Nick Schager

Nick Schager

Did a White Professor Sexually Abuse Her Disabled Black Patient—Or Was it Love?

Sky UKJohn Johnson was a Ph.D. student at Rutgers University in 2009 when, while taking a class led by Anna Stubblefield—the director of the philosophy department, who was teaching in the American Studies Doctoral Program—he saw a movie about facilitated communication. Designed to help non-verbal mentally disabled men and women converse and express themselves, the technique involves having impaired people use keyboards or target boards to articulate what they can’t, all with the assistance of instructors who hold their arms or hands to compensate for their physical shakiness. The idea is that, with this revolutionary support, the mentally disabled can say what they really think, unhindered by their bodily limitations.This struck John as a potential course of action for his brother Derrick, who was born with severe cerebral palsy that rendered him unable to speak or walk without assistance, and he asked Anna about it. Since the nearest treatment facility was 250 miles away in Syracuse, New York, Anna—who had experience working with the disabled but was no expert in this practice—agreed to do some initial testing with Derrick on her own. “She was going to move mountains, and I accepted her at her word,” says Derrick’s mother, Daisy, in Tell Them You Love Me.Instead, what her family got was a nightmare that ended in a courtroom.Read more at The Daily Beast.

‘Presumed Innocent’: Jake Gyllenhaal’s New Show Is Summer’s Best TV Binge

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Apple TV+Distending their source material to egregious lengths with unnecessary exposition, superfluous additions, and ham-fisted “timeliness,” most long-form TV adaptations of popular films have severely underwhelmed. Consequently, it’s a welcome relief to report that Presumed Innocent, which premieres June 12, is the excellent exception to this most unfortunate of rules.Created and largely written by David E. Kelley (A Man in Full, Big Little Lies), and starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the role first played on the big-screen in 1990 by Harrison Ford, this eight-part version of Scott Turow’s 1987 bestseller is a thriller par excellence, this despite the fact that, per modern convention, it switches things up (some major, some minor), adds a few subplots, and updates its story for the 21st-century. Gripping from the start, it would earn the distinction of being “binge-able” if not for the fact that its episodes will premiere weekly on Apple TV+—although that release strategy simply means that it should be the television talk of the summer, which is fitting considering Turow’s novel has long been an ideal beach read.In present-day Chicago, deputy district attorney Rusty Sabich’s (Gyllenhaal) relaxing afternoon with wife Barbara (Ruth Negga) and kids Jaden (Chase Infiniti) and Kyle (Kingston Rumi Southwick) is interrupted by horrific news: his colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) has been murdered. If that weren’t shocking enough, the scene is unbelievably grisly, as Carolyn was bludgeoned to death with a fire poker from her apartment and left to bleed out from her wounds on her living room floor, face down and hog-tied. This homicide throws Rusty into turmoil, and it does likewise for the rest of those in his office, including district attorney Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp), who’s running for re-election against Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenie). Tensions are already high between Raymond and Nico, and that goes double for Rusty and Nico’s right-hand protégé Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard), and their explosive professional dynamics are thoroughly detonated by Carolyn’s demise.Read more at The Daily Beast.

‘A Desert’: The Wild Horror Film That’s Shocking the Tribeca Film Festival

Photo Illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Tribeca Film FestivalHorror movies are often dire warnings about the world and its volatile, unholy chaos, and A Desert is a terrifying cautionary tale about the dangers lurking in the vast wastelands—and beneath the placid surfaces and around the tattered edges—of modern America. Premiering this weekend in the Midnight section of the Tribeca Film Festival, the film is a clash of the civilized and the primal that’s additionally laced with a sly meta undercurrent about cinema’s relationship to the deviance it depicts, Joshua Erkman’s directorial debut trawls a landscape of the abandoned, the forgotten, and the malevolent things that grow in the dark and the wild. It’s a nightmare that burrows under one’s skin like a virus (or a curse), and it heralds its creator as a bracing new genre-filmmaking voice.Teasing its basic narrative particulars with the same patience that it bestows upon its monstrousness, A Desert focuses on Alex (Kai Lennox), who’s traveling alone through the empty desert, forsaken ghost towns, and empty abodes of Yucca, Arizona. With an old 8x10 large-format film camera, Alex is striving to revitalize his photography career by snapping pictures of derelict places that, as he eventually articulates, represent “a moment where the unforgiving power of nature is gradually reclaiming its topography from what man has built on it.” To do this, Alex is looking to “purposely get lost,” and much of the film’s early going involves the professional shutterbug driving aimlessly from one gone-to-seed locale after another, beginning with a closed movie theater where his camera stares silently at a giant blank screen—an image that will be duplicated, warped, and reconfigured throughout the ensuing story.Read more at The Daily Beast.

Andrew McCarthy: How the Brat Pack Conquered Hollywood—and Then Fell Apart

Paramount PicturesThere may still be debate about who, precisely, was in the Brat Pack (Ally Sheedy? Yes. Kiefer Sutherland? No), but there’s little argument about the seismic cultural impact of the informal group and its catchy moniker, which was first coined by David Blum’s 1985 New York cover story.For the world, the term “Brat Pack”—a cheeky riff on the Rat Pack—was a catch-all way to refer to the young actors who were taking Hollywood by storm. For those on-the-rise artists, however, the nickname was less a cutesy blessing than a demeaning curse. Four decades after it solidified their reputations and personas, Andrew McCarthy—one of the clique’s leading lights—revisits its legacy, and its effect on his own, with Brats, a feature-length documentary, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival ahead of its Hulu debut on June 13. The film chronicles the whirlwind phenomenon and, it turns out, the tricky process of looking back and learning to both accept the good and let go of the bad.Read more at The Daily Beast.

Shyamalan’s ‘The Watchers’ Big Twist: Not All Nepo Babies Are Good Directors

Warner Bros. PicturesThe Watchers is a case of like father, like daughter, in that Ishana Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut follows the same basic pattern as the work of her dad M. Night Shyamalan—namely, it starts strong and then slowly falls apart under the weight of its obligations to clarify its baffling scenario. An adaptation of A. M. Shine’s 2022 novel, the filmmaker’s maiden feature not only suggests a raft of tantalizing early mysteries but establishes a variety of motifs that lend it an intriguing meta texture. By its conclusion, however, it resorts to the type of excessive and clumsy exposition that decimates plausibility and suspense.As she demonstrated during her tenure on her father’s superb Apple TV+ series Servant, Shyamalan is an expert mood-setter. She puts those skills to excellent use—generating unease through canny framing and sharp sound cues—at the outset of The Watchers, which hits theaters June 7. In a prologue, a man flees through dark, misty woodlands as narration from Mina (Dakota Fanning) reveals that this Irish forest “draws in lost souls” who never escape its clutches. This individual’s grisly fate at the hands of growling unseen beasts proves that point, and after he’s dispatched, the film segues to Galway, where Mina is working at a pet store. When her boss assigns her to transport a yellow parrot to a zoo near Belfast, Mina readily agrees, although she doesn’t depart the city until spending that evening at a bar flirting with men while wearing a dark wig and assuming a phony identity.Between that pastime, various close-ups of Mina’s eyes and shots of her staring at herself in the mirror, and her comment to her avian pal, “Don’t look at me like that,” The Watchers conveys that Mina doesn’t want to be seen. A message from a sister whose voice sounds identical to her own—and who’s upset that Mina is MIA from the memorial for their mother, who died 15 years ago to the day—reinforces the notion that she’s hiding from everyone, including herself. These undercurrents all become exceedingly relevant once Mina’s GPS guides her into the previously seen forest, her cell phone and radio go on the fritz (flashing strange runes before shutting off), and her car dies.Read more at The Daily Beast.

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’: Will Smith Oscar Slap Joke Epitomizes Groan-Worthy Sequel

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Sony PicturesGiven the critical and commercial success of 2020’s Bad Boys for Life—a long-delayed third buddy comedy that became the last pre-pandemic blockbuster—as well as Will Smith’s continuing need for image rehabilitation following The Slap Heard ’Round the World, it was inevitable that the A-lister and his favorite co-star Martin Lawrence would reunite for more riding and dying as Miami’s guns-a-blazin’ cops.In fact, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, in theaters June 7, is also unsurprising in every other way, from its profane bickering and chaotic action to directors Adil & Bilall’s enduring mimicry of original series director Michael Bay, whose over-the-top macho stylization remains sorely missed. Even a late meta joke about Smith’s Oscar scandal proves a predictable bit of self-consciousness and does less to enliven the proceedings than merely fulfill expectations.That wink-wink gag proves to be a self-aggrandizing inversion of Smith’s Academy Award meltdown, with his detective Mike Lowrey overcoming his unmanly panic attacks via some open-handed smacks to the face courtesy of partner Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). The slaps, you see, restore Mike’s inherent virility and confidence, and while recasting the incident in this way is pure, unadulterated ridiculousness on the star’s part, it’s no less absurd than an early wedding scene during which Mike’s bride Christine (Melanie Liburd) recites vows that praise her new spouse for his wealth, cool, and banging nude body. Read more at The Daily Beast.

‘The Acolyte’: The $180 Million ‘Star Wars’ Prequel Is a Shocking Waste of Time

Christian Black / Disney+The heroine of The Acolyte can’t accept that which was lost, and the same struggle plagues the Star Wars franchise, which has vainly attempted to recapture the magic of George Lucas’ installments—the iconic original trilogy as well as the messy prequels—ever since it was sold to Disney in 2012. The latest tale in the galaxy far, far away is set a century before Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace, and dispenses more of the ho-hum characters, mythological convolutions, and second-rate action that have become, over the past decade, the property’s stock and trade. An adventure concerning a young woman with deep ties to the Jedi she once sought to join, it’s the umpteenth example of the fact that not all sagas need to go on indefinitely—and especially not via formulaic prequels.(Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)Read more at The Daily Beast.

How ‘Point Break’ Inspired One of America’s Great Bank Robbers

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of NetflixPoint Break is a masterpiece of stylish macho-Zen California crime cinema, and thus it’s no shock to learn that it was also the inspiration for one of the greatest bank robbery sprees in recent American history. How to Rob a Bank (June 5, on Netflix) tells the true story of a crook nicknamed “Hollywood” who, taking his cue from Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze gem, pulled off 19 stickups at various Seattle banks between 1992 and 1996 for a total haul of $2.3 million. As it turns out, Hollywood didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his illicit labor for long. Yet the thrill of directors Stephen Robert Morse and Seth Porges’ documentary isn’t the sad destination so much as the wild journey—and the ride they detail proves to be full of the very thrills one might expect from a summer blockbuster.Considering its subject’s fondness for the movies, as well as its flamboyant saga of daring heists, outrageous disguises, and outlandish hidden lairs, How to Rob a Bank fittingly embellishes itself with animated storyboard panels and dramatic recreations shot like a big-screen feature. Morse and Porges’ film is set in the early-’90s Pacific Northwest—an era in which Seattle’s fortunes exploded thanks to the rise of Starbucks, Amazon, and Microsoft. This tech boom brought a “flood of money” and, with it, an influx of banks. With great cash came great thieving opportunities for the city’s wrongdoers, and it wasn’t long before law enforcement was spending substantial time and resources trying to stem the rising tide of felonies.Even in this chaotic environment, Hollywood was clearly different, not only because of his success but because of his methods. Wearing facial prosthetics to conceal his identity and a D.A.R.E. cap to suggest that he was a cop (and, additionally, to thumb his nose at investigators), the criminal was a “professional” who committed almost all his robberies on his own inside the bank. Demonstrating an impressive crowd-control presence and a deep knowledge of the establishments’ security protocols, Hollywood was a cut above the usual smash-and-grab pack. Still, that wasn’t initially apparent, given that his early bounties were rather pitiful, lowlighted by second, third, and fourth robberies that each netted him less than $10,000. To lead FBI agent Shawn Johnson, this indicated that Hollywood and his accomplices were “bumbling idiots.” Such an opinion, however, didn’t last long.Read more at The Daily Beast.

How a Horny 86-Year-Old Created the Country’s Largest Renaissance Fair

Courtesy of HBOA real-life Willy Wonka saga that occasionally veers into King Lear-by-way-of-Game of Thrones territory, Ren Faire is another in a long line of docuseries about wildly strange subcultures and their eccentric, cutthroat, and self-destructive inhabitants. In this case, that milieu is the Texas Renaissance Festival, the country’s largest such event, which takes place each October and November in Todd Mission, Texas. As director Lance Oppenheim’s three-part non-fiction affair lays out, both the theme park and its surrounding town were created by George Coulam, who’s known throughout his fiefdom as King George. An 86-year-old tyrant who rules with an iron fist, suffers no one lightly, and is on the hunt for a successor—as well as a much younger wife who boasts no silicon enhancements—King George is as unique and fantastical as the world he’s built, and he proves to be the fascinating (and ultimately detestable) axis around which this colorful tale revolves.Ren Faire (June 2, on HBO) takes place over the course of the Texas Renaissance Festival’s 2021 and 2022 seasons, with the elderly King George overseeing his massive operation from his absurdly gilded rococo-decorated house. Despite having once been married, King George lives alone, and is also lonely. Thus, when he’s not being a domineering jerk in meetings with his underlings, who wait on him hand and foot and appear to live in perpetual fear of his fickle wrath, he’s having his assistant manage his multiple dating site accounts. Those include one for women looking for sugar daddies, and on the first of two Olive Garden dinners depicted in the series, he greets his 25-year-old date by immediately asking her, “Are those your natural breasts?” As it turns out, they are, which means their meal continues. A subsequent date’s admission that she’s had cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, puts an immediate end to their meet-up, with King George bluntly announcing, “OK, we’re done.”King George talks about how he wants to finally find love and settle down for a normal life filled with copious sex, since his goal is to die with an erection (something he claims is achievable with Viagra, Cialis, and weekly testosterone shots). Given this fixation on his phallus, it’s no surprise that King George fancies himself the cock of the walk, and despite his age and his confession that he’s made a few bad mistakes over the years, he embraces his status as an irreproachable monarch whose word and wishes are law. Initially inspired by his employment at a San Francisco renaissance fair, George opted to invent a grand one of his own. Taking his cue from Walt Disney, he soon purchased the surrounding land and established a literal town which he could control as mayor, thereby granting himself unfettered ability to realize his every outlandish medieval dream.Read more at The Daily Beast.

‘The Dead Don’t Hurt’: Viggo Mortensen Will Make You Fall Back in Love With Westerns

Shout StudiosWhile the 21st-century movie landscape has, to date, been dominated by superheroes, sequels, and animated fare, Westerns never go totally out of style. Offering battles between good and evil, right and wrong, that speak to issues of sacrifice, resilience, selfishness, regret, treachery, duty, individualism, and togetherness, they’re rugged vehicles for timeless American themes, and all of those concerns are in strong supply in The Dead Don’t Hurt. The story of an immigrant man and woman trying to make a life for themselves on the unforgiving plains, writer/director/star Viggo Mortensen’s sophomore behind-the-camera effort occasionally stumbles along its well-worn path. Still, courtesy of his and Vicky Krieps’ excellent lead performances, it delivers moving measures of the genre’s beauty, brutality, and sorrow.The Dead Don’t Hurt, which hits theaters May 31, begins at the end, with Danish carpenter Holger Olsen (Mortensen) sitting at the deathbed of his beloved French-Canadian partner Vivienne Le Coudy (Krieps), holding her hand and closing her eyes as she dreams her last dream of a knight in shining armor riding a horse through a sunlit forest. Vivienne is buried in a grave beside their remote home, and as Holger tends to this forlorn work, he’s watched by his young son Vincent (Atlas Green). The two are soon visited by riders led by Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston), mayor of the nearby town, who informs him that six men have recently been murdered, and that a suspect (Alex Breaux) has been arrested and is set to stand trial. During their conversation, it’s revealed that Holger is the sheriff, and the look on his face upon hearing this news implies that he knows they’ve pinned the crime on a patsy—a fact that we know as well, given the preceding depiction of the massacre.The Dead Don’t Hurt’s real fiend is Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod), son of local bigshot Alfred (Garret Dillahunt), although the particulars of everyone’s true nature and allegiances are revealed slowly by Mortensen, whose script flip-flops uneasily between various time periods. The film is not especially lucid at outset, and the confusion sown by its formal construction goes some way toward undercutting its initial power. Nonetheless, it gradually gains its footing as things become clearer, not only about Holger but Vivienne, who’s raised on stories about Joan of Arc and grows up wanting to fight like her father. In 1860s San Francisco as a tough and self-possessed free spirit, the adult Vivienne rebuffs the controlling advances of a wealthy aristocrat, and at a dockside market—where she formally dumps her suitor—she catches the attention of Holger, who sees in her a fetching mixture of loveliness and strength.Read more at The Daily Beast.