PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Cool Toy Of The Week: Schleich Knights

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This week’s cool toy is the line of Knights and Dragons from German toymaker Schleich. These exquisitely detailed little figurines can now be found at Target, as well as independent toy stores, and they’re the kind of special toy that kids will remember for a lifetime.

They’re also a bit pricey. Most pieces cost around 15 dollars, though there are larger sets and accessories that can cost quite a bit more. However, they are well worth the price. They’re sturdy enough for kids to play with on a regular basis without destroying them, but they’re so well-sculpted and painted that they hold their appeal for adult collectors. This is the kind of toy that you give a kid as a gift for a special occasion. They’re just the right size for Easter baskets, ranging from 3 to 6 inches tall. With just the right combination of sturdiness, beautiful colors and high detail, these could very well become family heirlooms for future generations.

Song Of The Week: “Gardens Of Hope”

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I’m delving into the Radio Free Charleston archives for this one, sort of. Actually, this song was recorded a few months after RFC was strangled in its crib, but it’s by Three Bodies, one of the most popular local bands that I played on my old radio show. Three Bodies consisted of Kris Cormandy on guitar, Brian Lucas on bass, and Brian Young on drums. All three were frequent guests on Radio Free Charleston, and good friends of mine. In June 1990, I was asked to lend my ears to the Bodies as they entered Pat Arnold’s recording studio above Gorby’s to cut four songs for a demo tape. Spencer Elliott was also on hand, as we co-produced the songs with the band.

My main contribution was on the day before, when the Bodies took over The Empty Glass to rehearse. It was a criminally hot June afternoon, and while I listened and offered suggestions, the guys repeatedly tore through the four songs they intended to record–for more than six hours. The songs were pretty much worked out by the end of the day. My only real suggestion that made it to tape was the song arrangement I’m going to post here next week. The song I’m posting today was Spencer’s baby. He came up with the piano intro and arranged the song on the spot. It was the standout of the four tunes.

I did the illustration above for a flyer advertising a performance by the band. I recall drawing it using duotone Craftint while sitting on the porch of Spencer’s bohemian hangout, across the street from Asbury United Methodist Church. I colorized it in the computer just a few minutes before writing this.

Three Bodies went their separate ways later in 1990. Spencer went on to form Mother Nang with Brian Young, before jetting off to become a world-class litigator. Lately, however, he and Brian have teamed up with Dan Jordan to form Whistlepunk, who you can check out here. It’s great that the old local scene from the RFC days isn’t totally dead.

So, here’s our song of the week, “Gardens Of Hope.” It’s a particularly relevant plea for peace these days. Click the song title to listen, or right click and save, to download. Next week I’ll post the song that I helped arrange.

Live Improv This Weekend

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On Friday and Saturday night, West Virginia’s premiere improv troupe, The No Pants Players, invades the Labelle Theater in South Charleston with a family-friendly evening of live, on-the-spot comedy. The fast-paced show shifts gears and covers a wide variety of topics in the classical improv manner.

The No Pants Players are all local performers who will be familiar from their work with The Kanawha Players, The Charleston Stage Company, and IWA East Coast.

This is going to be a bittersweet weekend, as the No Pants Players pay tribute to troupe member Maria Bukovinski, who recently passed away, just weeks after giving birth. In the best spirit of “the show must go on,” the remaining members vow to celebrate Maria’s life and love of performing by dedicating this weekend’s performances to her memory.

It promises to be a fun evening, and it’s happening at the Labelle, one of my favorite local venues. This would be a great low-priced family night out or a good place for a youth group to gather. What better way to break up the monotony of going to the movies or just hanging out, than an evening of live, local comedy?

IF YOU GO: There will be two performances of the show, appropriate for all ages, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Labelle Theater on D Street in South Charleston. Tickets $5. Call 744-9711 or visit http://www.geocities.com/scmuseum.

Monday Morning Art: TRAX

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To your right you see TRAX, a digitally-assaulted photo from February 2006. I shot this a couple of blocks from my house. Click to enlarge.

Blogger’s note: There was no Cool Toy Of The Week last week, because, at the last minute, I discovered that the toy in question will not actually be in stores for several more months. The Cool Toy Of The Week will return Friday.

Brokeback Mouse and more on South Park

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Brokeback Mouse

Cartoon Brew is one of our favorite sources for animation news on the web, and a couple of days ago, brewmaster Jerry Beck posted a short compilation of clips that confirmed what many people have suspected for years.

Joe Barbera’s Birthday

Today is approximately the 95th birthday of animation legend Joe Barbera, co-creator of the above-mentioned cat-and-mouse, as well as the Hanna Barbera studio, home of the Flintstones, Jetsons, Scooby Doo and thousands of other cartoon characters. Barbera is one of the last surviving directors from the Golden Age of animation. Mark Evanier has a nice write up here.

South Park conspiracy Theories

Last week, we wrote about the controversy surrounding the battle between South Park and Scientology that saw Isaac Hayes (the voice of Chef) leave the show, and a controversial rerun episode pulled from the schedule. Since that time, there have been more developments, contradicting reports, and conspiracy theories out the wazoo. According to this report, Isaac Hayes suffered a debilitating stroke in January, and is unable to speak. The report further claims that Hayes’ resignation letter was actually written and released without his input by Scientology PR people. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have been accused of asking Comedy Central to pull the repeat of the “Trapped In The Closet” episode as part of a stunt, so that they could say Tom Cruise did it, and get tons of free publicity for the new season of South Park. Finally, there are murmurings that this week’s episode, where they killed Chef, but used old clips of Isaac Hayes voice, was a way that the duo were able to keep paying Hayes, who is reportedly in poor health, and has a new baby to take care of.

All we know for sure is that the “Return Of Chef” episode, where the lovable character joined the “Super Adventure Club,” was brainwashed into becoming a pedophile, and was then killed off, was one of the funniest episodes of South Park in a long time. And it did killer ratings, too.

Next week, we preview ICE AGE 2: The Meltdown

V For Vapid

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For the first time in years, I actually went to the theater to see a live-action movie this weekend. I went to see V For Vendetta, despite my misgivings about the way the original comic book’s writer, Alan Moore, has been treated. Moore had his name taken off the movie after a series of bad experiences with Hollywood mangling his work while translating it to the big screen. He was right to do it here.

I’ve read a few reviews that actually claim that this movie is a faithful adaptation of the original comic book. Those reviews can only have been written by people who have never been within a hundred yards of an actual copy of this comic book. The wire service review that ran here in The Gazz was evidently written by someone who was completely unfamiliar with the comic. Obviously just relying on what Warner Brothers had put in the press kit, the reviewer attributed the “graphic novel” to artist, David Lloyd, with no mention of Moore at all.

The movie, “V For Vendetta,” is a total bastardization of the original comic book. I know. I read the original back in the early ’80s when it was serialized in an obscure British comic magazine called Warrior. I remember the three-year wait after Warrior ceased publication with the last third of “V For Vendetta” unfinished. In 1988, Alan Moore and his artist, David Lloyd, sold the rights to DC Comics, and finished their story. It was an astonishing work–challenging, compelling, deep. It personified the philosophical struggle between fascism and anarchy, and did so with a wicked comment on Thatcher’s England.

The movie adaptation, written by the Wachowski brothers of “Matrix” fame, is typical Hollywood claptrap that rapes and pillages the original work for its settings and imagery, perverts the original theme into a hackneyed parable about the Bush Administration, and totally ignores the core portrayal of anarchy as a viable political alternative. The poetry of Moore’s original work is replaced with insipid, hack sitcom-level dialogue. Instead of a struggle between fascism and anarchy, we get a “plucky underdog brings down the big bad guys” formulaic piece of tripe. Only about half the original work turns up in the movie, but they did manage to crowbar in lots of extra explosions, “Matrix-y” fight scenes, an idiotic and inappropriate love story, and loads of currently fashionable political subtexts that weren’t in the comic.

This should forever end the use of the phrase “comic book-y” as an insult. This comic book had to be so dumbed-down to make it to the big screen that it’s clear that movies are the medium for lowbrow, banal, melodrama, not comic books. Comic books like “V For Vendetta”are way too complex to be translated to film. The Wachowski brothers should never be allowed near another comic book again. Their scripts are too “movie-like” to be taken seriously. The movie is junk.

Of course, it topped the box office this weekend.

Song Of The Week: “Radiation”

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THE SONG: “Radiation” by The Epoxies. This song warns about the evil radiation emanating from your TV set — you know, stuff like Fox News. Just released last May, this cut from The Epoxies’ “Stop The Future” CD sounds like a blast of pure New Wave power pop from the early 80s. Imagine a cross between New Romantics and Blondie, with just a little So Cal punk thrown in. Best of all, you can click on the song title for a free listen. If you like what you hear, go buy the album from Fat Wreck Chords.

My cool website recommendation for this week is The Beatles Internet Album, a repository of myths, trivia, and links about the Fab Four. In other Beatles news, Mark Brown from the Rocky Mountain News has a great article about the frustrating lack of remastered Beatles CDs here. Finally, in barely-related Beatles news, the fate of the Capitol Records building, one of the most notable landmarks in Los Angeles, and a place the Beatles used for the occasional recording session, is up in the air, according to this report from the Associated Press.

Local TV News Update

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WHCP, the plucky little TV station that bravely carries on, despite not having any technical proficiency, has signed on with the new network, The CW. This development thus ensures that area viewers will still get to see their favorite surviving UPN and WB programs — albeit not with a decent broadcast signal.

Despite having plenty of advanced notice, WHCP did not change their schedule to move last Saturday’s airing of “Friday Night Smackdown!” to another time. So, local viewers had to choose whether to watch “Smackdown!” or “Saturday Night Main Event”, a heavily-promoted WWE special that aired locally on WSAZ.

In related news, there are reports that Mark Hunt and the other investors in the failed WHCP newscast are going to try again in establishing a new, Charleston-based newscast, this time with a real TV station. If they can get this project off the ground, it’ll be interesting to see how good a newscast they can put on the air without the technical albatross that was the WHCP Portsmouth crew around their neck.