The Friday High Five
Santa's brother, disturbing the Force, and questioning everything
Every Friday I share 5 things I enjoyed this week. Also, high fives are inherently cool, and I think we can all agree Friday is the bestest day. Hence the Friday High Five. 🙏🏻
My Favorite Thing This Week Was…
A Disturbance in the Force
The Star Wars Holiday Special is infamously bad. Words fail to accurately capture just how terrible it is. You have to see it to believe it. But I don’t advise that, because it’s so awful. Imagine a 1970s variety show assembled by writers coked out of their minds, and you still wouldn’t get close to the mark. Bea Arthur (e.g. Dorothy from Golden Girls) has a song-and-dance with the patrons from the Mos Eisley cantina and that’s one of the more watchable scenes.
A Disturbance in the Force is a recently-released documentary about the creation of the Special. It delves into how, and more importantly, why the Special was created. Nobody set out to create something disastrous. Sometimes that just happens. (Especially if coke is involved, and it definitely was.)
I’m going to be covering this in more depth because I feel compelled to write about it. The story is fascinating, as is what it says about the act of creation. The film is available for rent on most platforms, or you can just drop $10 to buy it straight-out.
Other Things I Enjoyed This Week
I think I might be the only person in the world who likes this movie.
That’s technically not true. Despite all the green this film has accrued on Rotten Tomatoes, at least 30 critics liked it. Which is about 30 more than I’d expected. Most critics are not comedy fans. How else do you explain modern comedic classics like Bridesmaids, 21 Jump Street, and Superbad all scoring below 90% on Rotten Tomatoes? Comedy is subjective, but some people are just miserable.1
Seeing as the holidays sometimes bring out the worst in people, a critic and a Christmas movie is basically a match made in hell. I would not be surprised to discover those critics were freelancing for Lucifer.2
As part of the ‘All the Christmas, All the Time’ journey my wife and I are currently on, we rewatched Fred Claus this past week. The movie is about Santa’s brother, who looks and talks a lot like peak Vince Vaughn. Honestly, the title is one of this movie’s clear missteps. Fred is just meh.
Fred Claus is fun and funny. It’s a heartwarming story of brotherly love, which I am a complete sucker for (brotherly love is the purest form of a bromance.) And the cast is absolutely stacked: Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates… Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a random 30-second cameo just because. Don’t get it twisted: Fred Claus has plenty of cheese. But that’s part of its charm.
I’m fascinated that at the height of his fame and movie cachet, Vaughn made Christmas movies in back-to-back years. Both are hilarious, but both are largely forgotten. And immediately after, his career took a steep decline. (Unless you think movies like Couples Retreat, The Watch, and The Internship are good.) Is there a correlation? It’s something I’m exploring and may end up writing about.
Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut
Alone time with my son typically means one of three things: a strategic board game, video games, or a long movie with lots of blood and also explosions. Dealer’s choice. He picked the latter option, and settled on the extended (and superior) cut of Kingdom of Heaven.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The film is about conflict over Jerusalem. It takes place during the time of the Crusades. The Christians have held Jerusalem for something like 100 years. There’s an uneasy peace between the Christian King and the Muslim Sultan. There are people clamoring for war on both sides, and eventually they get their wish.
There’s a lot that could be said about this film, but my favorite part by far is the anecdote Godfrey (Liam Neeson) shares with his son Balian (Orlando Bloom).
I once fought for two days with an arrow through my testicle.
The declaration drove my son and I into a fit of giggles. But under the laughs was pure awe and admiration.
But What If We’re Wrong
Subtitle: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
I’m a big Chuck Klosterman fan. He is a big thinker who happens to write about pop culture. His work makes me pause and think about things I’d never considered before. Sometimes that’s not always great—few things are more confidence-crushing than realizing someone else is just way smarter than you are, and the logical conclusions he reaches are ones you would never have arrived at on your own. But I think it’s important to challenge yourself sometimes. How else do you grow?
The ideas in But What If We’re Wrong are just as challenging. But they also come with a healthy dollop of existential angst. Klosterman raises a lot of points about timelessness, how some works remain relevant while others are lost forever.
I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s been a while and it fits so perfectly, so I’m going to trot it out again.
There is a brief scene in The Morning Show (Apple TV) that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. At one point during season one, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) reflects on his career as a morning news host and realizes he has created nothing of lasting value. Nobody will remember any of the thousands of broadcasts he starred in. People won’t watch footage of old shows the way they return to movies or books. It will be as though he was never even there.
That’s basically writing online in a nutshell.
Such long-view thinking is always at the back of my mind, as are the ensuing questions and doubts it raises. That’s all intensified now that I’ve rolled out a paid tier and people are actually giving me money to write stuff for them. Is what I’m working on worth the time? How long will this last? How long can it last?
With such thoughts in mind, it’d be easy to spiral completely, especially since every writer is just one bad day away from having some kind of episode. That’s the nature of this kind of work. When you open yourself up to create something, you also leave the door cracked for negative things to get in. I had never been depressed until I started writing. That’s the honest truth.
I don’t put stock in muses or spiritual influences on the creative process—as always, Han Solo said it best, “There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.”—but there’s also no denying the side-effects that come from writing.3
Sorry, this is supposed to be a pop culture newsletter.
In closing: I’m enjoying But What If We’re Wrong even as it basically makes me question my entire existence. The goodish news: I’m already focused on long-form, evergreen writing.
This is the weirdest book recommendation in history.
Solo: A Story Wars Story
(My subtitle: A completely unnecessary film that is entertaining and also better than you remember.)
My brother-in-law was randomly watching Solo on TBS—with commercials and everything—on Thanksgiving. I wandered into the living room with the movie already underway. I immediately recognized Star Wars—obviously—but couldn’t place it. It had the grittiness and shadows of Andor. And then I saw Han, and knew.
Naturally, I sat down just before the movie’s infamously awful scene.
Apart from this faux pas, I was mesmerized, and decided I needed to rewatch the movie in its entirety.
Solo is far better than I remembered. It could’ve been exceptional if the movie wasn’t always tripping over itself to setup things that come later in the original films. But even accounting for that, it’s a good film and a great bit of Star Wars.
I have no shortage of things I want to write about (see above for a partial list) but I think a piece on Solo will be perfect for the book of Star Wars essays I’m working on. (A book which will be given to paid subscribers for being awesome.)
In a piece discussing Bridesmaids, I once said something like, “A critic wouldn’t recognize a good dick joke if it hit them in the face.” You might realize that’s a reference to the movie. It was one of my prouder moments.
Can you imagine the ‘benefits’ that would come from freelancing for the devil? Apart from that whole damnation thing—that’s a retirement perk, obviously. I’m assuming stuff like unlimited sulfur spring baths, an all-you-can-eat maggot and worm buffet, bring your phobia to work day, and laptops that eat your work if you stop typing.
The side-effects of writing (and I imagine any form of creative work): An ego that inflates and deflates suddenly and without warning, periods of crushing self-doubt, a gradual untethering from reality, hair loss (you can say it was inevitable given heredity, but I’m just saying—I had all my hair before I started writing), and random ennui with no clear source, and thus, no way to remedy.
It’s no wonder so many writers turn to drinking.