Why was FREE GUY fun but unfulfilling?

Yes, my name is Guy, and I watched FREE GUY the second day it hit theaters, as required by Guy Law.

Is it worth watching in a theater? Sure. This is a fun summer movie. But that’s not the most interesting question.

The acid test for a movie, even a summer action film or comedy, is simple: Would I watch it again?

And listen, we can make that test far more accurate and meaningful. Here’s how:

  1. How much would I pay to watch it again, and again?
    versus
  2. How much would you need to PAY ME to watch the thing one more time?

There are plenty of films that are worth watching once and never again. The movies that are rewatchable are golden nuggets of cinema worth treasuring forever.

Here are two examples, both somewhat similar to FREE GUY:

BOSS LEVEL is worth watching again and again, because I have literally watched it five-point-seven bazillion times.

Why is it worth two hours of your life, repeatedly? Because it mixes action with comedy so well, and has moments–like the sword training and fight scene–that never get old.

Similarly, THE EDGE OF TOMORROW is a movie that you can watch again and again. The more you hate Tom Cruise as an actor, the more you like this movie, seeing how you get to watch him die a ton of times in a war zone before he redeems himself. Also, Emily Blunt is a total badass in this thing.

FREE GUY is thankfully an original script and not a movie based on an actual video game or ancient board game like BATTLESHIP, which they actually got Liam Neeson to do a movie about, for the love of all that is holy.

Yet despite being fun, there’s something missing when you walk out of that theater after watching FREE GUY.

Here’s what I think that missing thing is: you can’t buy the ending, no matter how much bubblegum ice cream they pile on it.

Spoilers galore from here out.

So the key relationship is between Guy and Millie, with Guy not realizing he’s in a video game and Millie looking like a supermodel inside and outside the game.

In the end, they do NOT get together, because Guy is just an AI with a pretty digital face, so Guy becomes single and Millie gets together with…Annoying Tech Dweeb.

Listen, this doesn’t work on a number of levels. The audience WANTS Guy and Millie to get together for real. They do not, in any part of their popcorn-munching bodies, want Millie to hook up with Annoying Tech Dweeb.

Honestly, real-life Millie is beautiful enough to get pretty much any man she wants. It’s not believable that she settles for a man she ignored for years despite his blatant crush on her.

How could we fix the ending and the movie?

First, we don’t need three Tech Gurus — Annoying Tech Dweeb, his sidekick, and Millie are all coders.

You need one coder in this movie, and that’s Millie, so we can safely axe the other two characters. I mean, put a gun to my head and I cannot remember either one of their names. THAT IS A SIGN, RYAN REYNOLDS AND SCREENWRITING PEOPLE.

The other stakes were whether Millie and Annoying Tech Dweeb won their intellectual property battle with Korg, and listen, I didn’t not care about that at all.

Second, there’s only one true romantic question built up in this movie, and that’s whether Millie and Guy get together.

Third, how do we give the audience what they want–Millie and Guy actually getting together–in a way they don’t expect?

Here’s how: you go MATRIX or TRON LEGACY.

The MATRIX path has Neo take the right pill (I don’t know if it’s red or blue and do not care, sorry) and enter the Matrix so he can hang out with Trinity.

If he stayed in what he saw as the real world, there’d be no future with her. Zero. None. Nada.

The TRON LEGACY option means going the opposite route and taking somebody (Olivia Wilde!) from the digital world to the real world.

So let’s pick one of those options: you make Guy a real Guy or bring Millie into the digital world.

Turning the digital Ryan Reynolds into a real-life Ryan is the easy and expected choice. The more surprising and deep thing would be making the stakes more real for Millie and going digital for her.

Give her a ticking clock–a deadly cancer, say–and have her desperately needing the servers and such to upload her consciousness into FREE CITY to survive.

High stakes now, right? And that would be an ending that stuck with audiences.

What went right, and wrong, with WELCOME TO SUDDEN DEATH?

Michael Jai White is one of the best action movie stars, period. I put him up there with Jason Statham and Scott Adkins.

His fight scenes are always inventive, and he’s simply fun to watch whether it’s a straight thriller like BLOOD AND BONE or a comedy like BLACK DYNAMITE.

So what felt off about WELCOME TO SUDDEN DEATH, which is a sort-of sequel to a Jean Claude Van Damme movie with the same premise: DIE HARD in a sports arena.

Check out the trailer before the customary smack talking begins.

The Good

There are good fight scenes in this movie, and Michael Jai White is totally likeable in here, as usual. There’s also good comic relief his cowardly sidekick, another arena employee who is super reluctant to take on a bunch of professional bad guys.

The Bad

Something seems off through the whole movie.

It looks fake–too well-lit, too in-focus. Maybe they shot it with some kind of cutting-edge 4k camera and we’re used to some film grain. Dunno. Worth thinking about, seeing how I remember they had the same sort of problem with THE HOBBIT movies being shot in 60 fps or whatever.

Compare that first trailer to a scene from probably the best Michael Jai White movie of all time, BLOOD AND BONE.

Notice how the camera moves, how it puts certain characters in focus while blurring the background, and how things don’t seem perfect without being clunky?

It just feels more real. Like you’re somebody in the crowd watching the action.

The Ugly

The other thing that bugged me was the villain, who was a little too jittery and on-the-nose with his dialogue to be truly scary. One of his minions, a fighter with a shaved head who said hardly anything, actually was super scary. Make that guy your baddie and we’ve got a better movie.

VERDICT

But hey, things to quibble with in a movie during the global zombie apocalypse are far less important than the only question that matters: Should you fire up the Series of Tubes and watch it?

Yes. Anything starring Michael Jai White is basically (a) Watchable, (b) A Popcorn Fest, or (c) So Knowingly Bad It Circles Back to Good.

It’s a cheesy action movie, not two hours of a black-and-white French existentialism flick that you talk about with your bestie until the sun comes up at Denny’s and the waitress gets sick of you drinking endless coffee and ordering your fifth side of fries because it’s been five hours and she knows you’re a starving college student or starving artist/writer type and the tip is going to be a joke.

Fire it up and watch this thing. Then watch BLOOD AND BONE for the first time, or the second, before closing your eyes later this week and picking a Michael Jai White movie totally at random, as required by law.

Fire up the Netflix and watch Chadwick Boseman in MESSAGE FROM THE KING

chadwick boseman

This is not one of his more famous roles–it’s kind of an obscure movie. A hidden treasure. And because this week is where we pay tribute to the King, there’s no better way than to talk up movies he made that people may not know about. Especially this one.

Here’s the trailer, then we’ll chat.

What makes this so good?

I mean, Chadwick Boseman could have gone grocery shopping in Safeway with a short list, and I’d still watch 40 minutes of film about him talking to the woman at the seafood counter about sea scallops and clams.

MESSAGE FROM THE KING isn’t a big-budget movie. I doubt there’s a single frame of CGI in this film. More and more, I appreciate films that rock without an ounce of CGI.

What makes this so special isn’t just Boseman’s acting, which is always stellar. I like how this thriller sets up our hero as being badly outnumbered and outgunned, in a foreign land, and still winning–not because he’s faster and tougher than the bad guys, which is the typical path of any action movie. On occasion, they’ll mix it up and have the hero win by being more brutal and bloodthirsty. You know, DEATH WISH or DIRTY HARRY style.

This movie shows our hero do clever thing after clever thing. And yes, he gets into fights, but he does it smart. In the final confrontation, instead of taking on all the bad guys on a rainy rooftop, outnumbered 10-to-1, minimum, he uses the greed of the villains against them. It’s so well done.

Chadwick Boseman was an amazing talent and it still hits me that he’s gone.

Note: If you like the accent he used when playing Black Panther, his character in this movie is from South Africa, and he does the accent so damn well I freaked out when seeing him speak at the MTV Awards show, kinda like hearing Christian Bale’s natural Welsh accent for the first time and your brain is completely befuddled.

It’s worth watching the clip for what he does during his acceptance speech for Best Hero–what a decent, honorable, good-hearted man.

VERDICT

Fire up Netflix, watch this film, and raise your glass in Boseman’s memory.

HEIST is a master class in tying character arcs to plot twists

As a public service, I’ve watched 99.9 percent of everything on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Whatever Blu-Rays are Inside that Shoebox I Found in Yonder Cupboard.

HEIST is what I saw last night, and (1) yes, it’s worth sending radiation at dried corn kernels for you to snack on while watching this thing, and (2) there are interesting storytelling techniques we’re going to talk smack about here on this website blog WordPress thing.

Because I care about you, this is the trailer:

So yes, you’ve got Negan (whoa!), Drax the Destroyer (double-whoa!!), and Robert-Freaking-DeNiro (you lie!!!) in the same movie?¬†Plus Gina Carano? NO WAY.

Way.

Here’s the thing that I want to talk about: each of these characters has a distinct arc, one that not only works by itself, but is a vital part of the twists and reversals that serve as the V-8 engine of this story.

  • Negan is the hero with a deadline, an Army vet and card dealer who needs to find $400,000 by 7 p.m. on Friday for his daughter’s cancer treatment.
  • Drax the Destroyer is the casino security guard with the idea of robbing the place, and the one running the job.
  • Robert DeNiro is the cut-throat businessman who owns the casino and is (a) estranged from his daughter, his only family, and (b) dying of cancer.
  • Gina Carano is the cop chasing Negan and Drax in their getaway bus.

That’s right, a getaway bus. Remember SPEED, with Neo stuck on a bus that can’t go less than 55 or the bus and all its passengers go boom? This movie isn’t a straight ripoff. Being stuck on the bus, though, with the cops surrounding you, is a great premise. They run out of diesel once, and have to work around that. The cops shoot out a tire. There are just all sorts of great problems presented by being stuck on that bus.

But I want to talk about the intersection of the character arcs and story beats.

Negan improves the plans of Drax, who’s running the job, and he’s clearly smarter than the hothead Drax.

So it makes storytelling sense that instead of letting Drax kill a hostage–the bus driver–Negan shoots Drax instead.

Then it’s the bus driver who has the idea of how to get Negan off the bus while leading the bad detective (in the pay of Robert DeNiro) to chase the bus somewhere else.

To get the money off the bus, Negan uses a fake pregnant “hostage”–his sister–and makes sure she’s the first hostage released. Clever.

And when DeNiro spares Negan, shooting his hotheaded protege before he can kill the card dealer who stole his money, you believe it, because DeNiro has been questioning his path the whole movie, and this makes sense. He’s trying to do right by the world now.

Finally, you believe Gina’s police officer character looking the other way at the end, and letting Negan save his daughter, because it’s not a sudden change of heart. They’ve set this up with scene after scene where Negan and Gina both try to do the right thing, regardless of the personal cost, while Drax tries to MURDER DEATH KILL everything in sight.

There isn’t a lot of Christopher Nolan cheating going on here, storywise. The setups are all there if you look for them, or remember. I just enjoy how the character and story beats mesh so well, and when the revelations all hit at the end, it makes you impressed with Negan’s cleverness and selflessness and happy about DeNiro’s final acts and Gina’s compassion.

All of this is nice contrast to most action movies, where evil and bloody things happen to just about any character at any time, except for the hero, because everyone but the hero is basically a bad guy who’s gonna die or a sidekick type who’s also gonna die. I mean, come on. White Bearded Mentor Who’s Kinda Like Obiwan Crossed with Mr. Miyagi? Dead by the end of Act 1. Hot girlfriend, sweet wife, or cute little daughter? Kidnapped by the end of Act 2. Sidekick who’s there mostly for tech support and comic relief? Impaled on a swordfish at the beginning of Act. 3. Femme Fatale with a thing for the hero? Fed to the sharks with lasers right before the rooftop battle with the Final Boss.

VERDICT

HEIST is clever and entertaining movie that reminds me a lot of SHIMMER LAKE (a perfect movie, go watch it, DO IT NOW) in that you’re cheering on a good man doing wrong things for the right reasons. It’s free on Netflix so fire it up.

 

The acid test for all writing

I believe, deep in my soul, that Zack Snyder-style gritty darkness isn’t bad simply because Zack Snyder directs it. Gritty Dark Dourness would be bad if the love child of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock sat in the director’s chair.

And yes, it’s still fun to laugh at BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN: THE DAWN OF JUSTICE.

But there’s something smart and deeper behind the idea that the Marvel movies got things right by being (a) funny and (b) exciting, while the DC / Snyderverse went wrong by taking itself far too seriously and going Full Melodrama, with a color palette full of grays and blacks contrasted by grays and more blacks. You never go Full Melodrama, because it makes your audience feel like the movie’s being written and directed by a bipolar Michael Bay who’s crying in a corner when he’s not blowing stuff up.

And all this made me think.

Because comedy isn’t actually light and fluffy. True comedy points out how absurd and unfair the world is, and how you can’t fix it and have to laugh at the insanity of it all.

My proposition is this: adding comedy to a book or movie doesn’t make it light and lame kiddie fare. Interweaving comedy into whatever–an action movie (every Marvel movie ever), a romance (ROMANCING THE STONE and every rom-com), a mystery (SHIMMER LAKE is perfect perfect perfect, go watch it now on Netflix, kthxbai)–can make it infinitely better.

We were talking yesterday about our favorite books of high lit-rah-sure, and my favorites were CATCH-22, Kurt Vonnegut and the ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL books, because I’ll happily go back and re-read any of these. What do they have in common? They’re universally beloved, recognized as classics, and funny as hell.

But making you laugh isn’t their only trick, like a SNL skit that repeats itself 459 times in four minutes. The best storytellers serve us different courses for our emotions over the length of a movie or book. They don’t dish up sad scene after sad scene, or pile up joke after joke. You get an appetizer, a main course, side dishes and dessert. Not five appetizers in a row or a plate full of six desserts.

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL does this beautiful. The original book and its sequels are really short stories strung together. Each one, though, makes you feel a variety of emotions. Joy, sadness, laughter, love. You see the struggling young vet and the hard-scrabble farmers, and when an animal dies, or a sick cow makes it because a poor farmer stayed up all night tending to that animal, yeah, you might tear up.

That’s what makes us come back to those books and movies.

Not the plot points–we know what will happen. Not the writing.

We want to feel.

So that leads me to the acid test for me, as a writer. It’s how I know whether a draft is working or not.

Here’s the test: If I’m not tearing up, it’s not working.

Tears of joy, tears of laughter, tears of sadness–I better be feeling something as I write the ending. If I don’t, bring on the rewrite.

So yes, we can make fun of the dour, dark Snyderverse, and relentlessly depressing lit-rah-sure like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, where the scenery is beautiful and everybody’s rich and having affairs and in the end, everybody sells out to the Nazis and dies, the end, roll credits, and THROW SILVERWARE AT THE SCREEN BECAUSE THIS IS STUPID.

What do you want the audience to feel?

That’s the real question. And you have to feel it first.

Should you fire up Netflix and watch EUROVISION SONG CONTEST?

Listen: comedy is incredibly hard. Maybe the hardest thing when it comes to storytelling and entertainment. Because you have to take risks, and most of those gambles won’t pay off.

This is why movies coming out of Saturday Night Live alums are hit-and-miss. A joke that gets stale and repetitive during a three-minute sketch is just about impossible to stretch into a 120-minute movie.

I swear the best comedies are made in the editing suite–throw 100 things at the wall, go wild, and have the editor and director pick the 10 things that really work while chucking the other 90.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST may seem like one of those skits, something that might be hilarious for one song and painful to sit through for an entire movie. Check out the trailer.

I’m happy to say the opposite is true. This is fresh, funny, and surprisingly good.

The movie is set in Iceland, which needs to be featured more. It’s a wild place. Having visited there, it’s nice to see it in a major movie.

And while this is a comedy, the ending is excellent and surprisingly moving. TEARS MAY BE SHED. I won’t spoil it all by including the final song. Instead, here’s VOLCANO MAN, a great appetizer for the movie.

VERDICT

You’ve already burned through everything else on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and your brother’s DVD collection.

Give EUROVISION SONG CONTEST a go–it won’t disappoint.

Why ANNA violates three laws of action movies

I come to praise ANNA, not bury it.

My love for Luc Besson movies is strong. THE TRANSPORTER is beautiful and completely rewatchable, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is creatively wild, and pretty much anything he does is worth checking out.

ANNA is another action movie with KGB spies, the CIA, John-Wick style gun fu and a lot to recommend it. You should fire up the interwebs and watch it when you’ve plumbed the depths of Netflix.

Yet there are laws for action movies, laws carved into our brains and souls by the sweat and blood of Action Movie Gods, and woe unto those writers and directors who willingly break these laws.

ANNA is good.

Unbreaking these laws could have made it great, and there’s always hope for a Special Edition Director’s Cut or whatever.

THE FIRST LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: SAVE THE BEST FOR THE CLIMAX

The exact genre doesn’t matter. Gunslinging westerns, martial arts films, spy thrillers, and Let’s Catch The Genius Serial Killer films all need to do one thing: escalate.

This rule actually applies to every movie and novel. Start strong, but end stronger.

It’s just easier to see and quantify with action movies, because you can do things like count bodies.

What do you want to avoid? The opposite, which would be starting out with your absolute best action scene, then a middling one, and finally an appetizer–or no action scene at all.

That’s basically what ANNA does. There’s a beautiful fight scene in a restaurant that happens early. You’re going to google the thing, so here it is:

Crazy good, right? It makes you expect something even bigger and better at the end.

Except you don’t get that. The climax kinda switches to pure spy thriller instead of action movie, giving the audience get triple-crosses and disguises and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE kinda stuff.

And it feels like a let-down. You’re cheering for our heroine to do the restaurant thing again on the bad guys, except everybody is basically bad and double-crossing each other.

THE SECOND LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: STICK TO ONE TIMELINE

When was the last time you saw a flashback that worked in a movie or book?

They don’t work. I hate them with the fire of a thousand burning suns.

Bad action movies give us a couple flashbacks of the Dead Mentor training the hero and imparting wisdom, right before being killed by gangsters or the villain. Good thrillers avoid flashbacks entirely.

ANNA gives us flashbacks and flashforwards out the wazoo, and it kills the story. Because really what they’re doing is going back to give the audience setups after they just watched the payoffs. It’s not surprising or fun–it’s a lazy way to patch holes in a story. “Hey, here’s three months earlier, which will explain why that just happened.”

No. Just no.

Keep it linear. One timeline, straight through.

THE THIRD LAW OF ACTION MOVIES: GIVE US A VILLAIN

Whatever you think of Tom Cruise, the last MISSION IMPOSSIBLE gave us a great, great bad guy: Superman/The Witcher.

Sure, there was an overt baddie, but he was a puppet of Superman/The Witcher, who was pulling all the strings. And since thrillers are about betrayal, especially spy thrillers, this was a great twist.

ANNA doesn’t give us a villain. There’s no final faceoff and beautiful fight. She slips away.

I’d argue that the most villainous character is Helen Mirren’s, who you can see in the trailer for a bit.

She does all sorts of Very Bad Things, and deserves to get completely Restauranted–but instead, Anna helps her take control of the entire KGB.

So yeah, not a very satisfying ending. Bad guys kinda win while the hero disappears.

VERDICT

Hey, this thing is still fun and completely watchable. Well worth firing up, and there’s nothing wrong with the actors. The lead actor does an amazing job–put her in more movies.

It simply could be much, much better with some structural tweaks. Save the best for last, Luc!

JESSICA JONES repeats the same storytelling mistake as GAME OF THRONES

So the last season of GAME OF THRONES went sideways, according to All the Fans–and as somebody who’s now watched all three seasons of JESSICA JONES, the writers and showrunners make the same storytelling mistake with the ending.

And listen, the ending is everything.

How can a gritty, superhero series screw up in the same way as an epic with swords and dragons? 

Here’s how. (Warning: this whole post is Spoily McSpoilerface.)

Reason No. 1: Always save the Big Bad Guy for the finale

For five-point-seven billion years, GAME OF THRONES built up the icy blue Avatar-looking guy, the Night King, as the Big Bad of the series.

At the same time, the show served up the Mother of Dragons and her cousin/boyfriend Jon Snow as heroes, as far as what passes for heroes go in a story where everybody is a murderous nutbag.

But there’s no real protagonist in this giant cast, and Ayra is the one who offs the Night King long before the final episode.

Same thing with the last season of JESSICA JONES.

For all of Season 3, the Big Bad was this serial killer known as Salinger.

But instead of saving a confrontation with the villain for the finale, we get meh from both series.

The Night King’s death should have been saved for the last episode, with the Mother of Dragons or Jon Snow being the fan favorites to sit on the Iron Throne.

Instead, the Night King got killed and the show became a hot mess. Nobody was aching to see Emilia lose it and have her dragon fry the city, or see Kit stab his former lover, or have Bron-whatever take the throne for some random reason after Tyrion goes all Jar-Jar in the Galactic Senate on us. No. Just no.

JESSICA JONES repeats the same mistake. Salinger gets offed before the final episode.

Reason No. 2: Once the Big Bad is dead, your momentum goes buh-bye.

Let’s talk about other movies we’ve all seen for a second and play this out.

RETURN OF THE JEDI — Instead of Vader tossing Emperor Wrinkly Face down the bottomless pit and the Death Star getting blown up, all that happens in Act 2, with the entirely of Act 3 all about how Luke has to hunt down and fight Han Solo after he went nuts and helped the Ewoks slaughter and barbeque 15,000 Imperial stormtrooper prisoners.

Terrible, right? This is much better.

You have to save the Big Bad for the final act, the final episode, the last thing. Anything else makes the story out of order and flat.

Reason No. 3: If you’re going for tragedy, you have to fully commit

A mixed ending can be amazing. Some of the best movies and books have mixed endings.

CASABLANCA has the hero giving up the girl for a greater cause–beating Hitler and winning World War II.

But a mixed ending is also tough to pull off. 

When you get audience rooting for a character, and seeing them as a hero, it’s tough to see those character take a heel turn at the last minute.

In fact, audiences reject it. 

This is why tragedies fully commit.

They show the full fall from grace, from beginning to end, with the protagonist serving as both hero and villain. And the protagonist falls due to their own hand, via hubris.

BREAKING BAD did this perfectly. Sure, you saw things from Walter White’s point-of-view, and rooted for him a lot of time, but his ending felt absolutely right. He’d definitely sinned, and his downfall was deserved.

If you’re going with a tragedy, do it from the beginning with the protagonist. Not a side character like Trish.

It can work for the main character hero to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a secondary character. That’s not a tragic ending; it’s noble and heroic. See PRIVATE RYAN and ARMAGEDDON and five zillion other movies.

 

You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Quality matters. Oh, it matters a lot.

Nobody wants to pay money to see a movie that stinks, a book that you can’t get past Chapter 1 or an album where every song hurts your ears.

You want quality. I want quality. Everybody wants it.

But you can’t pitch quality.

And you can’t package it.

So unless you’ve got something else — a quirk, a hook, a unique twist — quality alone won’t get you anywhere.

It won’t get people to look, listen or read in the first place.

So let’s pitch and package random, made-up things. Why? Because it takes practice and because you’re too close to your own stuff to do it right. And because it’s fun.

First up: two different bands.

Band A is a trio: drummer, guitar and bass / lead singer. They’re all recent music school graduates in their late twenties. They’re serious, seriously talented, good-looking and ready to break out. Let’s say they play a lot of punk rock and post-grunge.

Band B looks like a sure-fire loser. They’re all five years old. College degrees in music? Try “Hey, we’re potty trained, and we know our ABC’s.” They don’t know how to read music, write music or understand music theory like the other band. The guitarist knows one trick: crank up the distortion and make it loud. But they know the rough melodies and words to three different Metallica songs, and they do a cover of ENTER SANDMAN that’s close enough to be damned funny.

Here’s a real-life example of this sort of thing. A ton of people — 383,000 plus — have watched this kid sing, DON’T BRUSH MY HAIR IN KNOTS while her brother or neighbor kid banged on the drums.

Alright, here’s your homework: Write a one-sentence pitch for each band. Four words, if you want to ace this. Six words if you feel like a Cheaty McCheaterface.

Do it now. Find a piece of paper or fire up Word and do a pitch for each. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll go find silly videos on YouTube about swamp monsters in Louisiana or whatever.

OK, time’s up. Let’s compare pitches.

My best shot at the music majors: “Nirvana minus flannelly angst.” Four words, and I’m sort of cheating by turning flannelly into a word. Hard, isn’t it? You can’t get anywhere saying any kind of variation on, “This band, they’re really, really good.”

My pitch for the kids: “Kindergarteners cover Metallica.” Three words. Doesn’t have to be poetry here. Are you going to click on a link that says “Nirvana minus flannelly angst” or “this band is amazing?”

No. Not when there’s another link that has five-year-olds playing heavy metal?

Who wins the quality test? The serious music majors, by a mile.

Who wins the pitch and packaging test? The little kids who play bad covers of heavy metal. It’s so much easier. I would have to kidnap reporters to get them to cover our post-grunge band of music majors.

Could I get free ink and airtime with the Heavy Metal Monsters of Hillman Elementary? Absolutely.

Next: two different books

Our quality book is a literary masterpiece that will make you cry while snorting coffee through your nose, then take a fresh look at life and possibly quit your job and join a Tibetan monastery. It’s about a middle-aged man who works in a cubicle farm and lives in surburbia with a wife who’s on industrial amounts of Prozac and a teenage daughter who’s too busy thumbing her iPhone to notice who provides her with food, shelter, clothing and a VW Passat with only 13,000 miles on it. The hero’s life changes when he gets mugged on the way home. Also, a mime is involved, and a janitor who lives in a shack but says witty, wise things before he gets hit by a train.

The other book is a cheesy sci-fi novel with horrible dialogue. The premise: dinosaurs didn’t die off after some asteroid hit. They were smart. Really smart. And they left the planet in a fleet of spaceships to escape Earth long before that asteroid screwed things up for millions of years. Now they’re headed toward earth. And they want their planet back.

Ready? One sentence pitch for each. Four words.

GO.

OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Here’s my instant, no-thinking pitches.

Literary book: “Hell is a cubicle farm.” Five words. More of a title than a pitch. It sings to me, though, in a small, squeaky, off-pitch voice.

Sci-fi nonsense: “Space dinosaurs invade earth.” This is a kissing cousin to “Comet will destroy earth,” which has been the basis for about six different movies, including five by Michael Bay, with the other one starring Morgan Freeman for some reason, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has ZERO CHANCE of flying up in a space shuttle with Bruce Willis and that dude who is an old college buddy of Matt Damon to blow up the comet,  asteroid or whatever with nuclear bombs.

VERDICT

The bottom line is, quality is one thing. In the end, it’s probably the most important thing.

Yet nobody will read your masterpiece, listen to your amazing album or see you act like no actor has acted in the history of acting-hood if they don’t get hooked by your pitch and packaging. They have to know you exist first.

Quality isn’t a pitch. “You should see that movie — it’s really good” doesn’t work. Your friends and family will ask, “What’s it about?” and if you don’t have four words to explain it, to give them a pitch, then forget it.

The next time to read a book, see a movie or listen to a great new song, think of four words.

How would you package it? What could you possibly say, just to your friends so they could see it, but to a reporter or a TV producer?

Top 10 creepy sea creatures — and why creatures are a staple of our weird news diet

Odd creatures aren’t just a staple of weird news stories.

They’re a huge box-office draw. Name a blockbuster or billion-dollar movie and it’s almost a sure bet that they feature fantasy or alien creatures.

Think about it: AVATAR, STAR WARS, the Harry Potter series and the lame Harry Potter prequel series, STAR TREK, MEN IN BLACK, any of the 5,832 Marvel movies, LORD OF THE RINGS and the lame Hobbit prequel series that should have been one flipping movie.

Yeah, there are cute fluffy creatures sometimes. Yet just about every giant hit has a zoo’s worth of Ewok’s, orcs, space elves or cybernetic raccoons with a gun fetish.

So what gives a creepy sea creature, man-eating forest monster or elephant-sized wild hog such power to fascinate us?

Let’s break it down.

WILL THIS MONSTER SEE ME AS A SNACK?

That’s the most visceral attraction, a caveman instinct we can’t get rid of: paying close attention to obvious threats.

And yes, a healthy chunk of weird creatures–whether they live in the sea, the mountains or your local forest–tend to be predators with humans possibly on the menu.

IS IT FASCINATINGLY DISGUSTING?

There’s some crossover here. Many of the things that can totally go nom-nom-nom on us–like leeches, lampreys, giant squids and alligators–can’t be called cute.

A bunch of non-threatening weird animals are only interesting because they’re so bizarre and repellent, like the blob fish.

THIS CAN’T BE REAL

Other strange creatures get our attention because we can’t believe they’re not CGI.

How do Christmas Tree Worms really eat? Do lampreys have eyes or are they just a wormy eel thing with giant teeth?

THE FLORIDA MAN TEST

Weird news stories typically involve people in groups (usually men) late at night plus alcohol or drugs and the following optional ingredients: firearms, dangerous wild animals, explosives, 7-Elevens, the police. Oh, and the state of Florida, a state that generates so many weird news stories that headlines starting with “Florida Man” and ending with bizarre mayhem are truly a thing.

So whether or not an odd creature gets featured in a weird news story may hinge upon it passing the Florida Man Test, as in: can a Florida Man use this creature to generate a headline?

Two great examples: alligators, pythons and sharks.

Florida Man has robbed a 7-Eleven late at night, hid from the cops in a pond and been eaten by a gator. An entirely different Florida Man carried a live gator into a gas station and used it to steal beer or money, or beer and money (I forget, wasn’t there, sorry).

Pythons have overtaken the Everglades, and may be impossible to eradicate. They’re devouring local animals and even trying to eat the gators.

Sharks are another common element in weird news, with Florida Man getting arrested for dragging a shark behind a boat.

One unlucky Florida Man has hit the weird news lottery, getting bit by a shark, punched by a monkey, bitten by a snake and struck by lighting. No joke.

VERDICT

I salute you, weird sea creatures that should not exist, and I hope global warming doesn’t bring too many of you within range of Florida.