A Better Man

When David Zaragoza, a recovering alcoholic, fails to convince those he hurt in his past life that his attempts to become a better man are sincere, he finds himself at the mercy of both his personal demons and a strange woman with an even stranger scar.


This screenplay is currently in-progress. Follow me on Twitter to stay up-to-date as the project develops.

Read the original rough draft/treatment of here.


Fight the Dawn is (currently) an unofficial series of short films written live on Twitch. If you would like to help bring this screenplay to life, please consider becoming a patron.


FADE IN

NOTE: The opening sequence set at location “HOUSE” is initially presented in the style of a 1950s, three-camera sitcom--black and white, “stage” acting, canned laughter.

EXT. HOUSE – DAY

A beautiful little house with a white picket fence in a beautiful little suburb. The lawn is pristine. The rose bushes lining the property award-winning. It’s all like something out of “Leave it to Beaver.”

INT. HOUSE/LIVING ROOM – DAY

The inside is as immaculate as the exterior. The decor simple, warm and inviting. It’s as if it were designed with a TV audience in mind.

A man dressed in a tailored three-piece suit and fedora enters. This is DAVID ZARAGOZA, man of the house.

DAVID

Honey, I’m home!

CHERYL, David’s wife, appears from the kitchen. She looks like Mrs. June Cleaver in her lovely little house dress with apron combo. She’s the sweetest little house wife ever. Almost too perfect to be real.

CHERYL

Welcome home, Dear!

She greets him with an embrace and a kiss. And then, she pulls away. She’s just realized something.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Oh, but you’re so early! Did something happen at the office?

David laughs playfully at this.

DAVID

No, I just missed you is all.

She smiles and kisses him a second time. This is the sweetest thing she’s ever heard.

CHERYL

Oh, David, I’ve missed you too.

DAVID

(sniffing at the air)

Something smells wonderful.

CHERYL

That would be dinner.

(pouting)

But it won’t be ready for at least another hour. I’m sorry, Dear.

He rubs and pats his own belly.

DAVID

I’m sure I can manage the wait.

Cheryl smiles at this.

CHERYL

You must be exhausted. Let’s get you nice and comfortable.

She helps David get comfortable. She takes his hat, coat, and briefcase before guiding him to his favorite chair. David pretends to not find any of this appealing.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Now, you wait right there.

She quickly disappears into the kitchen only to reappear just as quickly. She now has a beer in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

David takes these without thinking.

DAVID

Thank you, Honey.

NOTE: For the remaining duration of the sequence, things take on the style of American horror movies of the 1930s.

And then...

David trembles at the mere sight of the beer in his hand. His breath shortens. He sweats bullets. He’s terrified of the beer can in his hand, but he has no earthly idea why.

Cheryl is nowhere near as concerned as David.

CHERYL

David? David-dear, are you all right?

David doesn’t hear this. He’s a million miles away right now.

CHERYL

I didn’t buy the wrong brand again, did I?

And then, he snaps out of his daze.

DAVID

No. No, I, uh...just--

He stops, looks at Cheryl, sees the disappointment in her eyes, and then thinks better of it.

DAVID (CONT’D)

It’s perfect, Honey. Thank you.

She relaxes and smiles.

CHERYL

Oh, thank goodness.

She kisses him once more.

CHERYL

Now, you relax and enjoy yourself. I’ll be right back. I’ve got to run to the neighbors and borrow a few things.

She turns to leave.

DAVID

Cheryl?

She stops and turns to David.

CHERYL

Yes, Dear?

DAVID

I love you.

She smiles a big smile at this sweet husband of hers.

CHERYL

I love you too.

And then, she leaves.

David looks longingly at the beer.

The BEER looks back.

And then...

David opens the beer, and drinks.

A pleasant silence.

And then...

David TRANSFORMS into something inhuman. The change is painful and violent. His body twists and turns, bends and snaps its new monstrous form. His SCREAMS fill the house.

Cheryl returns. She’s clearly heard David’s screams.

CHERYL

David? Dear, is everything all right?

She reaches for her husband.

A horrifying BEAST-MAN snaps around and SNARLS and DROOLS.

Cheryl YELPS in fear. And then, she’s utterly consumed by silent, abject horror.

The Beast-Man, covered in the tattered remnants of a three-piece suit, rises to its feet. It stares at and looms over Cheryl like an angry bear or gorilla.

A silence.

CHERYL

David?

And then...

The Beast-Man strikes.

EXT. HOUSE – DAY

Cheryl’s screams echo up and down the street and all across the suburb.

INT. HOUSE/LIVING ROOM – DAY

The house is silent and dark.

Blood stains the walls, broken furniture, and everything in-between.

Cheryl’s tattered remains rest at the feet of the Beast-Man.

The Beast-Man stands victorious over his prey. He huffs and puffs through gore-clogged teeth. His claws drip with goo. Large, dead eyes stare off into the abyss.

RANDY (V.O.)

David?

INT. MEETING ROOM – DAY

A group therapy session in some small backroom. Modern Day. The really-real world.

THE GROUP

A collection of characters, big and small, men and women and other. They sit in an intimate circle. And all eyes are on

DAVID

No suit, hat, or jacket. Just a modern day mess of a man. He sits silently in his chair. His mind is somewhere else.

RANDY (O.S.)

Earth to David.

David snaps out of his daze. He looks up and across to

RANDY

a middle-aged hippie with a heart of gold and eyes that have seen some serious shit in his younger days.

RANDY

You still with us, amigo?

DAVID

Yeah. Yeah, sorry.

RANDY

Cool. Okay.

(beat)

Thank you for sharing with us, David. I know that couldn’t have been easy.

An uncomfortable silence.

RANDY

So, how about a break?

EXT. PARKING LOT – DAY

The Group is scattered about the lot. They talk and smoke and play on their phones.

David stands alone, holding something up to the light.

A COIN

A six-month sobriety chip. It shines in the light.

David’s not very impressed.

RANDY (O.S.)

You should be proud of yourself.

David turns to

RANDY

The old hippie stands beside David, puffing away on a vape pen. It’s as if he appeared out of thin air.

RANDY (CONT’D)

I know six months might not seem like much. But change is fuckin’ hard, man. For some of us, it’s damn near impossible. That right there...

He gestures to the COIN in David’s hand.

RANDY (CONT’D)

That’s proof you’re up to the challenge.

David laughs at this.

DAVID

Doesn’t really feel like it. I’ve hurt a lot of people, Randy.

Randy processes this.

RANDY

Yeah. Yeah, maybe you did. But you ain’t some monster. If you were, I don’t think you’d be here worrying so much about it. Those dreams of yours? That’s just all the guilt and regret and pain and doubt trying to drag you down. Don’t get me wrong--those feelings are really real. But you ain’t a monster unless you let yourself be one.

DAVID

What if other people still see me like that? The people I hurt.

RANDY

Then maybe it’s time you show them something different.

David and Randy share a moment there in the chaos of the parking lot.

DAVID

Thanks, Randy.

RANDY

No problemo, amigo. No problemo at all.

EXT. TOWN – DAY

A bustling little college town. Traveling into and through it is like a trip back in time. The main street is lined with small dress and antique and coffee shops. At the center of it all is the town square where old couples sit on benches and watch the children play.

David makes his way through this on foot. He comes to a stop at

A BAR

A small, local dive. The music and merriment and chaos pours out into the street from its always-open front doors.

DAVID

stands outside the bar’s doors. He watches as people enter and leave. The sounds of the bar call to him like a siren song.

DAVID’S HAND

nervously fidgets with the COIN.

David takes a deep breath, holds it, and then enters the bar.

INT. BAR – NIGHT

A “hipster-chic“ version of an old-town college dive joint with a luxurious speakeasy vibe.

David makes a beeline for

THE BAR

A bartender keeps himself busy with small tasks. This is MILES WARREN, and he’s not happy to see David.

MILES

Didn’t think we’d be seeing much of you anymore.

David saddles up.

DAVID

What can I say? I’m a man who defies expectations.

David sets the COIN on the bar.

MILES

The shit is this?

DAVID

Defying expectations.

Miles takes the CHIP and inspects it.

MILES

You’re on the fuckin’ wagon?

DAVID

That’s right.

Miles sets the COIN back down with authority, sliding it back across to David.

MILES

I’m happy for you, David. Really, I am. But you’ve got to leave before Cheryl catches you in here.

David returns the COIN to his pocket.

DAVID

Well, I hope she does. I wanted to talk with her too.

MILES

No. No chance.

DAVID

I’m just asking for five minutes.

MILES

That right? Cuz I sorta remember the last time you two “talked” ended with one of you needing stitches and the other dragged away in cuffs.

David winces. He doesn’t notice he’s rubbing at his own wrists at the thought of this.

DAVID

Yeah, that’s the way I remember it too.

MILES

Do you? Good. Then get to steppin’ before you’re escorted out.

(beat)

Besides, you know the rules. This place is for customers only. No loitering.

DAVID

Yeah, so gimme something.

MILES

Seriously? What about all this shit just now about defying expectations?

DAVID

I’m not askin’ for a fuckin’ beer, Miles. Okay? Just gimme something without a lot of sugar.

An uncomfortable silence.

MILES

Fuck off. I have real customers.

Miles turns to leave.

David pulls a slip of paper from his pocket and tosses it on the bar.

DAVID

Check that out.

Miles ignores this, pours several drinks, turns to David, eyes the slip of paper, and then reads it.

MILES

My name’s on here. The shit is this?

DAVID

That, my friend, is a list of everyone I have ever hurt with my drinking.

MILES

And?

DAVID

(reciting from memory)

“Step 9: Make direct amends to such people wherever possible.”

MILES

David...

DAVID

Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking for.

MILES

And if she don’t want to see you?

DAVID

Then, I’ll fuck off--peacefully, quietly. You’ll never see me here again. But if she does? Then I can at least try to do right by her.

Another silence.

Miles returns to the list to David.

MILES

One drink. Five minutes.

DAVID

Deal.

MILES

Cheryl’s on her lunch. I’ll let her know you’re here when she gets back in.

DAVID

Thanks, Miles. And I swear, you don’t have anything to worry about.

MILES

Yeah, it ain’t me I’m worried about.

Miles walks off.

David eyes the crowd and plays it cool. He watches the other patrons talk and laugh and cheer on their favorite team on the TV.

And then...

His attention seizes on the drinks in their hands, and then to the assorted bottles behind the bar.

The bottles stare right back.

David fishes the COIN from his pocket again and clutches at it like a rosary.

EXT. BAR/PATIO – NIGHT

A CROWD OF BAR PATRONS gather and huddle close, drawn to the warmth of the deck torches. Cigarettes in one hand, drinks in the other. The flames dance and flicker on the stainless steel, washing everything in a soft glow.

TARZAN, an alpha male-type dressed in khakis and a polo shirt two sizes too small, approaches JANE, a pretty young thing.

Tarzan not so good with words. Tarzan let muscles speak for him.

Jane likes what Tarzan’s muscles have to say. She feels the veiny masses that are Tarzan’s arms and laughs in that way young ladies are want to do when they’re trying to flatter young men.

DAVID

watches this from a distant table as he nurses a can of Red Bull. His attention split between Tarzan, Jane, and the bar’s PATIO DOOR.

And then...

Jane YELPS.

Tarzan stands there with his meaty paw wrapped around Jane’s willowy arm. Jane desperately tries to free herself. And everyone but David seems to be doing their damnedest to ignore this.

JANE

Step-off, will ya? Jesus, just step the fuck off!

TARZAN

Cut the bullshit. Flaunting your tits like that, feeling up my guns the way you are? There’s no need to be such a fucking tease.

CHERYL (O.S.)

Look familiar?

David turns to find a stunning but exhausted woman beside him. This is the real CHERYL, a woman who embodies the old adage, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”

Cheryl seats herself. Close, but only close enough.

DAVID

Was I really that bad?

CHERYL

Not always.

DAVID

But often enough.

CHERYL

We all have our demons.

DAVID

Yeah? And what was yours?

CHERYL

What can I say? I liked the bad boys.

(wistfully)

Something about the way a man just took whatever he wanted from me...

(back to reality)

Stupid me, though. Took a few visits to the ER to learn when enough was enough.

DAVID

Cheryl--

CHERYL

That’s my name. So, what’s your game? Miles says you’ve found Jesus, or some shit. You want to make it right between me, you, and the Lord. That about it?

David nods.

DAVID

Yeah, something like that.

CHERYL

You moving back to town?

DAVID

No. Got myself a room at The Castaway Inn. But only for one night. Just long enough to talk about us.

CHERYL

Okay, us--you and me? That’s long over with. Let’s make that very clear right now.

CHERYL

Look, I’m going to be straight with you. Maybe God and Jesus forgive you, but I don’t think I can. Maybe that’s a little fucked up, or whatever. I dunno. It’s not like I want to feel this way. I just do.

DAVID

Cheryl, you have every right to hate me.

CHERYL

I don’t hate you, David. Not anymore.

She sighs.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Look, I had a lot of time to think about you and me and all the messed up shit we did to each other when I was laid up in a hospital bed. Honestly? Between all the booze and pain killers, I don’t remember too much of that night. But I do still kinda remember my sister yelling at me, calling me a stupid piece of pussy for sticking with you for so long. All while the nurse stapled my head shut.

DAVID

I’m sorry.

CHERYL

Me too.

David reaches for her hand. Cheryl reflexively pulls it back, as if burned by fire.

An uncomfortable silence.

DAVID

I know there’s nothing that I can do or say to make up for all the awful shit I’ve done. Not to you, or anyone else. I don’t like the man that I was when I was still drinking. I don’t think I really like the man I am now. Not yet. But I am sorry. And I am trying to be a better man. I guess I just wanted you to know that.

CHERYL

That’s beautiful, David. I mean it. Did you stand in the mirror when you practiced that?

DAVID

Cheryl--

CHERYL

We’re done here, David.

DAVID

Cheryl, please.

CHERYL

That shit might go over a bit better with some of the other people on that little list of yours. But it don’t do much for me. I know you, David. I know it wasn’t the fucking drinking that made you act like such a piece of shit. Okay? That was all you. It always was.

She shows the scar on her head, a pale zig-zag void of hair.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

You see this? You did this, David. The staples, the scar, the cracked rib. It wasn’t the drinking of the drugs. This shit was all you. So, you want to come in here and give me a little speech to help you sleep better at night? That’s fine. I hope you can one of these days. But if you think that you can make things right between us? That ship fucking sailed off into the sunset a very long time ago.

He reaches for her.

DAVID

I didn’t mean--

She swats his hand away. Hard. Loud.

CHERYL

(panicked)

Don’t fucking touch me!

The whole place goes silent. All eyes are on David and Cheryl. Even Tarzan and Jane are left in stunned silence.

CHERYL

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to blow up like that. How’s about I get back to work, and you crawl back to whatever urine-soaked hellhole you came out of, okay?

DAVID

Yeah. Okay.

David stands and walks away, leaving the COIN behind on the table.

CHERYL

Take some fuckin’ responsibility for once, David..

Cheryl watches David hop the patio fence and disappear into the night.

And then...

She looks at the COIN atop the table. She takes it, looks at it, and then sighs a frustrated sigh.

CHERYL

Why do you have to be such an asshole?

She heads back into the bar.

EXT. LIQUOR STORE – NIGHT

A corner liquor store just around the corner from THE BAR.

INT. LIQUOR STORE – NIGHT

A not entirely empty corner store. The CLERK does his best to not look too bored between customers.

David stares at the BEER cooler.

The WALL OF BEER stares back.

And then...

David gets the feeling someone is watching him. He turns to

A WOMAN

stares at David. Her skin is deathly pale. She wears a long jacket and a scarf wrapped tight around her face. Her dark, unkempt hair flows over her.

David stares back, then behind himself, and then back at the Woman.

She’s still there. Still staring.

DAVID

Yeah, okay. Fuck this.

He reaches into the cooler, picks his poison, and then heads for

THE REGISTER

The Clerk rings David up.

David stands there, staring at the BEER.

The BEER stares back.

The CLERK stares at David.

CLERK

Hey, uh, cash, debit, or credit?

David snaps out of it.

DAVID

Yeah. Just, uh--just forget about it.

David walks away, stops, then turns to the Clerk.

DAVID

Oh, you might want to keep an eye on the chick with the scarf back there.

(gesturing)

Back by the cooler.

The Clerk looks BACK THERE.

DAVID (O.S.)

She’s not lookin’ so good.

There’s nobody BACK THERE.

The Clerk looks back to

David is already out the door.

EXT. TOWN -- NIGHT

The town is a sea of bodies and rivers of cars flowing here and there. COUPLES walk arm in arm to and from their favorite restaurants and bars. GROUPS of friends and family flock together.

David walks aimlessly among this, alone, sober, and empty handed. The WOMAN from the LIQUOR STORE lingers close by. Close, but never too close. A shape in David’s peripheral. Always present, but never seen.

EXT. TOWN/OUTSKIRTS

The edge of town, far from the bustling chaos of the shops and bars. Here, the shops are closed. Streets are darker. Traffic is nonexistent.

David walks through the still darkness. The Woman follows close behind.

INTERSECTION

Green lights turn red.

David stops at the corner, and waits.

And then...

A NOISE.

David turns back and sees how absolutely alone he is. Not a soul in sight in every direction.

And then, he turns back to the

INTERSECTION

Red lights turn green. “DON’T WALK” turns to “WALK.”

David steps forward.

And then...

The same NOISE.

David turns to see

THE WOMAN

stands beneath a street light, staring at David. Her body is a twisted, broken mess. Half her face masked in shadow. The other half covered in a CRIMSON MASK, blood running down and dripping from her chin.

An uncomfortable silence.

DAVID

Hey. You need help, or somethin’, Lady?

The Woman says nothing. She only stumbles and shuffles awkwardly toward David.

David takes a step back.

DAVID

Hey. Hey, are you okay?

Again, the Woman says nothing. She only stutter steps and stumbles closer and closer.

David steps back, again and again.

She takes a step, he takes a step back.

David reaches the curb, nearly stumbles off, and catches himself.

The Woman pushes forward.

David stands on the curb like a man on the edge of a cliff, unsure if he should stand his ground or jump.

She gets close. Too close.

And then...

She stops.

David looks at the Woman.

The Woman looks back at him with dead eyes.

WOMAN

Home...

He thinks about this, and then gestures down the way.

DAVID

That way?

And then...

She goes THAT WAY.

Green lights turn red.

The Woman stops at the corner, waiting.

David watches this.

Red lights turn green.

The Woman stutter-steps and stumbles her way across the street and down THAT WAY.

David watches her disappear down THAT WAY.

Green lights turn red.

David stands alone in still silence, waiting.

Red lights turn green.

David steps forward into the intersection.

SHRIEKING. Distant, but growing closer way too fast.

David stops dead in his tracks and turns to

THE WOMAN

is coming right for him. A shape in the distance getting closer and closer. A walk turns into a sprint. The sprint turns into an animal-like dash.

David can’t even process what he’s seeing.

And then, the Woman leaps through the INTERSECTION and pounces on David.

And then...

A BUS pulls up. It’s doors open with a WHOOSH. The BUS DRIVER, a hefty man too old for this shit, looks out at

DAVID AND THE WOMAN

The two are wrapped around each other, on top of one another. Are they drunk and at each other’s throats, or in desperate need of a room?

DRIVER

Getting on?

David looks at the Bus Driver, then to the Woman, and then back to the Bus Driver.

DAVID

No. Just catching our breath. Thanks, though.

A silence.

And then...

The Bus Driver closes the doors and rolls out.

David watches the Bus disappear down the road.

WOMAN

(muttering)

Beautiful...

DAVID

I bet you say that to all the boys.

He tries to move, but can’t. She’s got him pinned down. And she’s dead weight.

DAVID

Shit. Sorry. Okay, I can’t--hold up a sec.

David struggles free. He helps the Woman up and over to a

BUS STOP BENCH

They sit together. She struggles to stay upright. He holds her up and in place.

DAVID

A’ight. So what were you saying?

She mutters again.

DAVID

You gotta speak up, lady. I don’t hear too good anymore on account of my tinnitus. Too many late nights at the bars standing by the jukebox. Ya feel me?

The Woman goes limps.

DAVID

Jesus--!

David catches her and holds her upright.

She looks up to him. Her dark hair and scarf obscure everything but her eyes.

WOMAN

(clearer)

Beautiful.

He pretends to take in the night sky.

DAVID

It is a nice night, ain’t it?

David turns back to the Woman.

The Woman’s clothes are fashionable but stained. Her skin is covered in thick scars. She bleeds from a nasty-looking wound along her hairline.

DAVID

So, uh, I’d love to soak up the ambiance a little more--really, I would. But I--

She touches his face with an outreached hand. He instantly goes calm.

They share a moment.

And then...

The Woman lurches forward and vomits.

DAVID

Fucking--you’re pretty fucked up, aren’t you, Lady?

The Woman looks up at David. Fresh vomit and drool runs thick down and through her scarf. Chunks of something are caught in her hair.

WOMAN

Am I beautiful?

David looks at the hot mess in front of him.

DAVID

Yeah, sure.

He helps her upright again.

DAVID (CONT’D)

So you got yourself a name, beautiful?

A drunken beat.

WOMAN

Tien.

David processes everything. And then...

DAVID

Can I buy you a drink, Tien?

TO BE CONTINUED...

Bright

Bright is a strange movie in that it presents a great basic concept but has absolutely no interest in presenting any of its ideas or themes in a convincing manner. It’s a deadly serious movie that constantly trips over itself with terrible attempts at jokes that it thinks are witty. It’s a movie that flashes its racial themes from the very start only to abandon such things almost entirely about halfway through. And despite the ever-present fantasy elements of orcs, faeries, and elves, the movie never really does much with them.

BY-THE-NUMBERS

Directed by David Ayer and based on a screenplay by Max Landis, Bright feels as unoriginal as it is. Because despite the genre mash-up, the movie itself is little more than a by-the-numbers cop drama.

Nick Jakoby, played here by Joel Edgerton, is rookie police officer and a Tolkien-styled Orc treated by humans and elves as nothing more than some poor, violent creature despite his efforts to rise above the stereotypes applied to his entire race for two-thousand years. He’s acclimated to whatever passes for general human culture. He does not act or talk like a stereotypical Orc. He doesn’t even partake in deep-rooted cultural traditions in the hopes of being better accepted by humans. But the police force, including his partner Daryl Ward (Will Smith), want him gone. Not for anything he’s done wrong, of course. Jakoby being an orc is simply bad enough.

But by becoming a cop, he’s also seen as a race-traitor by other Orcs, specifically those who live down to the same generic stereotypes usually associated with black and Latino gangs in Los Angeles

This all eventually leads to a confrontation with some corrupt cops who will do anything to see Jakoby removed from his position on the force, including having his partner kill and frame him for a crime he didn’t commit.

But when Ward puts honor and pride above deep-rooted racism, he finds a target on his own back. And now he and Jakoby must evade capture while also trying to figure a way to clear their names.

There’s also something about a cult, an ancient prophecy, and a magic wand. But none of this really matters or amounts to much outside of two key scenes.

DIM

And this really does summarize everything wrong with Bright: it’s formulaic and uninterested in being interesting.

The first half of the film is all about racism in American society by way of Los Angeles. But then the movie decides it’d rather focus on police corruption by way of cliche 80s action movies. And then, in a few places, it instead becomes about some pointless ancient prophecy and other fantasy nonsense.

In the end, the movie isn’t about anything. There’s no story. The characters are little more than placeholders playing out a generic plot with a fantasy twist. And its serious, weighty themes are just an excuse to provide a thin, pretentious veneer on a shallow cliche with nothing of value to say.

But worst of all, the movie doesn’t care.

At best, the racism simply reinforces old fantasy tropes of Elves being beautiful and good, Orcs ugly and evil, and humans being somewhere in-between. At worst, it’s a lazy plot device. There’s no attempt at commentary or playing with expectations. In fact, Jakoby and his struggle is hardly the focus here. Will Smith is front and center as a racist police officer who reluctantly becomes a little less racist as the movie drags on.

The drama of two police officers struggling to survive in Los Angeles with gangs, a cult, and the entire police department after them lacks any degree of tension. It never feels like our leads are in real danger. Every scene feels like its impatiently trying to rush to the next. And Jakoby and Ward never feel like they’re bonding through any of it.

And the movie’s few action sequences are just as formulaic and unexciting. There’s a bland car chase. A bland shootout at a nightclub. And a couple of brief, bland magical showdowns that exist just to remind us that we’re watching a genre mash-up.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The movie isn’t hard to watch. And it’s far from the being the worst movie of 2017. It’s not even the worst movie carrying the “Netflix Original” branding this year.

That said, Bright is an underwhelming, disappointing mess of a movie that completely squanders every idea (and dollar) it attempts to juggle. There is no nuance. No subtlety. And despite marketing to the contrary, this is not a blockbuster-caliber experience. In fact, the movie doesn’t even attempt to reach mock-buster levels of spectacle.

I’m sure there will be some misguided audience that will find enjoyment in the fact that this movie exists. But unless you’re desperate for a lazy attempt to blend Training Day with Lord of the Rings, your time will be better spent elsewhere. (Oddly enough, I think it’s worth noting that had Ayer used movies like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop as reference rather than more serious fare, Bright might have actually stood a chance. Maybe.)

Bright is easily a NO CHILL.

The Disaster Artist


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at James Franco’s The Disaster Artist!


The Disaster Artist is a strange movie about some strange people making one of the world’s strangest movies–Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-fascinating 2003 feature film, The Room.


A MOVIE ABOUT A MOVIE

At time’s the movie is uncomfortable. Other times it’s laugh-out-loud funny. But, most impressively, The Disaster Artist is consistently a sincere look at two men whose friendship allowed them both to live out their dream of being actors and making a movie that people love.

Based on the book of the same name, The Disaster Artist not only sees James Franco in the director seat but also features him as the perpetually mysterious actor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau. His brother Dave Franco, meanwhile, features as Greg Sestero, the writer of the aforementioned book and Wiseau’s best friend and co-star in The Room.

And while it might be easy to find yourself entertained by just the sheer amount of comedic talent present in the movie–a roster of notable actors that could easily rival that of 2013’s This is the End. While that alone might sell a lot of tickets, the movie’s greatest strength isn’t in the comedy but in the care Franco takes to present a sincere tale about friendship.

A MOVIE ABOUT PEOPLE

Despite being based on true events, Wiseau’s very real, very odd personality can easily be mistaken as a farce. He could have easily been presented as this over-the-top eccentric. And it would have worked just as well. The movie in fact, may have made for a more hilarious, slapstick experience in line with the sort of projects one usually associates with talent like Franco and Seth Rogen.

But this isn’t a movie aimed at having a laugh at Wiseau’s expense. The intentional grounding of everything results in a movie that, while comedic, is equally dramatic and touching.

Franco never makes light of Wiseau’s eccentric personality. At times, the intent is clearly to get audience’s to laugh at Wiseau–such as Wiseau’s super-melodramatic approach to acting. But at the same time, even scenes like this, are an insight into the man’s personality. He never does anything half-assed, or what he at least perceives as such. And, as a result, there are time where you will–by design–feel guilty for having laughed at all.

And as we see throughout the film–through the general playing out of scenes, but primarily through Franco’s eerily on-point portrayal of Wiseau–Wiseau’s behavior is not coming from a place of comedic arrogance and hubris. It’s that of a man who is strange, yes, but fiercely dedicated to his passions.

He loves his new friend Greg, to the point that he invites Greg to live with him the moment Greg earnestly displays his passion for acting. Tommy moves them both to Los Angeles so that they can both live out their dreams. And, ultimately, he doesn’t hesitate to foot the massive bill–rumored to be in excess of $6 million–to produce The Room–a labor of love intended to catapult both their careers.

A MOVIE ABOUT BROTHERS

Logical questions that should arise from watching the movie, such as who Tommy really is and how he can afford such things, are touched upon in the movie just as they were in real life–it simply doesn’t matter.

The mystery of who Tommy Wiseau is or might be isn’t the story here. Instead, it’s about a deep friendship between two very different men. Tommy is a man who is unintentionally abusive and cold when all he ever wants to do is make those around him happy. Greg, meanwhile, is a young man whisked away from home at the young age of 19 who does all he can to mitigate the damage Tommy unintentionally causes around him.

The Disaster Artist, on the surface, is a great comedy about the making of a bad drama. But beyond that, it’s a touching drama about two brothers struggling to live out their dream. One doesn’t need to have seen Wiseau’s The Room to fully appreciate The Disaster Artist, but it certainly helps. And as a companion piece to The Room, it highlights precisely why that movie transcends it’s own numerous shortcomings–shortcomings that would have been a death sentence to any other film and those involved with it.

Funny, heartwarming, introspective, weird, and inspiring. All words that easily describe nearly every frame of this movie as well as the two men at the center of it all.

The Disaster Artist–even more so than the cult favorite movie that inspired it–is a definite CHILL.

The Cobbler


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look a surprisingly touching but deeply flawed dramedy from Adam Sandler, The Cobbler!


A concept ripped from a 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone entitled “Dead Man’s Shoes”, The Cobbler features Adam Sandler as Max Simkin, a man who suddenly finds himself capable of taking on the appearance of his customers whenever he wears their shoes.

But though he initially uses this ability for his own amusement, Max eventually finds himself unknowingly swept into the troubled life of a customer with a much more illicit career choice.

SIMPLE

The short and sweet of it is that The Cobbler is not a good movie.

But while many a cynic might see this as a given–what with Adam Sandler’s cinematic efforts in recent years–Sandler himself may very well be the best part of this film thanks to yet another strong dramatic performance.

When Sandler is afforded the opportunity to dig his teeth into the film’s more dramatic scenes, the film actually shines…if only for a brief moment or so. Because it’s only when the film invariably swerves back into questionable attempts at humor that it also reverts back into a dull, lifeless production with little to no charm.

WORKING IT

The Cobbler thrives when it maintains this image of a fairly serious drama with a lot to say about personal relationships, identity, and understanding. But then it completely nosedives when it ventures further into an illogical, misplaced plot about mistaken identity, drug deals, and crude humor.

Now, perhaps if the film’s attempts at humor weren’t limited to tired gags about Max pretending to be someone else and then failing to recreate their exact mannerisms–or taking jabs at the LGBT community with a horrifically stereotypical transgender “character” (and I use that term very loosely). But if the attempts at humor weren’t so juvenile, perhaps these scenes wouldn’t feel so out of place among the dramatic ones.

And it really is a shame that the movie’s humor is a constant detriment, because these dramatic moments consistently feel authentic and moving.

For example, there’s a particular sequence later in the film in which Max begrudgingly puts on a pair of his estranged father’s shoes so as to comfort his lonely, elderly mother. This touching, sentimental sequence is a well-earned highlight of the film. And The Cobbler would have been so much better off if there were more like it.

THAT SAID

That said, at best, The Cobbler is a disjointed mess that often reveals hints of a far better film than the final product proves to be. At worst, it’s yet another forgettable entry in Sandler’s ever-expanding list of disappointing movies. And in either case, those thinking of viewing The Cobbler might be better served watching that far superior fifty-year old episode of The Twilight Zone.

But, for me, The Cobbler is a definite NO CHILL.

4:44: The Last Day


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at a curious character drama with an end-of-the-world backdrop, 4:44: The Last Day!

Transcript of the review can be read below.


4:44: Last Day on Earth, from writer/director Abel Ferrara, tells the brief story of the final hours of an aging actor by the name of Cisco, played here by Willem Dafoe, and his nubile and much younger artist girlfriend, Skye. As the couple struggle with a variety of personal problems, they–along with the rest of the world–await the end of all life as they know it. A moment that is to happen at precisely 4:44 AM Eastern Standard Time.

It’s About the Characters

While the backdrop is that of an impending and inevitable apocalypse, the film itself is actually a low-budget character study that focuses entirely on the mental states and relationship of its two artistic and damaged characters. Cisco’s failed marriage had him running into the arms of a younger woman. And Skye is an emotional wreck in a codependent relationship with art as her only outlet.

Dafoe is–as always– incredible in his portrayal of Cisco. He thrives in the role and manages to make an otherwise unlikable mess of a man a sympathetic individual. In the film’s rather short run time of 84 minutes, Dafoe takes Cisco across the spectrum of emotions.

One moment he’s entirely lost in his passion and lust for Skye. The next moment he’s calm and preoccupied with the way other people are awaiting the end of the world. And then, he’s suddenly wrapped up in a storm of his own confusion and anger and fear as he’s forced to confront all of his guilt, rage, and lot in life.

And it is a testament to Dafoe’s ability as an actor that he does all this organically. A lesser actor would not only fail to register such extreme emotions without coming off as a bit hammy (and we’ll get to that in a minute). But they’d also be unable to deliver the subtle nuances that exist between all the chaos.

There’s a persistent sense of fear, of a man running away from his fears and responsibilities in everything that Dafoe does on screen as Cisco. Even when he’s engaged in the more tender (and intimate) moments with his much younger co-star, it feels like a natural portrayal that might otherwise come off as weird and creepy.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Shanyn Leigh
and her portrayal of Skye.

While she’s more than capable of playing to the emotionally immature side of the character, Leigh otherwise has two settings: crying mess and bored-faced child. Her range as an actress isn’t strong here (and if she’s better elsewhere, I haven’t a clue). And it only appears worse when she’s sharing the scene with the much more experienced Dafoe.

This unfortunately hurts the character dynamics quite a bit as it feels like Dafoe is carrying much of the emotional weight of the film by himself.

This is a story very much about two lovers facing down not only the end of the world, but also every possible bit of personal drama possible. And it’s hard–maybe even impossible–to properly show that on screen when only half of the people involved are doing their part.

Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t feel the plight of Skye as she struggles with the impending end of a short-life filled with angst. It’s very much there. But it can’t even begin to compare to the roller coaster we see with Cisco.

And because of this, it often feels as if we only get half a movie here. So much so that 4:44 probably could have been done better as a short film rather than a feature.

Typical Indie

That said, despite a great concept, a director with the experience of Abel Ferrara, and the acting chops of Willem Dafoe…4:44 feels too much like a “typical” indie film.

And what I mean by this is that the story gets lost in long, dialog-heavy scenes that are just as much a mess as Cisco’s state of mind. The on-screen relationships are barely there…the blame for which can partly be put on Shanyn Leigh’s acting. But it also all highlights the many flaws with Ferrara’s script and directing.

Characters come in and out with little purpose or direction other than exposition, such as the angry ex-wife who spouts off why Cisco is a bad husband. Or the lax mother who coddles a childish and crying Skye. And while I enjoy the use of a (mostly) single-location setting, it only further adds to this vibe that the film was some adaptation of a two-man stage play.

Only Mostly Misses

The movie is certainly deserving of the generally negative reception it’s received. And perhaps with a better co-star and even a better writer/director, the film could have been a career highlight for Dafoe. It certainly would have made the movie worthy of the praise it apparently received on the film circuit.

But the film is what it is–a sincere but messy attempt at a deep character drama that aimed high and largely missed the mark.

That said, the movie still somehow manages to hit just the right emotional beats often enough. And the concept and Dafoe’s acting is well-worth the 84-minutes spent CHILLING with 4:44: The Last Day.

Mall


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at thriller-drama, Mall, directed by Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn.


Mall tells the would-be tragic story of an emotionally unstable addict by the name of Mal, a man who decides to go on a killing spree one morning.

Why he does this is never really made all that clear or relevant. All we do know is that, eventually, he takes his
whirlwind of death and destruction to the titular mall–a setting that hasn’t been socially relevant in over 20 years.

MALLRATS, BUT NOT

The bottom line regarding Mall is that it simply doesn’t work. Imagine Kevin Smith’s Mallrats as a somber film featuring a goofy, pretentious college student pining after a girl with no discernible qualities other than being pretty, a random pervert, and a mall rampage…instead of a comedy which also features all of these things.

The charm, wit, self-awareness, and likable characters of Mallrats are absent. Instead, we’re presented with several unsympathetic, vapid placeholders. And Mallrats‘ several wafer-thin plots are all replaced with nothing of interest.

VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE

But aside from committing the grave cinematic sin of being uninteresting, Mall also goes a step further by operating in a ridiculously small world of sheer coincidence.

For example, the police officer who we see hassle a young man at the top of the film also happens to be the same one
who arrives at the mall to arrest Vincent D’Onofrio’s Danny, a man caught peeping on a desperate housewife-type in a fitting room.

In fact, everyone we meet and follow prior to Mal’s arrival at the mall is pointed out and given eerily accurate summaries of their entire characters by another character, Jeff. Mal himself is even revealed to be the son of a character who also happens to be at the mall simply because the script demands it.

What could have been–what should have been an introspective narrative that shows us how several lives are
affected by a sudden, terrible tragedy…is reduced to a series of loosely connected scenes that quickly abandon any
pretense of telling a cohesive or meaningful story.

SAY WHAT

Mall is a well-shot, decently acted movie with some interesting ideas that also has some terrible, on-the-nose
dialog and a plot that refuses to go anywhere. Worse, it desperately wants to be seen as far deeper and smarter than it really is.

Now, it could be argued that the film is possibly an intentional send-up of the problems present in many similar
films because of the way it blatantly waves around its own. But just because a film can accurately point out the glaring flaws of those around it doesn’t necessarily mean it has
anything worth saying.

Mall certainly has nothing worth saying, nor does it present anything worth watching…aside from D’Onofrio’s performance, perhaps. And that’s why I can’t give it anything other than a NO CHILL.

American Mary


On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at body-horror/drama American Mary!


American Mary is a fun, ambitious, and somewhat messy movie that follows Katharine Isabelle as Mary Mason, a desperate medical student turned back-alley plastic surgeon.

CLASSIC TUNE, NEW SPIN

The short of it is that American Mary is easily and often at its best when alluding to classic horror stories of mad scientists, their creatures, and a world that doesn’t understand them. Brought to us by the twin set of writers/directors Jen and Sylvia Soska, American Mary is less a modern horror movie and more so a quick-paced drama that dives into the darker side of medical school and the subculture of body modification.

Katharine Isabelle’s Mary stands in for characters like Victor Frankenstein, her eager and willing patients for the monster, and malicious professors, cops, and slighted significant others for the mob that eventually comes for them with torches and pitchforks.

And for however long a scene dedicates itself to questioning Mary’s actions, exploring that moral and ethical gray area surrounding extreme body modifications, the film succeeds. This modern, grounded, and dramatic spin on the sorts of stories often relegated to the sort of schlocky fun seen in post-World War II horror comics and B-films affords the movie some narrative flexibility. Allowing it to play with a strange premise while simultaneously digging at meatier themes that the stories in old comics like Tales from the Crypt didn’t have the time (or desire) to explore in greater depth. In this case, Mary is often troubled by her conflicting desire to pay for medical school and her increasingly viable career as an illegal surgeon capable of sculpting her patients in almost every way imaginable.

MONSTER IMPERFECT

However, the film is somewhat derailed by an unnecessary subplot that focuses on Mary’s revenge against a man who sexually assaults her. This subplot does nothing to flesh out the main plot or themes of the film. Instead it only seems to exist to steer the film, temporarily, into the realm of body horror.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these detours damage the overall narrative by twisting Mary into a somewhat malicious monster rather than the sympathetic and flawed protagonist she is for much of the film. And it proves not just unnecessary but quickly forgotten and redundant as another plot point organically derived from the film’s main narrative not only covers similar ground but ultimately leads to the film’s climax.

In hindsight, it feels as if this revenge subplot only exists to pad what would have otherwise been a sub-90 minute run time. But an 80-minute cut would have been better paced and structured with less muddled characterization than the final 103-minute version that ultimately saw release. If anything, these twenty-or-so minutes might have been better spent further exploring Mary’s central moral and ethical dilemma.

REFURBISHING THE WHEEL

Problematic subplots aside, American Mary is still a fun watch that more often than not feels like an ambitious take
on a classic horror story. And while it doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt at reinventing the wheel–and is at times shallow and out of sync with the rest of the film–Mary’s journey from struggling student to respected artist to condemned monster is a compelling narrative. And one that is sure to engage fans of both horror and drama who take my advice to CHILL with American Mary.