (C+)

Jurassic World: Dominion (D)

The Northman (B)

Licorice Pizza (A)

No Time to Die (C)

Showtime

Yellowjackets Season 1 (A-)

After Yang (B+)

Minari (A)

Red Rocket (A-)

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A-)

AMC+

Interview with the Vampire Season 1 (A-)

This Is Going to Hurt (B+)

Mad God (B+)

V/H/S/99 (B-)

Shithouse (B+)

STARZ

Spider-Man: No Way Home (B)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (C)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (B-)

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