What to watch: ‘Master Gardener,’ ‘Happy Valley’ worthy, if flawed, finales
Can the third time really be the charm?
At 76, uncompromising filmmaker Paul Schrader wraps up his trilogy on men confronting their pasts. Meanwhile, the third — and sadly final — season of one of TV’s best contemporary crime series — “Happy Valley” — hopes to save the best for last.
But as great as they are in considerable ways, each has an issue with sticking the landing.
Here’s our roundup.
“Master Gardener”: Is it possible that Paul Schrader, the gifted and cranky screenwriter of the seminal “Taxi Driver” and auteur of other gritty downer films, has gone soft on us? You might come away feeling that’s the case after watching this final installment in his unofficially connected trio of features about men wrestling with past deeds and misdeeds. And OK, this isn’t as dark as “First Reformed,” the best film in that three-pack. But “Gardener” is an at-times thrilling eyebrow-raiser about the troubled, seemingly mild-mannered horticulturist Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) reckoning with past crimes after getting involved with his employer’s volatile great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell), who is of mixed race. Their growing attraction doesn’t sit well with the manipulative, ultra-rich Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver, in a deliciously sinister performance), who hides a racist soul and toys around with Roth, whose racist past remains tattooed on his skin. The relationship between Haverhill and Narvel is twisted, to say the least. But it loses something because the relationship between Narvel and Maya seems utterly improbable, and that’s a huge problem — bigger than the film’s strange wrap-up. It’s a bummer given how tremendous Edgerton and Weaver are, and how effective, in a skin-crawling way, the film’s first hour remains. Details: 3 stars out of 4; opens May 18 in theaters.
“Happy Valley Season 3”: One of the best mystery/thriller series going delivers the intensity in its third and final season. Unfortunately, it stumbles near the finale, speeding through and forsaking the resolution of a new murder so it can get to the chewy stuff — the psychological tyranny that a rapist and murderer exerts on Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire, in a volcanic performance). Given this is the final season, it’s not that big of a deal-breaker — partly because each season has been leading to the moment where the convicted father (James Norton, in his best performances to date) of Cawood’s 16-year-old grandson (Rhys Connah) gets tied to another murder. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, you’ll no doubt be lost. But this gritty British crime series tops its many American counterparts. I just wish there would have been one more episode to wrap up that other crime. Details: 3 stars; premieres Monday on Acorn TV, AMC+ and BBC America with a new episode each week.
“Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t Know Me”: What more can be said about Smith, a larger-than-life phenomenon that some viewed as a calculating gold digger and others as a misunderstood small-town person who got in over her head? There’s more than enough to keep us invested in every second of director Ursula Macfarlane’s tragedy-infused documentary, essentially a loud warning to those who want to achieve fame at any cost. Using newly provided video and interviews with “friends” attached to her rise and fall, Macfarlane’s sad portrait provides deeper context to the tragic life of the former stripper, model and actress. What was the truth? What was fiction? This film strives to separate one from the other, but the most telling comment comes from someone Smith was especially close to — at least for a while. “Fame finds people and won’t let them go,” she says. Smith’s tragic story is proof of that. Details: 3 stars; available now on Netflix.
“It Ain’t Over”: So many sports docs seem intent on celebrating their main subject, all but touting them for sainthood. Sean Mullin makes a similar but lower-key pitch here, and the result is a home run in a field often flush with loud fouls. “Over” focuses on the lovable late New York Yankees star catcher Yogi Berra, with the assistance of his granddaughter, Lindsay Berra, who also serves as an executive producer. She helps keep the focus Berra’s brilliant baseball career, both as a player and manager, as it fosters fondness and respect for an Italian-American World War II veteran who came up with so many endearing, if nonsensical, sayings. Nothing about “It Ain’t Over” is rote or superficial. It’s about a legend who defied the odds, as well as the snotty comments from sports journalists, and earned the respect of his peers on his way to earning 10 World Series rings. It’s a must for any arm-chair sports fan. Details: 3½ stars; in theaters May 19.
“Joyland”: Director/writer Saim Sadiq’s debut feature created an uproar in Pakistan, his homeland, where it was banned at first and then was permitted to be shown on its way to being shortlisted for best international film at the Oscars. Sadiq’s fierce family drama is a passionate outcry over a culture that adheres to strict gender stereotypes and won’t allow anyone to color outside of lines. Ali Junejo’s performance ranks as one of the finest you’ll see in any year. He plays Haider, who is in a dispassionate arranged marriage with the restless Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq). He hides from his traditional and ailing father (Salmaan Peerzada) and his more masculine brother (Sohail Sameer) his love to dance, a profession he pursues at a club where he’s hired by transgender choreographer/dancer Biba (Alina Khan, in a breakout performance). As Haider and Biba spend more time together, a connection forms that shakes up Haider’s world. Sadiq depicts the evolution of this vulnerable relationship with care and in the film’s final moments delivers a sequence that’s an emotional game-changing beauty. Details: 3½ stars; opens May 19 in select theaters.
“Clock”: There’s a tremendous horror film gestating in writer/director Alexis Jacknow’s dark take on a single woman’s (Dianna Agron) trouble-plagued, none-too-pleasant journey toward reluctant motherhood. But it gets too cluttered up with a family subplot rather than remain focused on the issue at hand — Ella Patel’s nightmarish time meeting the brilliant Dr. Elizabeth Simmons (Melora Hardin) who is spearheading new experimental treatments. Agron throws herself fully into the role and the first 45 minutes of Jacknow’s disturbing commentary works wonders, but it strays and winds up losing its punch near its end. Details: 2½ stars; available now on Hulu.
Contact Randy Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org.