PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Monday Morning Art: The Forgotten Series

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We kick off the week, after some hard fought Blogger-twisting, with “Scape Number One”, the first of the series which I’ve been subjecting you to since last year here in PopCult.

This is a digital design of an abstract landscape–bold, yet meaningless, like all half-good art. From August 2005.

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Last Week In Charleston

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We’ve had an interesting seven days here in Charleston, so while Blogger is having one of its “no, you can’t post an image” snits, let’s review:

Last Monday, I delivered episode two of Radio Free Charleston and it went online here at the Gazz. I’m very proud of this show, and I’m hard at work on episode three. Kudos to Steve Beckner and The Sleeping Dons for treating us to fantastic music, and thanks to Frank and Brian for their animated bits. Special thanks to my mole at Warners for getting me the sneak peek at the new Batman trailer.

Tuesday was a quiet day, except for me discovering a slow leak in the shutoff valve to my water main.

Wednesday some rich jerk ate an expensive dinner in South Hills, yet it somehow was deemed newsworthy. You can read an insider’s take here, courtesy of Hippie Killer. I suppose that, if the wait staff had died of heat exposure while trapped in the bus without air conditioning, it would have been an act of aggression, like the suicides in Gitmo.

More importantly on Wednesday, I got to have dinner with Mel at Graziano’s downtown, then checked out The Sleeping Dons at the Vandalia, where they valiantly struggled to perform in a room full of jabbering lawyers. The band was great. The lawyers, not so great.

On Thursday, this week’s Toy Of The Week arrived from Hong Kong. You’ll have to wait until later in the week to see what it was. It is cool, though. Friday was spent waylaid by a toothache.

Over the weekend, something….different happened. I have been actively scouting bands to appear on Radio Free Charleston. For only the second time since I’ve been going to listen to bands (over the last twenty years), I had to excuse myself and take off without meeting the band and offering words of encouragement. They were just so bad. I’m not going to name them, in the unlikely event that it was just a bad night, but man, I don’t think I’ll be giving them a second chance unless I’m forced to at gunpoint. I had to come home and crank up some vintage Beatles just to get the awful noise out of my head.

Ending on a happier note: I also got to babysit my nearly-five-month-old nephew, Willy, and pulled out an old radio broadcast of Radio Free Charleston, from which I will harvest this week’s Song Of The Week. Also cool this weekend, but sadly not online, Rusty Marks had a fantastic article in the Sunday Gazette-Mail about the Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville. Any fan of vintage toys owes it to themselves to seek this out. Rusty always does a wonderful job, and it was great reading about this cool local attraction. I’ve been meaning to go since the museum opened five years ago, but I don’t make it up that way very often. Rusty’s article makes me want to plan a special trip.

So it was an interesting week, from the debut of RFC episode two, to a visit from our puppet-in-chief, to bad music, to babytime and a neat article on Marx Toys. It’s amazing how interesting your week can seem when you’re killing time waiting for Blogger to allow you to post your Monday Morning Art.

Disney Goes Krogering

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

According to a report in the latest issue of Brandweek, Disney is partnering with Kroger to introduce more than 100 Walt Disney branded “healthful” food items. This will be a Kroger-only “private label” brand, so it’s quite a marketing coup our local dominant grocery chain. This new Disney food label will be pitched as a healthy alternative to junk foods, and will include water, low-sugar juice, yogurt, meat, cheese, bread, pasta, soup, veggies, and portion-controlled ice cream treats.

Disney characters appearing on the packages include Woody and Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story,” Dash from “The Incredibles,” Mike Wazowski from “Monsters Inc,” Tigger, Winnie The Pooh, and Mickey Mouse. This is the first time that Disney has partnered with a food retailer for an entire line of products. Essentially, Disney’s kid’s line will become Kroger’s fourth in-house “private label” brand. It comes at a time when Disney is allowing their relationship with McDonalds to come to an end, signaling that perhaps they’re concerned with the possibility of Disney being found “guilty by association” when it comes to parent’s rising concern over the effect of junk food on their kids.

Disney’s healthy kids food items should start turning up soon, if they haven’t already, so that they can be in place for the back-to-school push. It’ll be interesting to see if this is just a cynical marketing push, or if Disney is serious about using their vast animated character library to try and influence kids to eat better. This effort goes beyond ineffective public service announcements, and actually tries to make healthier food products more enticing to children.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Hot Wheels Silhouette

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We’re going retro for this week’s cool toy. This is not something you can run out and buy, but it is relevant. Our cool toy this week is Bill Cushenberg’s SILHOUETTE, one of the neat-looking cars from the 1960s heyday of custom car design. I wrote about The Batmobile from this era, here. The reason I picked the Silhouette is because, aside from having been made into Hot Wheels and Model kits in years past, it was also the inspiration for the car in “Ribbon Driving,” the animated short by my brother Frank, which appears in the latest episode of Radio Free Charleston. See, it’s all synergistic and stuff.

Read more about RFC here.


This week’s SOTW is by The Broadband, an all-star, all-woman supergroup made up of Jill Sobule, Kay Hanley, and Michelle Lewis. “God Save The Internet” is a lovely plea for Net Neutrality, about which you should be seriously concerned. Go read up on it NOW!

Click on the song title, or follow the link to The Broadband to hear the song. Click on the rest of the links to learn more about the artists and the cause. This is a vital matter of free speech, and the danger of it being wiped out by greedy corporations and evil politicians. If you are an artist or musician, or enjoy the work of artists or musicians, you owe it to yourself to become educated on how this issue, which isn’t getting nearly enough attention, can affect you.

This could be an historical turning point. I try not to get too serious here in PopCult, but this is really a big deal that every person who believes in the First Amendment should make a primary concern.

Behind The Scenes At Radio Free Charleston

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The second episode of Radio Free Charleston is now online, over at the GAZZ TV page. Check it out and enjoy! Here are some behind the scenes tidbits about the show to enhance your viewing pleasure:

The shirt I’m wearing is an ECW shirt, featuring Rob Van Dam. I got this at the ECW show in Huntington on July 2. Later that night after leaving the show, Van Dam, at the time both the WWE and ECW Heavyweight champion, was pulled over at a speed trap in Hanging Rock, Ohio and was busted for possession of a certain illicit smokable herb popular with jazz musicians, or so I’ve heard. Wearing the shirt wasn’t necessarily a show of support. I just liked the way it looked.

Stephen Beckner’s song, “Falling Star” was the Song Of The Week last week here at PopCult. Stephen has only made a limited number of his “Apples” CD. If you’re interested in getting one, drop him an email. Meanwhile, check out his Myspace page and his cool photography blog. We gotta work on getting Stephen to play out more. As a member of Go Van Gogh, he was a titan of the old radio incarnation of RFC.

The Sleeping Dons, quite popular among the commentators on this blog, do not yet have a web presence. If you want to contact them, drop me a line at radiofreechas@charter.net and I’ll get the message to them. Check out their Song of the Week here. On RFC they perform a brand-new tune about Native Americans playing baseball, “Story Of the Coyote People.”

Look for more music from Stephen Beckner, The Sleeping Dons, and Whistlepunk (from our pilot) on future editions of RFC.

Of course, there’s more than music to Radio Free Charleston (named after my long-departed revolutionary radio show, but with video this time, in case you came in late). We also have animation from my brother Frank and my RFC compatriot, Brian Young. The big treat this episode is the debut of the leaked trailer for the next Batman movie. We’re really excited about that.

So episode two of RADIO FREE CHARLESTON is ready for viewing. We’re hard at work on the third episode, which may be ready remarkably fast. Honest. Let us know what you think of the show.

Monday Morning Art: Shameless Self Promotion

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We kick off this week with a digitally-assaulted self portrait frame grab from episode two of RADIO FREE CHARLESTON, which should go online later today. Sure, it’s cheesy and egocentric, but I never said I wasn’t cheesy and egocentric. After the show goes up, I’ll be posting more background information on the bands and short films, as well as other production tidbits.

Click to enlarge

PopCult note: The Cool Toy Of The Week has been delayed while I wait for it to arrive from Hong Kong. Be patient.

The Animation Glut Continues

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Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Earlier this year, we wrote about the glut of animated features stampeding into theatres and at the moment, we’re in the thick of that stampede. It’s been quite a mixed bag–the ultra low budget “Hoodwinked” exceeded box office expectations in January; Disney’s “The Wild” came and went with its only achievement being the footnote that, adjusted for inflation, it’s the worst-performing Disney animated feature of all time; “Ice Age 2” is considered a minor disappointment, but still topped the $150 million mark. Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” is humming along nicely and has already passed the $220 million mark in box office earnings. Most other animated films released this year sank like a stone, making barely a ripple at the boxoffice.

Which brings us to this week’s entry, “Monster House“, which brought in $23 million, good enough for second place at the box office this weekend. This haunted house story employs the same motion capture technology (and producers) used on “The Polar Express”, but instead of going for creepy photo realistic character designs, a more cartoony approach was used. By all accounts, the film is much more entertaining than its plodding, padded, Christmas-time predecessor. One other element that possibly contributes to the success of this movie is that the characters are human. It seems like half the computer animated features that have come out this year starred talking animals who all seem to share the same bland sense of design.

Next week, the competition for the family audience heats up further with the release of Warner Brothers “The Ant Bully“, produced by Tom Hanks and featuring character designs that look remarkably similar to Dreamworks 1998 cartoon “Antz.” This movie tells the story of a sadistic young bully who burns ants with a magnifying glass, then finds himself shrunk down to their size. This film comes out of the studio that gave us “Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius.” We don’t know how well this one will fare, with “Monster House” going strong and “Cars” still in the top ten.

The first week of August, things get ridiculous. Nickelodeon Films releases “Barnyard“, featuring even more talking animals, this time brought to life by some different members of the crew that did “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”. We can’t imagine what these studios were thinking, releasing three computer animated family films on three consecutive weeks. It will be a real test of the family film market as the studios scramble to get their kid flicks in theatres before school starts. It’ll be a shock if “The Barnyard” manages to draw more than $20 million total at the box office.

One other problem with the glut of animated feature films coming out this year is that so many of them look alike. Computer animation is no longer cutting edge. It’s become a cliche’. That’s why Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter has very quietly re-started Disney’s traditional animation unit. Apparently, going back to old style animation is going to be the only way to get noticed in the future.

Song Of The Week: Falling Star

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The latest SOTW is a treat from Stephen Beckner. “Falling Star” is the studio version of the song Stephen sings on the next Radio Free Charleston (which we are working on furiously).

This is a track from Stephen’s new home-made CD, Apples. For information on how to get a copy, contact Stephen Beckner here. You can check out Stephen’s photography on his blog here.

You can listen to a couple of songs from Stephen’s old band, Go Van Gogh, here.