PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Monday Morning Notes

Tom McGee (at right) returns to the airwaves tonight as WHCP begins their first newscast. It’ll be interesting to watch, just to see if WHCP can rise above their usual high-school A/V level production quality. Let’s hope that WHCP can fix their old transmission problems that recently cropped back up after disappearing for a few months. It’s not good for ratings when your station cuts out every four or five minutes. I’m going to give this new newcast a few days before I blog a review of it, just to give them a chance to work out the bugs. McGee, despite his off-screen troubles, has always projected an air of professionalism on camera, but we’ll have to see what sort of on-air crew he’s surrounded with, and how technically proficient the production people are. (I do have one wise-guy suggestion: How about calling the 10 p.m. newscast The Last Call?)

“Crash Gordon” premiered at the Capitol Center Theater Friday night, and a great time was had by all. The Voodoo Katz performed at a pre-show reception, and the crowd was treated to a gut-wrenching thrill-ride as Crash Gordon and his pals saved the Earth from a pandemic of alien flatulence. Director Bill Richardson took questions from the audience and explained the creative process. I’ll be keeping you up to date on future showings of this fun film spoof.

Melanie Larch, my longtime Gazette writing partner, will be joining me once a week as we bring our Animated Discussions column to the PopCult blog. Every Monday (roughly) we’ll bring you the latest news from the world of animation. Today we review Chicken Little and take note of a few local animation happenings. Next week, we’re going to look at the recent additions to the Adult Swim line-up. Melanie, aside from writing Animated Discussions with me for many years in the print Gazette, is also a titan of the Charleston stage, appearing in dozens of local productions. She’s currently gearing up for a solo performance with the West Virginia Symphony. There’s also that “main squeezedness” thing we have going on, but why belabor the obvious? The first PopCult editon of Animated Discussions appears in a posting earlier today.

Animated Discussions
By Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

REVIEW: CHICKEN LITTLE
Directed by Mark Dindal
Featuring the voices of Zach Braff, Amy Sedaris, and Joan Cusack

Disney’s Chicken Little is the studio’s attempt to replace Pixar, the computer animation house that gave us Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. While nowhere near Pixar in terms of quality, “Chicken Little” is still a solid effort that follows the successful formula: computer animation+heart tugging family rift + pop culture references = hit movie.

Chicken Little tells the famous children’s story of the chicken who thought the sky was falling, only this time, there’s a twist. It turns out the sky really is falling, but nobody believes him. The event is filtered through the prism of mass media exploitation. Actually, it turns out the sky is not really falling–it’s an alien invasion. But you get the picture.

Chicken Little is a very fast paced, action filled movie with some terrific gags and even though the “heart tugging family issues” seem a little artificial and tacked on, they don’t detract from a film that is good, light entertainment.

The voice cast is, to be honest, just a tad better than the material. Zach Braff (Scrubs) infuses Chicken Little with a voice that’s a decent approximation of a teenage Wally Cox. Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy) is wonderfully obnoxious as Foxy Loxy. While a big deal was made of Don Knotts’ role as Mayor Jerky Turkey, he actually has fewer lines than Adam West does in a surprise cameo. Fans of cheesy ’70’s music will be in hog heaven as Chicken Little’s porky sidekick, Runt(Steve Zahn), tends to break out with the playlist from an oldies soft rock radio station when he gets nervous. Though he doesn’t really speak, Fish (Out of Water) does as pretty good job of channeling Harpo Marx, and is responsible for some of the best moments of the movie.

Kids will love this film, despite the fact that it’s pure formula. Unlike last year’s dismal Shark’s Tale, this is formula moviemaking in the hands of people who know what they’re doing. Adults will also get a kick out of the film, with all the dated musical references and some very clever gags, although very picky people might recognize that some of them are recycled from other sources. Chicken Little is no home run, but it’s a solid triple. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Grade: B

FINALLY: BOOMERANG HITS TOWN!

After six years of begging, pleading, threatening, and then the quiet resignation that Charter must hate us, Charleston finally has the Boomerang Channel! Very quietly, with no fanfare or anything, Charter (the dominant cable provider in this area) added Boomerang on November 1st. It’s right there on Channel 111 on the digital tier, next to the Gospel music channel. Of course, the Gospel Music Channel gets a full page ad in Showtime, but they just chucked Boomerang out there with no warning, like they did with Logo back in June, almost like they were ashamed of it. We can’t imagine why, since we’ve been told repeatedly that Boomerang has been the most requested channel at Charter Communications for several years running. But hey, we get it now and that’s all that matters. In case you don’t know, Boomerang is the commercial free sister channel to the Cartoon Network. They show the classic Warner Brothers, MGM, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons and they’ve recently added the more recent but still excellent Superman and Batman series from the 1990’s. This is the only place where you can see the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones and The Jetsons on a regular basis. Thank you very much, Charter! It’s about freakin’ time!

HOWL AT THE FILM FESTIVAL

This Saturday at 3:00 PM, the West Virginia International Film Festival brings us the only Charleston showing of Hayao Mayazaki’s latest masterpiece, Howl’s Moving Castle. This PG-rated anime feature celebrates the power of love to transform and the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity. When Sophie, a young woman, is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent, mysterious young wizard named Howl. Embarking on an incredible odyssey to lift the curse, Sophie finds refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle. Her love and support has a major impact on the wizard.

Catching Howl at the Film Festival this Saturday will be a great prelude to the Mayazaki film festival which will air on Turner Classic Movies in January. You can read more about it here.

Unfortunately, family commitments are going to prevent us from attending this Saturday’s showing. It’s a shame that a film of this stature gets relegated to a Saturday matinee during the Festival. It would be nice if more people would come out and support the Film Festival so that they could schedule more showings of some of the films.

For more information on the Film Festival and directions to the WVSU Capitol Center Theatre, check out their website here.

Art Blogging

The Union Building

Digitally Assualted Photograph

October, 2005

‘Crash Gordon’ World Premiere in Charleston on Friday

This Friday we get a rare chance to attend a world premiere right here in Charleston. I’m talking about “Crash Gordon,” the newly re-dubbed spoof by West Virginia filmmaker Bill Richardson. Not only is this your chance to see the first public showing of “Crash Gordon,” at the moment, it’s the only scheduled showing. So, if you like wild comedy with clunky robots, you won’t want to miss out on this chance to catch this flick.

I traded e-mails with Bill, and he told me about the creative process:

“The origin of this film began several years ago when I learned that there were a number of really great movies in the public domain. When something is in the public domain it basically means that everyone owns it. As an independent filmmaker I began looking for ways to use this discovery to help me make my first feature film.

After extensive research I decided that I would take the four-and-a-half hour serial “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” and turn it into a 90-minute comedy. The original film had a lot of unintentionally funny elements like silly robots, clunky spaceships and odd aliens and I felt I could build on those things and add a lot of other humor as well. The result is a film that has a very modern comedic sensibility but retains the visual character of the original film, with its soaring art deco sets and vintage sci-fi elements.

I have written dozens of scripts but this was by far the most difficult one I’ve ever done. Usually you start out with a blank page and can then let your imagination have free reign. In this case the visual part of the film was a given and I had to develop a plot, characters and jokes to fit the images. As a result, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with a remote control in my hand rewinding and playing the original footage. It was a huge challenge. Not only did I have to come up with jokes that were funny, but I had to craft the wording of them so that they fit the lips of the characters on screen. A good joke is very hard to write. You have to use exactly the right words, in the right rhythm, with the right setup.”

The cast for “Crash Gordon” had to be adept at comedy, and flexible enough to do a sort of reverse lip-synch to match the footage. Crash Gordon, the lead character, is played by Dan Henthorn. Dan worked on “Falcon Crest” and has done summer stock and a lot of local theater. K.C. Bragg plays the scientist Dr. Jagov. Bill spotted K.C. when he was Hamlet in a local Charleston stage production. The female lead is Dull Ardent and she is played by Cindy McCoy. Cindy is a drama teacher at a small college in Williamson. She’s done voiceover work on some of Bill’s documentary projects.

The evil Emperor Bing is played by musician and actor Will Taylor. Another large role in the film is Captain Dork. He is Emperor Bing’s main henchman and is a thorn in the heroes’ side throughout the movie. Captain Dork is voiced by actor/singer/would-be-governor Jesse Johnson. Jim Damron, who was in both “Forest Gump” and “Matewan” played two different characters in the film, Captain Thong and Harelip.

Richardson assembled a troupe of voice artists to assay the minor incidental and background roles. Greg Harpold, Jeff Bukovinsky, Jason Dunbar, Jamie Dunbar and Richardson himself all voiced several different characters in the film. Bill tells me that some of the funniest lines in the movie are delivered by this little troupe.

“Crash Gordon” promises to be a unique West Virginia film experience. This is your chance to attend the first public showing of a movie that may very well become a huge cult hit. The premiere is 7 p.m. Friday night at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers Street with a Q-and-A with Richardson after the film. For more on the film fest, see the official festival site here.