This week’s roundup features my reviews of several new releases, both in theaters and streaming, featuring top-notch performances: “Master Gardener,” with Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver and Quintessa Swindell; “Sanctuary,” with Margaret Qualley; “Giving Birth to a Butterfly,” with Annie Parisse; and “Stay Awake,” with Chrissy Metz from the TV series “This Is Us.”

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week
Master Gardener
(Magnolia Pictures)

In the latest by writer-director Paul Schrader (“Hardcore,” “American Gigolo,” “First Reformed”), Narvel Roth, a former neo-Nazi—who, with a new identity, works as head horticulturist at Gracewood Gardens, owned by Norma Haverhill, a wealthy old widow who also takes sexual favors from him—finally confronts his racist past when Norma’s orphaned great-niece Maya arrives. As crudely blunt as the “white pride” tattoos all over Narvel’s body and Narvel’s own voiceovers, Schrader’s film makes obvious contrasts between and less than illuminating observations about his hero’s previous and current lives, yet still remains a thoughtful redemption parable. There’s also compelling acting by Joel Edgerton (Narvel), Sigourney Weaver (Norma) and Quintessa Swindell (Maya).

Giving Birth to a Butterfly

America’s working-class families, struggling to keep their heads above water, are the focus of debut director Theodore Schaefer’s bumpily surreal but often raw drama centering on Diana, the mother in a dysfunctional family who’s a victim of identity theft. Although Schaefer’s script ultimately lacks much depth in the sketchy characterizations, a game cast fills in the holes, especially the always dependable Annie Parisse, who plays the victimized Diana with her usual intelligence.

Museum of the Revolution

In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, a mother, her young daughter and an older woman live in the decrepit, unfinished Museum of the Revolution, which was to be a centerpiece of Communist Yugoslav history—but only the grand building’s basement was ever constructed. Director Srđan Keča closely follows his three subjects as they scrape together barely enough through panhandling or washing car windows to eke out a meager existence in the damp, unsafe abandoned museum. Keča’s unobtrusive camera contrasts their difficult existence with a Serbia that’s abandoned socialism for capitalism.


The power plays between Hal, the wealthy heir apparent to his father’s hotel chain, and Rebecca, the dominatrix he’s had a relationship with are the sole focus of director Zachary Wigon and writer Micah Bloomberg’s two-character study that’s less psychologically complex than a clever sleight-of-hand like “Sleuth.” What makes this one-note movie work are the performances: Christopher Abbott is excellent as Hal, while Margaret Qualley—who again shows herself a fearless performer—makes Rebecca more complex and fascinatingly detailed than she’s been written.

Stay Awake

Carried along by a trio of formidable lead performances, Jamie Sisley’s intimate look at a pair of teenage brothers’ love-hate relationship with their drug-addicted mother works best when Wyatt Oleff (son 1), Fin Argus (son 2) and Chrissy Metz (mom) display the roller-coaster, contradictory emotions in a tug-of-war between a woman who can’t (or won’t) get help and the sons who are ready to move on—to college and acting school. Although well-meaning, Sisley’s drama falters in traversing the sons’ coming of age with mom’s downward spiral to the point that the emotional upheaval is dramatically short-circuited.

The Thief Collector

Jerry and Rita Alter, a somewhat eccentric American couple, brazenly stole a priceless de Kooning painting right out of its frame in an Arizona museum in 1985 and hung it behind a door in their New Mexico bedroom; after their deaths in 2017, antique-store owners who bought the work in an estate sale realized its notoriety—and value. That’s the starting point for Allison Otto’s noteworthy documentary, which allows family members, the antique-store owners, FBI agents and art experts to weigh in on exactly what the Alters did and why (and it more than simply one heist). Otto cleverly constructs the strange but true tale as a puzzle with new reveals popping up intermittently, but at least it’s only 90 succinct minutes instead of being spread out to 5 or 6 hours as a Netflix series.

4K Release of the Week
Creed III
(Warner Bros)

Adonis Creed comes out of retirement to fight the current champion, Dame, an old friend who finagled his way to the title with Creed’s unwitting help, in the latest entertaining sequel in the successful if derivative “Rocky/Creed” franchise. Michael B. Jordan has settled into a reassuring presence as Creed and Tessa Thompson makes the most of her screen time as his wife, while Jonathan Majors is a too brutish Dame. Jordan directs flashily, particularly in the fight scenes, but shrewdly helms tender scenes between the Creeds and their hearing-impaired daughter: that the actors learned ASL to communicate with young deaf actress Mila Davis-Kent is especially heartening. The UHD transfer looks great; extras are featurettes and deleted scenes.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week
Everything Went Fine
(Cohen Media)

French director François Ozon eschews nearly every trace of sentimentality other filmmakers would leave in as he chronicles the heartwrenching attempts of two middle-aged daughters to honor their elderly father’s directive that, following a debilitating stroke, he wants to end his life on his own terms. Ozon pulls no punches as Emmanuèle (played with exemplary tact but emotional honesty by Sophie Marceau) and Pascale (a heartfelt Géraldine Pailhas) reconcile their contradictory feelings about their father André (André Dussolier, whose intensely physical and fiercely visceral performance is astonishing) while caring for him and planning his assisted suicide. There’s a superior hi-def transfer.

Moving On

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin have gotten much mileage out of their comically inspired pairing in the Netflix sitcom “Grace and Frankie”: first, they reteamed for the execrable “80 for Brady,” and now, this intermittently funny black comedy-revenge pic about two women attending their longtime friend’s funeral to confront her unruly, prickly widower. The pair wrings mordant humor out of writer-director Paul Weitz’s serviceable but clichéd premise and Malcolm McDowell enlivens the stock part of the bad hubby, while the relative brevity (80 minutes) doesn’t let the movie jump the shark before it predictably—but satisfyingly—ends. The film looks fine on Blu.

Violent Streets
(Film Movement Classics)

Japanese director Hideo Gosha’s 1974 crime drama is a much different animal than his mid-‘60s samurai pictures Film Movement recently released, “Samurai Wolf 1 & 2”—here, there’s less ambiguity as a former crime boss enjoying retirement as a nightclub manager is drawn back into the yakuza when rival factions face off. Gosha enjoys the bloodletting as well as the female nudity (the women are mostly appendages, except one who’s as lethal—if not more so—than the men), and his furiously fast pace keeps it percolating. The new hi-def transfer looks excellent on Blu-ray; lone extra is a visual essay about Gosha.

Yellowstone—Season 5, Part 1

The new season of this hit series starts out strongly—and although Kevin Costner’s star power as patriarch John Dutton has always been the draw for most viewers, it’s the high-powered portrayal by Kelly Reilly—who invests the stock character of his daughter Beth with an always enjoyable “WTF” attitude—that makes the show more than just another soap opera. Wes Bentley and Luke Grimes as Dutton’s son Jamie and Kayce are good, as is Kelsey Asbille as Kayce’s wife Monica, but creator Taylor Sheridan really should run with Beth’s story arcs even if it means closing others down. The eight episodes looks immaculate on Blu; many extras include a “behind the story” for every episode, along with interviews and featurettes.

CD Release of the Week
Natalie Merchant—Keep Your Courage

For her first album of completely new material since her 2014 eponymous release, Natalie Merchant returns with a musically dense, lyrically knotty but impassioned album of 10 songs written during the pandemic. What distinguishes these at times downbeat but always emotional tunes is Merchant’s talent for the stirring story-song, whether it’s the opening salvo, “Big Girl” (one of two lovely duets with singer Abena Koomson-Davis), the bittersweet “Sister Tilly”—featuring a beautiful and moving orchestral arrangement by Gabriel Kahane—or the closing “The Feast of Saint Valentine,” a final benediction that’s richly scored by Megan Gould. In fact, eight of the songs are so enriched by the orchestrations and arrangements that Merchant is smartly incorporating them while on tour this summer. Upcoming concerts at Alice Tully Hall in NYC (June 2 and 3) and NJPAC in Newark (June 25) will feature Merchant with a symphony orchestra, which will replicate—and, perhaps, even surpass—the album’s expansive sound.