PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Cool Toy Of The Week: Today Is His Birthday!

Today, Sir Paul McCartney turns 64, and the mainstream media is awash with ironic headlines snarking about how the lyrics to “When I’m Sixty-Four” don’t apply to Mr. Macca this year, in light of his highly-publicized tabloid fodder divorce.

Which is a shame, because by most accounts, Sir Paul is a nice guy, and he’s written some of the best music in the world–music that will last long after the tabloid hacks are forgotten. To observe McCartney’s birthday here in PopCult, we’re making him the “Cool Toy Of the Week.” You see, McCartney has been immortalized in plastic by the folks over at McFarlane Toys a few times in recent years, and these are some of the best action figures that McFarlane has put their name one.

Many years ago, McFarlane created a toy line based on The Beatles Yellow Submarine. There were two series of figures, one depicting the Fab Four as themselves in the animated classic, and the other showing them disguised as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. These were so well-received that McFarlane released them again in different packaging a few years later.

Those re-released figures sold so well that McFarlane Toys came up with a set of action figures based on the goofy, low-budget Beatles TV cartoon, from the heyday of Beatlemania. The sculptors at McFarlane managed to perfectly translate the 2-D designs for the cartoon into a workable three-dimensional object. These are cool toys, and quite collectible. And any birthday with toys involved, has to be good.

Happy Birthday, Paul!

Ren And Stimpy Return…Again

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Next month (July 18, to be exact), the lost episodes of Ren and Stimpy finally hit DVD! These are the “Adult Party Cartoon” shows that were produced for Spike TV a few years ago by Ren and Stimpy’s creator, John Kricfalusi, who had been reunited with his perverted cat and dog after being booted off the series by Nickelodeon back in 1992. Spike only aired a few of these new Ren and Stimpy cartoons before the winds changed and they decided to drop their animation programming. This DVD will contain all the uncensored, adult-oriented, Ren and Stimpy cartoons that John K. produced. That includes three full episodes that have never aired. These have only been screened at events where John K. has spoken, although there are lots of clips circulating on the internet. The three un-aired shows are “Naked Beach Frenzy,” “Altruists,” and “Stimpy’s Pregnant.”

You can see a nearly five-minute trailer for “Stimpy’s Pregnant” here, at John K’s blog.

Here’s a clip from “Naked Beach Frenzy,” where Ren has been mistaken for a crab by the extremely hairy lifeguard.

Below are two short clips from “The Altruists.”

We’ve always had a soft spot for Ren and Stimpy. If not for them, we never would have started writing about animation for the Gazette all those years ago. It was nice to see John K. vindicated when he got to go back and revisit his babies in 2003. Now we’ll finally get to see the second half of his triumphant return to the show that launched his career.

“Ren and Stimpy: The Lost Episodes” is going to be one killer DVD that any adult animation fan should rush out and buy. Parents will want to think twice, or even three or four times, before letting children watch this DVD. They contain nudity, profanity, and enough twisted situations to cause a parent to have to explain delicate things long before they expect to. These will be good, dirty fun. If this DVD set sells as well as we expect, Paramount may be knocking on John’s door, asking for more new Ren and Stimpy cartoons.

Song Of The Week: Christmas In June…

….For Beatles Fan, at least.

This week’s Song Of The Week is a rare treat. PopCult is bringing you the 1967 Beatles Fan Club Christmas record. Each year the Fab Four would go into the studio and record a little “thank you” for their fans. This was sent out free to every member in good standing of their fan club. These were fun little collages of music and comedy skits, with the guys just goofing around and displaying their trademark senses of humor. On this record, recorded after Sgt. Pepper, but before The White Album, we get to hear snippets of “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” a song that was not released intact until nearly 30 years later as part of the Beatles Anthology project. Mixed in with that happy little tune are several minutes of goofiness that display a major influence on the Beatles–the classic radio comedy, The Goon Show.

Error Of Omission

Last week, I wrote a little post about the renaissance of professional wrestling. I meant to mention that one of the major components of this resurgence was the upcoming movie “Nacho Libre”, starring Jack Black as a humble Monk who turns to the high-flying world of the masked Lucha Libre to earn money for an orphanage. This foray into the world of Mexican wrestling is written and directed by Jared Hess, the mastermind behind “Napoleon Dynamite”. It opens this Friday. I’ve been a fan of Jack Black since the second episode of “Mr. Show with Bob and David” over ten years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to this film since I first heard about it last year. It opens Friday.

And I forgot to mention it. I had it in my notes and everything.

Bad Rudy.

Monday Morning Art: Brawley Walkway

This week brings another subtle digitally assaulted photograph. It’s a shot of a deserted Brawley Walkway in downtown Charleston. I messed with the sky, airbushed out the people, and made one lampost red.

It’s another study of minor league surrealism.

click to enlarge

Cool Toy Of the Week: CARS Playsets

In honor of our mile-long review of Disney/Pixar’s CARS, the toy of the week this week is a tie-in to the movie. Specifically, the playsets based on the town of Radiator Springs. Mattel has rolled out a full assortment of toy cars in all sizes based on the characters from the movie, but the really cool item that they’re creating are the playsets. These are plastic play environments that replicate the buildings and scenery from this brilliantly-designed cartoon. There is a full assortment of cool, interlocking playsets. You can find detailed models of Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, Lizzie’s Curio Shop, Ramon’s Custom House of Body Art, and the biggie, Flo’s V8 Cafe. Flo’s opens to reveal a detailed interior with lights and other cool features. These sets connect to the Mountain Challenge Playset, which features a shaking mountain road with sharp curves and constant motion. This set comes with an exclusive version of Lightning McQueen. These playsets hearken back to the glory days, when toy cars came with giant garage and service station playsets. With the nostalgic designs from the movie and the obvious kid-appeal, these toys can easily bring generations together. You’ll be able to find these anywhere toys are sold, and probably in a few places where they aren’t. Prices range from ten bucks for the smaller sets to over thirty for the Mountain Challenge.

Movie Review: CARS

Animated Discussions Extra
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Directed by John Lasseter
Co-Directed by Joe Ranft
Featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt and Larry The Cable Guy
Rated G
Seen at Great Escape Theatre, Nitro, WV

“Cars” is yet another near perfect film from the folks at Pixar. This time, the crew that has previously given us great stories featuring toys, bugs, monsters and fish breathes life into anthropomorphic automobiles. “Cars” tells the story of rookie race car Lightning McQueen who winds up stranded in the middle of nowhere and learns valuable lessons about how to appreciate life in the slow lane.

As with any Pixar movie, the voice cast is top notch. Owen Wilson brings just the right amount of charm and naive arrogance to the brash Lightning McQueen. It’s nice to enjoy a performance by Owen Wilson without spending the entire movie trying to figure out what the deal is with his nose. Paul Newman is perfectly cast as the grizzled old “Doc”, Hudson Hornet. Bonnie Hunt turns in the quintessential performance as a romantic interest for McQueen. A very pleasant surprise is that, like Jim Varney before him, Larry The Cable Guy successfully makes the leap from lowbrow redneck comedy to first-class Pixar voice talent.

Other notable voices who basically turn up in cameo roles include George Carlin, Paul Dooley, Cheech Marin, Bob Costas, Michael Keaton and Jay Leno. Racing personalities who lend their voices in supporting roles include Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhart Jr. and Mario Andretti. John Ratzenberger, the “good luck charm” who has provided a voice for almost every Pixar feature film, voices Mack, the tractor trailer transport for Lightning McQueen. Fans will want to stay through the end credits for a series of very funny jokes, one of which involves Mack.

Also buried among the end credits is a brief tribute to the late Joe Ranft, who co-wrote, co-directed and provided two voices for this film. Ranft perished in an accident last year. He was a longtime member of the Pixar team and contributed to many other animated features, including “Corpse Bride”.

As with any Pixar film, “Cars” is pure eye candy. Not only are the designs sleek and beautiful, but they’re also very clever. The rock formations and mountains around the desert town of Radiator Springs look like classic auto body parts from the 40’s and 50’s. The cars themselves are based on real models and are perfectly suited to the characters given them. In a sense, “Cars” is one big valentine to the classic automobile designers of the 20th century.

The movie opens with twenty minutes of loud, frantic, NASCAR style action. Had the movie kept this pace, it may have been overwhelming for some people. Fortunately, at just the right moment, the action slows down and the real story begins.

While en route cross country, Lightning finds himself stranded in Radiator Springs, a small town on Route 66 which has been bypassed by a massive interstate and nearly become a ghost town as businesses close and the cars leave. A disoriented Lightning destroys the main road and is sentenced to re-pave it before he can continue on to his race, challenging for the Piston Cup.

Some reviewers have complained that “Cars” steals its plot from the movie “Doc Hollywood”. Actually, it owes more to “My Cousin Vinny” and Billy Wilder’s “Kiss Me Stupid”. However, such comparisons are irrelevant, because none of those movies featured talking cars.

“Cars” is fun for the whole family. Small children may be taken aback by the intense racing action in the beginning and very end of the movie. But most kids will love the film, start reciting catch phrases from it, and bug Mommy and Daddy for all the toys.

“Cars” is a fine addition to the Pixar showroom. This year’s model is a state of the art testament to the excellence of American ingenuity and design. We think it’s the best animated feature of the year. Your mileage may vary.

The Wrestling Renaissance

Wrestling is a cyclical business. It gets hot for a few years, then it hits a slump, then we get a resurgence. It looks like we’re on the brink of a major resurgence, both locally and nationally. Last night was a great example of this. IWA East Coast, our own local wrestling federation, put on yet another strong show, with top-notch nationally-known talent. Meanwhile, ECW, the most influential national promotion of the 1990s took another major step in their revival with a very unusual “WWE vs. ECW” show on the USA Network. Also, RCW, the local fed that almost lost their spot on WHCP, got a reprieve, and is continuing with new episodes every Saturday at 4 PM. Things are looking up for fans of watching people hurt each other.

The IWA show was another incredible night of wrestling. Charleston-area fans don’t know how lucky they are to get such a high caliber of internationally-known talent to perform for them. The results, very quickly: Tracy Smothers defeated Blue Meanie in a dance-off that turned physical. “Omega” Aaron Draven won over Zach Vincent in an intense high-flying match. In the first shocker of the night, the Hane Brothers defeated Mad Man Pondo and 2 Tuff Tony in a tag match that went all over the arena. A rematch is already signed for the next show on August 2. Trick Nasty beat the newly-renamed “J. D. Santos”, his former partner. Nasty moves on to face former NWA champ Steve Corino in August. “Giant Killer” Little Spike Dudley, of ECW, WWE, and TNA fame, came up short in his bid to bring down the monster Warpig, but only after a tire iron came into play. The second shocker of the night saw Ashland’s Juggulator defeat Ian Rotten in a “Loser leaves IWA East Coast” match. Fans are really going to miss Ian. Topping off the evening was a bloody conflict wherein “Mr. Insanity” Toby Klein emerged victorious over Brain Damage in a “Cheese Grater on a pole” match. Klein gets a shot at IWA East Coast champ Chris Hero, for the title, at the next show. The photos from last night’s show are swiped from Vengon, who posted links at the IWA message board. Thanks for those!

After the show, there was a mad dash to rush home to catch the end of the WWE vs. ECW special. Many fans are skeptical about how ECW will do, now that it’s not an independent company, but rather simply a subsidiary of Vince McMahon’s WWE. The ECW pay-per-view event this weekend is largely another promotional war, instead of a stand-alone ECW program. Fans will have to wait until next Tuesday at 10PM on the Sci-Fi channel to see what the “new” ECW will really look like. Will it be the real ECW, or will it be like The New Cars?

Last night was the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to go to the post-show IWA gathering at The Tank in Dunbar. It was a bit of a surreal night. I found myself sitting at a table with Melanie and Danny Boyd (whom I’ve known forever), and at different times during the night, Spike Dudley, Blue Meanie, Ian Rotten, and many of the other wrestlers who were on the card. It was a trip hearing Spike tell stories about golfing with The Undertaker, and being treated to Ian’s guinea pig story. It was a real kick, and the guys were really down-to-Earth.

So it seems that we’re poised for a few years of wrestling being “cool” again. IWA East Coast is growing, and putting on one fantastic show after another. ECW, for better or worse, at least proves that there is a demand for wrestling beyond “RAW” and “Smackdown!,” TNA, WWE’s closest national competitor, is starting to branch out and run more shows outside their base studio in Florida. Fans of violence and mayhem may be in for a new golden age as a variety of diverse and creative wrestling programs sweep across the country.

Or Vince McMahon might screw everything up again. Still, it’ll be fun to watch.

Popeye on DVD, Finally!

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch


In some of the best news for animation fans ever, Warner Home Video has announced that they have finally worked their way through the myriad of red-tape and ownership issues, and will release the complete library of Popeye cartoons, fully restored, on DVD, beginning next year. Quoting from the press release: ” Warner Home Video (WHV), Hearst Entertainment and King Features Syndicate have reached an agreement for the exclusive worldwide home entertainment distribution of both the classic Popeye theatrical animated shorts and the Popeye made-for-TV animated shorts. The announcement was jointly made by Jeff Brown, WHV Senior Vice President and General Manager TV and Franchise, and T.R. (“Rocky”) Shepard III, President of King Features Syndicate. “

This will include the classic Max Fleisher Popeye cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s, widely considered to be among the finest cartoons ever made, as well as the later Famous Studio cartoons, and the often-bizarre made-for-TV cartoons from the 1960s, which, while fairly awful, have a train-wreck quality that makes them worth trying to watch. Warners have even licensed the rights to the downright evil-bad Popeye cartoons from the 1970s and 1980s, just so that they can release the good cartoons without competing against the dreck. The real meat here are the Fleisher Popeye cartoons, which will be fully restored under the watchful eye of animation historian, Jerry Beck. These cartoons are holy grails for animation buffs, and to finally get a chance to seem clean, restored prints is a dream that many thought would never come true.

We’re already stocking up on Spinach and clearing off a space on the DVD shelf for these sets.

Animated note: Check back this weekend, and we blog our review of Disney/Pixar’s CARS!

Songs Of The Week: Evil Music

In honor of today’s date, 6-6-06, I’m going to bring you three truly evil songs this week. I hijacked these from April Winchell’s site, and if you like truly evil music, you should read the post above this one, and follow the links. These tunes get progressively more evil, so you should take care that these don’t corrupt your soul. Stroke a rosary or eat a chocolate cross, or whatever it is you do to ward off devils.

First up, we have something mildly evil. This is Donald Duck singing “Amazing Grace.” You can play this to drive evangelicals and other unwanted guests from your house. Pretty evil, huh? It’s nothing compared to our next burnt offering….

“Stairway To Heaven” would seem to be a heavenly song, not anything hellish. But you haven’t heard it played on Banjo and Tuba, have you? What could possibly be more evil than that?

How about Eminem? Sure, he’s evil–just look at him, but is he evil enough to be the Song of the Week on 6-6-06? He is if you team him up with one of the most evil forces on the planet–ragtime piano! Before you click on this, be warned that this uncensored slice of ragtime rap isn’t even remotely work safe. Here’s Eminem’s ragtime remix of “Without Me.”

The Devilish Veronica image is courtesy of artist Dan Parent. Go check out his site and buy some stuff.