The Onion Movie (2008, directed by James Kleiner)

From some of the funniest people on Earth comes one of the least funny films ever made.

That was, at least, my initial reaction to watching The Onion Movie.  Written by two of the founders of the world’s premiere satirical news sight, The Onion Movie is a collection of skits that are almost all based on Onion headlines.  Some of the skits are amusing.  Most of them aren’t.  When it comes to the Onion, the headlines are often funnier than the details.  A headline about a murder mystery party switching over to a rape investigation party might be funny but having to sit through a lengthy skit about it is considerably less amusing.

Len Cariou plays an anchorman at the Onion News Network, who introduces each satirical story and who gets upset when his employers keep using his newscast to promote a new Stephen Seagal movie called Cock Puncher.  (Seagal, who appears as himself, punches people in the groin.  The joke would have been funnier if the fake movie had starred Dolph Lundgren.)  In between introducing absurd stories, Cariou yells at the network executives, who don’t care about the integrity of the news.  Len Cariou is the best thing in the film because he plays his role straight, never once smiling or winking at the camera.

The Onion Movie was written by two of the Onion’s founders and was originally filmed in 2003.  It sat on the shelf for five years before being released, without much fanfare, direct-to-video.  By the time it was released, The Onion itself had all but disowned the movie, announcing that they were no longer involved beyond the use of the site’s name.  (Something similar happened in the 80s when MAD Magazine briefly tried to branch out into films.)  Watching the film, it’s easy to see why The Onion distanced themselves from the final product.  It’s not just that, for the most part, it’s not very funny.  It’s also that the majority of the humor is shockingly racist and sexist.  (Halfway through the film, a black civil rights leader announces that he’s going to lead a walk-out to protest the way that blacks have been portrayed in the film.  It’s played as a joke but the man has a point.)  The Onion Movie wants credit for being politically incorrect but instead, most of the humor just feels lazy.  The Onion Movie is type of movie that, if it were released today, The A.V. Club would demand that it be banned.  Schadenfreude is nothing to brag about and I’m not proud that I felt some of that as I watched The Onion Movie.  If the people who created one of the funniest sites on Earth could create something this bad, I thought, that makes me feel better about every mistake I’ve ever made over the course of my entire life.

By the way, the film’s best joke is borrowed from Caddyshack but at least they got Rodney Dangerfield to come back and deliver it.  Dangerfield was always good, even in something like The Onion Movie.


A Movie A Day #151: Easy Money (1983, directed by James Signorelli)

Rodney Dangerfield.  He didn’t get no respect but he did smoke a lot of weed.

It’s true.  Rodney first lit up in 1942 when he was a 21 year-old struggling nightclub comic.  According to his widow, the moment meant so much to Rodney that, decades later, he could still remember the room number — 1411, at the Belvedere Hotel in New York City — where he and fellow comedians Bobby Byron and Joe E. Ross smoked that first joint.  That was back when Rodney was performing under the name Jack Roy.  (His was born Jacob Cohen.)  Rodney’s first comedy career went so badly that he quit and spent the next twenty-two years as an aluminum siding salesman until he found the courage to return to the stage.  However, whether he was selling or performing, Rodney never stopped smoking marijuana.  When he was working on his autobiography, he wanted to call it My Lifelong Romance With Marijuana.  His wife convinced him to go with a different title:  It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs.

There’s plenty of drugs in Easy Money, which is a problem for baby photographer Monty Capuletti (Rodney, of course).  Monty likes to gamble, drink, and smoke pot, much to the disapproval of his wealthy mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald).  When she dies, she stipulates in her will that if Monty goes for a year without indulging in any of his vices, he and his family will receive 10 million dollars.  Sounds easy, right?  The only problem is that Monty really likes to eat, drink, gamble, and get high.  His best friend (Joe Pesci) doesn’t think he can do it.  His mother-in-law’s former assistant, Quincy Barlow (Jeffrey Jones), is determined to catch Monty slipping back into his old ways so that he can inherit the money.  Monty’s determined, though, to win the money for his family, especially now that his daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has married the bizarre Julio (Taylor Negron).

The episodic plot is really just an excuse for Rodney to be Rodney, spouting off one liners and making snobs like Quincy look foolish.  Rodney and Joe Pesci were a surprisingly effective comedy team.  The scene where they get stoned and try to drive home without damaging the huge wedding cake in the back of the van is a hundred times funnier than it has any right being.  Even though it is hard to imagine her being, in any way, related to Rodney Dangerfield, Jennifer Jason Leigh is always a welcome presence.  Like many comedies of that era, Easy Money is uneven, with as many jokes failing as succeeding but, for Rodney Dangerfield fans, it is a must see.

A Movie A Day #150: Back to School (1986, directed by Alan Metter)

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) started with nothing but through a combination of hard work and chutzpah, he started a chain of “Tall and Fat” clothing stores and made a fortune.  Everyone has seen his commercials, the one where he asks his potential customers, “Do you look at the menu and say, ‘Okay?'”  He has a new trophy wife named Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) and a chauffeur named Lou (Burt Young).  Thornton never even graduated from high school but he gets respect.

However, his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), doesn’t get no respect.  No respect at all.  Jason is a student at a pricey university, where he is bullied by Chas Osborne (William Zabka) and can’t get a date to save his life.  Jason’s only friend is campus weirdo Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Thornton sees that his son isn’t having any fun, he decides to go back to school!

Back to School is a predictable but good-natured comedy.  It is like almost every other 80s college comedy except, this time, it’s a 65 year-old man throwing raging parties and making the frat boys look stupid instead of Robert Carradine or Curtis Armstrong.  On the stand-up stage, Dangerfield always played the (sometimes) lovable loser but in the movies, Dangerfield was always a winner.  In both Caddyshack and Back to School, Dangerfield played a self-made man who forced his way into high society and showed up all of the snobs.  While Back to School is no Caddyshack, it does feature Rodney at his best.

Rodney may be the funniest thing about Back to School but a close second is Sam Kinison, who owed much of his early success to Rodney Dangerfield’s support.  Kinison plays a history professor, who has some very strongly held views about the Vietnam War and who punctuates his points with a primal screen.

Also, keep an eye out Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself.  Rodney hires him to write a paper about Kurt Vonnegut for one of his classes.  The paper gets an F because Rodney’s literature professor (Sally Kellerman) can tell that not only did Rodney not write it but whoever did knows absolutely nothing about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

So it goes.

Music Video of the Day: Dancing On The Ceiling by Lionel Richie (1986, dir. Stanley Donen)

I’ve done numerous music videos inspired by movies so far. Yesterday’s Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul is based off of Anchors Aweigh (1945) with Gene Kelly. However, this is the first one that not only explicitly remade a particular film, or part of a film, but also got the director of said film. Stanley Donen actually directed this music video for Lionel Richie.

It was shot by Daniel Pearl because of course it was. For those of you counting, that makes four music videos shot by Daniel Pearl that I have spotlighted so far. That is out of his around 450+ documented music videos.

According to Wikipedia, this was shot at Laird Studios in Culver City and at the LeMondrian Hotel in West Hollywood on a budget that was somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000.

The music video’s main influence is of course Royal Wedding (1951), which Stanley Donen directed. But it also has a nod to The Seven Year Itch (1955).

This music video was such a big deal at the time that HBO aired a half-hour special about the making of it.

Michael Peters did the choreography. He also did the choreography for Beat It and Thriller as well as Love Is A Battlefield.

Rodney Dangerfield and Cheech Marin make cameo appearances. Diane Alexander, who would later marry Lionel Richie, is also in the music video as one of the dancers.

Donen and Glenn Goodwin produced the music video.

While the song did well when it was released, it still made Blender magazine’s list of the 50 Worst Songs Ever. Of course they are using WatchMojo’s definition of “ever”. That means there are only four songs that pre-date the 1980s, they had to be “hit songs”, and somehow their staff had heard every “hit song” that had ever been “released” at the time.

Judging by the songs on the list, Blender magazine thought Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go–not on the list–is a better song than The Sounds Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel–on the list. Or if we are to take its title for what it says the list is, it means Anger Is My Middle Name by Thor–not on the list–is a better song than Broken Wings by Mr. Mister–on the list. Let that one sink it. Kudos to the trolls who came up with this list. That is unless it was meant to be a parody of these kinds of lists. That’s probably a stretch. Regardless, it is amazing when you stop to think about it. This song was #20, mainly on the grounds that it was probably written with the music video in mind. That never happens.

All that said, there are far better Lionel Richie songs and music videos out there. I just happened to stumble upon this one the other day and it paired well with Opposites Attract that did a much better job being based off of an Old Hollywood movie–even if it did imply that Abdul has sexual relations with a cat.


Footnote: One of the underlying themes behind Blender’s choices is whether the song offended them in some way, such as their portrayal of minorities. That’s rich considering one of their comments on Kokomo by The Beach Boys is:

“It’s all anodyne harmonizing and forced rhymes (“To Martinique, that Montserrat mystique!”) that would have driven Brian totally nuts had he not been totally nuts already.”

They also complain about We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel this way:

“Can you fit a cultural history of the twentieth century into four minutes? Uh, no

Despite its bombastic production, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ resembles a term paper scribbled the night before it’s due. As the song progresses, Joel audibly realizes he can’t cram it all in: The ’70s get four bellowed words amid the widdly-woo guitars and meet-thy-maker drums. The chorus denies responsibility for any events mentioned, clearing up the common misconception that Billy Joel developed the H-bomb.

Worst Moment: “China’s under martial law, rock & roller cola wars!”: No way does conflating Tiananmen Square with Michael Jackson selling Pepsi trivialize a massacre.”

Truly, the period between 1949-1989 is the cultural history of a century.

Yes, it is weird that a song about Billy Joel’s memories of growing up in a world that was already filled with a history of horrible things would go from fine details to jumping over decades with mentions of only a few things from them. It’s almost as if when you grow older, the things that occurred when you were a child affected you more than the ones you encountered later in your life. Specifically, his list of events start to drop off exactly when he would have turned 21 in 1960. What followed was an uprising during a frightening period most visibly shot down by civil rights leaders being murdered and then a further clampdown on that period of change afterwards. Crackdowns on freedom and living under the threat of nuclear annihilation would be relevant to kids growing up in the 1980s. After that, it makes sense that he would lose track of events and just see them as horrors that his generation has left the next one despite attempts to change things. He would also go through them fast since that clampdown did occur so fast that America went in the span of ten years from Woodstock to Reagan being the president-elect.

Oh, and he mentions Watergate, Punk Rock, Menachem Begin, Former Governor Ronald Reagan starting his bid for the Presidency, Palestine (the Israeli-Palestine conflict was still going on after Begin was elected), the airplane hijackings of the 1970s, the rise of Ayatollah in Iran, and Russians invading Afghanistan. That’s four things from the 70s, right?

I can also understand how they could misunderstand the chorus that is interwoven with the events that occurred in the world that Joel grew up with, lived threw as a young man, and is now seeing a new generation inheriting along with new problems as meaning that there’s a denial of responsibility for those events. It’s almost as if the song takes you through the life of one person who lived through a period when even with large numbers of people uprising, it still only caused changes, but not an alteration to the trajectory of the world that continues to burn and appeared to only speed up after those changes.

Finally, I am truly offended that Joel would end the song with China being under martial law and Coke & Pepsi running ads using rock & roll stars to sell soda being mentioned back-to-back. Being so confused at the end that he says “I can’t take it anymore” bothers me. Rock and Roll being a driving force in causing people in communist countries to uprise during the 80s with that same genre being used to make people think the important battle in their life is between two types of sugar-water truly is to “trivialize a massacre.” The Tiananmen Square protests were also the height of the popularity of Chinese rocker Cui Jian when his song Nothing To My Name became an anthem for the protestors. That reminds me, one of these days I’ll have to review the 1989 Soviet film Gorod Zero where Rock and Roll is portrayed as the savior of their country.

Sorry, I just had to mention that here since I already did that music video before I found this amazingly ignorant list. I also wanted to mention it because it really makes me think that this was purely intended to troll people or outright parody these kinds of lists. I would love to have an actual copy of the magazine so I would have more context than text excerpts.