The Case of the Disappearing 'The Onion' Movie

Tuesday  May 22, 2007


The newspaper satirists got a film deal, made a movie, then never saw it released. Not funny

By Mickey Rapkin

It seemed like a can't-miss idea: the smarty-pants writers from The Onion teaming up with Airplane! producer David Zucker to shoot a sketch-comedy movie. Brilliant. Film was shot, and Fox Searchlight, fresh from the success of Napoleon Dynamite, set a release date for November 2004. Then, well, nothing. The directors walked. And the project was, as they say, tabled. Why? It wasn't very good. Scott Aukerman, a vet of Mr. Show who circled the project for a while, saw fifty minutes of the first cut. "It wasn't really Onion-style humor," he says. "It was all pee-pee/poo-poo stuff and pop-culture references. Steven Seagal was in a lot of it." Huh? "There was a fake trailer before the film for Cock Puncher—starring Steven Seagal. Then he showed up again in the climax." (The plot, such as it was, revolved around an Onion News anchor balking at an executive's plans to put more boobs on-air.) What went wrong? Sean Mills, the president of The Onion, admits the movie just wasn't funny. "We really got an appreciation for the translation from script to live action," he says. When Searchlight shelved it, thanks to the vagaries of the film business, the movie found itself the problem of New Regency Productions. To its credit, it didn't just throw the thing on DVD. Actually, executives were willing to spend an additional $6 million to $10 million to reshoot the thing, one source says, hoping this would be the start of a franchise. To date, that hasn't happened.

This was not The Onion's first Big Media stall. In 2000, DreamWorks optioned the rights to two articles, "10th Circle Added to Rapidly Growing Hell" and "Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated," and a first-look deal with Miramax followed (neither bore onions). If nothing else, the lost Onion movie laid the groundwork for the very funny Onion News Network, a series of sketches that premiered in late March on (Some 500,000 people watched the clips in the first twenty-four hours.) "There's a safety net in video," Mills says. "You can shoot a scene, not use it, move on, cast different people, and shoot it again. The Web is a good place to be."

Friday  May 18, 2007

Manny Being Mommy

Here, courtesy of Ian Bethune's Sox & Dawgs blog, is the tenderest moment we're likely to see in baseball this year. A moment of silence is in order, in recognition of the fact that Manny Ramirez has once again surpassed himself.

Thursday  May 17, 2007

Ineke Hans

Cappellini introduced many a sublime piece at the Milan furniture fair. My favorite was the Neo Country chair, designed by the Dutch designer Ineke Hans. Here she is, sitting in it:


The proportions of the chair are generous. It has a solid feel to it. Hans's goal was just to create "simple, beautiful wooden furniture," she said. "And I'm a bit of a country girl myself, very down to earth." The chair reflects that, but without being boring about it. For example, Hans gave the chair a lovely detail: The surface is sandblasted to create a wood-grain pattern, in turn creating a wood-grain-upon-wood grand effect. You can see it better in this photo:


At first glance, the chair looks handmade, but the decorative process is very "hi-tech," said Hans.

She also introduced a line called "Fracture," which consists of a chair, stools of varying heights, and a coat rack. Each piece is made from polyester bandages—the kind used to make casts for broken limbs.


Keep in mind that each piece is made almost entirely of bandages. That is, Hans didn't simply take a chair and cover it. There's no internal frame of any sort. At the center of each piece are just polystyrene (Styrofoam) pellets, which are non-structural.

Her intention, she told me, was to see if it was possible to make furniture out of more than just wood, metal, and plastic.

Clearly, it is.

Wednesday  May 16, 2007

Kartell in Milan

Before I walk you through the newest designs that Kartell introduced at the Milan furniture fair this year, I want you to understand something about the company's approach to design and manufacture.

To start: Don't think of Kartell as that hip Italian company that hires big-name designers to make cool objects out of plastic. Yes, Kartell does do that—and they're damn good at it—but that's a shallow reason to be interested in their work, and if that is your approach, all you will be able to say when you look at their latest products is, "Wow, that's really cool!"

I know you can do better.

Instead, I suggest you think of Kartell as that hip Italian company that hires big-name designers to explore the process of industrialization. The question they keep asking (and answering in interesting and novel ways) is this: How can we make great furniture entirely with machines? For Kartell, plastic is simply an end to a means. "We use plastic because it's the only way to be industrial," explains Claudio Luti, Kartell's president. "It's the only reason."

What does it mean to be industrial? Consider, for example, that many Kartell chairs are made using a single mold: Molten plastic is poured into a large and expensive machine and, a bit later, a fully-formed chair emerges. That's it. Nothing more needs to be done. After the chair sets, it's ready to ship to the store. (In fact, Kartell created the first plastic chair to be manufactured this way: Philippe Starck's La Marie.)

What you'll usually find in a new Kartell product is not simply a novel shape, but also a novel process of manufacture.

This year, for example, Kartell introduced the Thayla chair, which was designed by the very dapper-looking Patrick Jouin. The chairs he's showing me here were literally manufactured the day before we spoke.


Jouin's goal with Thayla was to create a plastic chair without any ribbing. Almost all plastic chairs, Jouin explained, require some sort of ribbing to make them structurally sound. "All of the design of a plastic chair is about the ribs," he says. "You play with the ribs and you try to make them elegant."

But Thayla, as you can see, has no ribbing. To make this possible without the chair collapsing when you sit in it, Jouin suggested gas-injecting the chair's legs and frame. With this process, gas is literally blown into the plastic to hollow it out, creating tubes.

These hollow tubes, counter-intuitively, make the chair strong enough that it doesn't need any ribbing, an approach that has never been done before.

"It was very difficult," says Jouin, "but what is really incredible about a manufacturer like Kartell is that you present something like this and they don't say no. They like to take risks. They say, "Okay, maybe it will not work and maybe we'll throw away the mold, but let's try. Because if we do it, nobody would try to be as crazy as us!'"

With Thayla, Jouin's intention was to link the high-tech with the past. The pattern on the seat and back, for example, was derived from the lines created by his CAD program, but is meant to evoke the cannage of a traditional chair. "The graphic is a play of something which is virtual and something which is old," says Jouin. The chair's other contradiction: "It's transparent, but it's not transparent. You can see through it, but what you see is diffracted."

Two new Philippe Starck chairs also took advantage of new processes of manufacture. The Mr. Impossible chair, for example, is made from two plastic shells (opaque for the inside of the seat, clear for the base and legs) that are welded together with a laser. The connection is seamless:


Here, by the way, are Starck and Luti sharing a pensive moment at the Mr. Impossible display.


Starck's other chair, Dr. Yes, also plays with contrast between the seat and the rest of the chair. In this case, it's texture: The seat is matte and a bit rough, while the back and legs are glossy and smooth. The technical innovation here is that Kartell managed to pull this off using a single mold.


Thursday  May 03, 2007

The Hall of Could Have Been


Bob Cerv during his brief, glorious Kansas City career

On his routinely excellent blog Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star examines the careers of several Major League players who for one reason or another never fulfilled their potential. My favorite is Bob Cerv, of whom Posnanski quotes Bill James as follows: "EVERYTHING went wrong for him. He didn't lose 40 percent of his Hall of Fame luster. He lost 95 percent of it, so people will never believe how good he could have been."

Cerv, a college football star, didn't sign a contract until he graduated at 24, then threw in his lot with the New York Yankees of the 1950s, the baseball dynasty to end all dynasties (during that decade, the team won the World Series six times). Promising through Cerv, an outfielder, might have been, New York's outfield would feature various configurations of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and the All-Stars Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling, and Elston Howard. If you had to summarize Cerv's Yankee career in just four words, they would be: We Appreciate Your Interest.

Traded to Kansas City and, in 1958, given 500 at-bats in a season for the first and only time, Cerv, now 32 years old, hit 38 home runs, knocked in 104 RBIs, and batted .305. And then Kansas City traded him back to the Yankees. He'd never be a full-time player again.

You can read about Cerv and numerous other Hall of Fame Not Quites here.