PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Monday Morning Art: Season’s Greetings



Remember how last week in this space your PopCulteer told you that he was going back to Chicago “soon?”  The truth is, by the time you saw that post I was already there.  A week-long trip to the Windy City took place to commemorate the birthday of Mrs. PopCulteer by running around town on the “L” and taking in the world premiere of the new Tracy Letts play, “The Minutes” before it heads to Broadway.

While in Chicago, we hit up one of our favorite haunts, Lincoln Square, where I took a photo of the giant Christmas Tree at Giddings Plaza. Above you see it all done up in digital pointallism, almost like it’s ready to be slapped on a Christmas card. You spend a morning staring at Seurat, you’re gonna want to pointallize a bit. I thought it looked cool, anyway. Click the image to see it larger.

Meanwhile, we are in the final days of our annual holiday tradition here in PopCult, so later today the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide continues with three more cool gift ideas. Be sure to check out all our unique gift suggestions. It’s going to wrap up Thursday, with an epic, Bible-length master list of all our gift ideas, complete with links, posted in Friday’s PopCulteer. Tuesday we devote the whole day to local music.

air-6-6-17While all this is going on, please remember that you can tune in and hear cool stuff on our internet radio station, The AIR.

You can listen at the website, or on this familiar little embedded player…

We’re bringing you more of the best independent radio that you’ll ever hear anywhere on our humble little internet station. Your PopCulteer is planning to crank out some special holiday programming this week on The AIR, including new editions of Radio Free Charleston and The Real with Mark Wolfe on Tuesday, and new episodes of Life Speaks to Michele Zirkle  and Curtain Call on Wednesday, plus we’re adding new special holiday music all week long. Take a gander at this ever-changing embedded schedule…

Sunday Evening Video: Batman vs. Two-Face

gg-two-faceAs with the previous few weeks, our Sunday Evening Video is also an entry in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. Above you see the trailer for Batman vs. Two Face, a direct-to-video animated feature starring Adam West in his final performance as Batman. Joining West, who returned to the role that made him famous last year, are Burt Ward as Robin and Julie Newmar, as Catwoman.

New to the mix in this feature is William Shatner, who takes on the role of Two Face, the one major Batman villain who didn’t make it onto the original TV show in the 1960s. ABC thought the character was too gruesome, and rejected a script pitched to them by Harlan Ellison. That script was used as the basis for a comic book a couple of years ago, so this feature film offers up a whole new story that tells how Two Face came to be, and what made him that way.

Just the idea of West and Shatner acting together is priceless, but they both deliver really good performances here. In the story Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent is mutilated in a laboratory accident. When the duplicitous Two-Face embarks on a crime spree, Batman and Robin must solve the mystery of his identity while facing off against several other foes.

We lost Adam West this year, and Batman vs. Two Face is a terrific send off for the man who was Batman for an entire generation. You ought to be able to find this anywhere that DVDs or Blu Rays are sold, or hit up Amazon.

A note for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide today. This will be our only post for December 10. Your PopCulteer has actually been in Chicago for the past week, and wrote all of the entries for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide for the last ten days in advance. I’m back now, but still resting up from my trip, so we’ll be back in full force Monday for the final four days of the guide, with a huge master list coming on Friday. Thanks for reading PopCult and have fun giving these gifts.


2017 PopCult Gift Guide: Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin

Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery
gg-suger-facotryby Paul Raphaelson
ISBN13: 9780764354120

Next up in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide we have a book of photography that documents the last days of an architectural icon. Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery, featuring the photography of Paul Raphaelson, is a wonderful gift for anybody who enjoys great photography, industrial buildings or documents of landmarks that are no longer with us.

Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar Refinery, once the largest in the world, shut down in 2004 after a long struggle. Most New Yorkers know it only as an icon on the landscape, multiplied on T-shirts and skateboard graphics. Paul Raphaelson, known internationally for his formally intricate urban landscape photographs, was given access to every square foot of the refinery weeks before its demolition.

Raphaelson spent weeks speaking with former Domino workers to hear first-hand the refinery’s more personal stories. He also assembled a world-class team of contributors: Pulitzer Prize–winning photography editor Stella Kramer, architectural historian Matthew Postal, and art director Christopher Truch. The result is a beautiful, complex, thrilling mashup of art, document, industrial history, and Brooklyn visual culture. Strap on your hard hat and headlamp, and wander inside for a closer look.

This book is a time-capsule, capturing the dying moments of a one-thriving building. It’s bittersweet, which is ironic considering what the refinery made, but it’s an impressive preservation of one more piece of history, now lost to the ages.

You ought to be able to order Brooklyn’s Sweet Ruin: Relics and Stories of the Domino Sugar Refinery from any bookseller by using the ISBN number, or you can order it directly from the publisher.

gg-atomobloxToday’s toy pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is one of those things that made the list just because it looks so darned cool. Automoblox is a high-quality line of buildable and mixable vehicles that presents an innovative reinvention of the classic wooden toy car, and is a popular favorite because of its imaginative play, creativity and collectability. Any kid, aged four and up, will love these, and so will parents who enjoy wonderfully-designed toys, too.

Each vehicle includes multiple interchangeable components and sports a body made of European beech wood. Kids can play with and collect cool sedans, rugged trucks, sporty vans and more. The more they collect, the more customizing they can do.

Created by designer Patrick Calello, Automoblox hit the market a few years ago, and has grown into a bit of a phenomenon. The original line of larger cars retails for under forty dollars each, while the new Mini line, which offers a really cool-looking assortment of vehicles, sells for under fifteen dollars each. There are also sets with more than one car, because a lot of the fun is the mix-and-match play value.

Automoblox also has a website where kids and collectors can register their cars. There’s even downloadable coloring pages there as well.

You can find Automoblox at toy retailers nationwide, or order them from the Automoblox store. When buying toys for kids, it’s hard to go wrong with really neat toy cars.

montage32small-e1417270991240We continue our month-long interruption of the chronological presentation of Radio Free Charleston to bring you our second Christmas episode. Above you see “West Virginia Shirt,” our Christmas, 2007 show. This show features Mountain Laurel Ensemble, 69 Fingers, The Android Family and animation by Brian Young and Rudy Panucci.  It’s hosted from Stately Radio Free Charleston Manor and it’s part of the Christmas that almost wasn’t. This show was remastered and returned to public view in 2014, after a six-year absence.

Your loyal host and blogger got really sick while editing this show, and never quite got around to writing any production notes. I shot the host segments myself while putting up my Christmas tree later than I ever had before. It was a ridiculously busy time and exhaustion and a sinus infection caught up with me. In fact, that year I was so sick over the holidays that I went eight days without posting to PopCult, my longest gap ever.

If I can recall correctly, I recorded Mountain Laurel Ensemble at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in South Hills. It was a solo shoot using tripods because they rehearsed in the daytime while camera two was at work. 69 Fingers was recorded the previous summer at the La Belle Theater in South Charleston.

This show also includes The Android Family Christmas Special, the magnum opus of our favorite family of psychotic robots. To date, this is the most recent installment of The Android Family, but I’m looking to change that when we bring Radio Free Charleston out of the video show mothballs sometime in 2018. Our animation is a collaboration between yours truly and Brian Young, and depicts the life of Christmas trees.

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: The Marx Brothers on Stage

Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage
gg-marx-brothersby Robert S. Bader
Northwestern University Press
ISBN-13: 978-0810134164

We’ve already recommended a book about the Marx Toy Company in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. Now we give you a book about The Marx Brothers. Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage is perfect for any fan of the comedy legends, and it will also be an informative treat for anyone interested in vaudeville and the early days of Broadway.

Before film made them international comedy legends, the Marx Brothers developed their comic skills on stage for twenty-five years. In Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage, Robert S. Bader offers the first comprehensive history of the foursome’s hardscrabble early years honing their act in front of live audiences.

From Groucho’s debut in 1905 to their final live performances of scenes from A Night in Casablanca in 1945, the brothers’ stage career shows how their characters and routines evolved before their arrival in Hollywood. Four of the Three Musketeers draws on an unmatched array of sources, many not referenced elsewhere. Bader’s detailed portrait of the struggling young actors both brings to vivid life a typical night on the road for the Marx Brothers and also illuminates the inner workings of the vaudeville business, especially during its peak in the 1920s.

As Bader traces the origins of the characters that would later come to be beloved by filmgoers, he also skillfully scrapes away the accretion of rumors and mythology perpetuated not only by fans and writers but by the Marx Brothers themselves. Revealing, vital, and entertaining, Four of the Three Musketeers will take its place as an essential reference for this iconic American act.

Bader is no slouch in this pursuit. He is the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and Tall Tales. Bader is also the writer and producer of the Warner Bros. documentary The Dawn of Sound: How Movies Learned to Talk, and has produced numerous archival DVD releases, including two sets of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. and the Marx Brothers TV Collection. The man knows his Marx Brothers.

it’s great to have an in-depth study of this era of the Marx Brothers’ development, and it’s also really handy to have the rumors and misinformation sorted out from what really happened. Any fan of the Marx Brothers will find new information about the troupe in this book. You should be able to order it from any bookseller, using the ISBN number, or take the easy way and go to Amazon.

gg-accentuateNext up in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide we have a party game that lets players cut loose with all the acting chops they can muster. This is the perfect gift for anyone who enjoys multi-player games that let them ham it up and use funny voices. Accentuate will have you in stitches.

In Accentuate, one player is given a card with a movie quote. That player has to deliver that line in a random accent. If their team can guess which accent is being attempted, They score. Bonus points come into play if they know which movie the quote’s from, who said it, what year it came out, and the director. The more you know, the more you score. The movie quotes are from all types of films–rom coms, action, drama, oldies, superhero and more–and the accents you’ll have to quote them in will be beyond wacky.

The rules are a little more heady than that, but you get the gist. Accentuate comes with 500 Quotes on 250 Cards. There are also 120 Accents Cards (with 30 Different Accents), 4 Accent Lists, Die, a Timer and the Rules.

You don’t have to be good at accents to play this game. You just have to be willing to have an uproarious good time trying. And even if you think you’re good at accents, the wacky combos could throw you off–you never really thought of mimicking a superhero flick in a Southern accent, right?

The cards make for some fun trivia even if you don’t know the answers. Maybe it’ll bring back some memories, or you’ll learn something new so next time you play you’ll nail it. Besides, the trivia stuff is secondary–the accents make the game.

Accentuate is a great game for four players, aged twelve or older. It can be found online at Walmart and Barnes & Noble, and at game retailers nationwide for under twenty-five dollars.

gg-marbleocityToday’s toy pick for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is actually an entire line of really cool toys that I’ve liked since I saw them at the New York International Toy Fair in 2016. Marbleocity is a line of laser-cut wooden STEM kits made in the USA. The toys take STEM to a new level by bringing real fun to hands-on learning. This is the perfect educational gift for tweens and teens on your holiday shopping list who may not even realize that they’re learning while they play.

With Marbleocity, kids will enjoy building skate parks and roller coasters. While doing this they are exposed to physics concepts and engineering principles in an engaging format. When they’re finished, the intricate and beautiful designs of each module and working marble run feature make it an awesome toy and kinetic sculpture. Each set comes with a comic that serves as instructions for how to build the set, and also imparts the knowledge behind how each set works.

It’s not intimidating for children to learn about roller coaster design, conservation of energy, projectile motion or centripetal force when a character is taking them through the concepts in a fun and relatable way. With Marbleocity, kids are engineers, scientists, mathematicians and more, all the while enjoying the experience. And in the end, they’ve learned something and have a cool marble run.

There are currently four different models in the Marbleocity line with more planned. All sets are made of laser-cut Baltic Birch and do not require batteries. They range in price from thirty to sixty dollars, but some retailers are discounting them so you might want to shop around. The toys look fantastic, with a Steampunk feel as wood and marbles collide to create living art.

The Mini Coaster is for the beginner. They can build a wild ride full of dips and turns, and learn some engineering and physics along the way. This set takes about an hour to build. It consists of over 30 laser-cut wood parts and is recommended for ages nine and up.

Once they master the Mini Coaster, they can take on The Dragon Coaster and construct their own wooden roller coaster, again with plenty of dips and turns, and steeper, higher, more complicated angles and trajectories. The Dragon Coaster is inspired by the real wooden roller coaster of the same name, located at Playland in Rye, NY. This set consists of over 80 laser-cut wooden parts and is recommended for ages twelve and up.

The Mini Skate Park crams a lot of physics action in a small space. Builders can make a stair descent, rail slide and jump. With this set, the marbles get air. A multi-gear left gets the marbles into position to take the jump before hitting the stairs and rail slide. This set consists of over 30 laser-cut wood parts and is recommended for ages nine and up.

Finally we have the full Skate Park set, which highlights the physics of skateboarding with a half-pipe, stair descent, rail slide and…an even bigger jump! This module can stand on its own or adjoin the Dragon Coaster module to allow circulation of marbles between the two. It consists of over 80 laser-cut wooden parts and is suitable for ages twelve and up.

Marbleocity can be found at many toy and game retailers, or at Amazon, and has it’s own website starring the feature characters in the comics, The Tinkineers. It’s a great gift for kids, and can teach them the basics of physics and engineering, and it also works as a stress-relieving project for adults who need a release from the everyday worries of life.

See Marbleocity in action here…

gg-cpkOur toy pick for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide today puts a new spin on a beloved classic, and gives kids a whole new little world to control. Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts are small, collectible versions of the classic Cabbage Patch Kids, perfect for kids ages four and up who love their CPKs, but don’t want to carry around the 14″ doll all the time. There’s even an element of blind box collectibility with this toy line.

Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts, is billed as a child’s first collectible toy line. It consists of of micro figures and playsets that help create the world where Cabbage Patch kids, babies and pets actually live.

The Little Sprouts world is bustling with neighborhood pals and big-time fun. Skip along the friend-filled streets, snuggle with loveable furry pets, and help sweet babies stay healthy and grow. There’s tons of play value here. All told there are 120 Little Sprouts kid, baby, and pet figures, and they’re all reasonably priced, so kids can collect them like crazy and not break the bank.

Little Sprouts figure offerings are available 4 Pack and 8 Pack Friends Sets as well as Blind Boxes. All sets include a mix of kids, babies, pets, accessories and even surprise limited edition pets.

There are playsets, too. The Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts – Lil Patch Vet Center is a full-service veteranary clinic that’s just the place to go when the CPK’s furry friends have a boo-boo or need a quick clip ’n dip. Kids can use the scale to weigh them in before their head-to-toe check-up. There’s even an X-ray machine to scan for broken bones! Keep pets looking cute and cuddly in the grooming station. You can slide them into the tub for a quick scrub! This set includes an exclusive Adoptimal figure and accessories.

We also have the Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts – Cabbage Academy, a school playset that buzzes with oodles of learning and creativity. There’s a flip-up study hall to hang with friends. At recess time, the kids head to the slide-out playground to shoot some hoops, zip down the slide, and kick up their feet on the real working swing.   The expandable playset includes an exclusive Kid figure and accessories.

A more elaborate playset is the Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts – BabyLand General Hospital, complete with three lovable floors of fun. Make sure babies are healthy from head to toe in the exam room. When they’re fussy, hop in the elevator and head to the feeding area for a snack. Tired babies? It’s time for a warm bath then off to the nursery for cuddles, lullabies, and nap time. The playset includes two exclusive Baby figures and accessories.

These are great gifts for the budding collector on your holiday shopping list, and they’re also loaded with play value. Instead of giving them age-inappropriate Rick and Morty blind box figures or Funko Pops from R-rated movies, give them something that won’t warp their minds. There’s plenty of time to do that later. You can find Cabbage Patch Kids Little Sprouts where ever toys are sold.

gg-lpjToday’s music pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is a real treat for fans of Swing Music. As the host of The Swing Shift on The AIR, you know that includes me. I was gobsmacked a few months ago when I discovered that Louis Prima’s son was touring with a new band that pays tribute to his father’s music, and that they’d released two albums in recent years. I totally missed out on that. I need to pay better attention. I’m going to recommend both albums for the Swing Music lover on your holiday shopping list.

In 2012 Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses released the album, Return of the Wildest!, featuring vocalist Sarah Spiegel. This album saw the band tearing through several songs made famous by Louis Prima Sr. and launched the band on a cool trajectory that saw them play all over the world.

Building off of the success of their critically acclaimed debut CD, Return of the Wildest!, the band injected many years of diverse musical tastes into their second offering, BLOW — a collection of original music (save for a couple of surprises) as eclectic and unique as each member of this powerhouse band, which now includes vocalist Leslie Spencer. From the first thunderous stomps of the title track, it is evident that this ain’t your daddy’s swing music.

BLOW is a killer portrait of Prima Jr. and his band, The Witnesses. As energetic and over-the-top as their live shows, BLOW continues the ever-changing musical journey that Prima Sr. began in the ’30s. “With the band’s collective talents and diverse musical tastes, we wind up with a sound unique to this band, while staying true to the boisterous Prima style,” says Louis. “We didn’t set out to simply write music we thought the fans wanted to hear. We wanted to challenge ourselves musically and also challenge the listener. You can’t fool the fans by trying to force the word ‘daddy-o’ into every song. If music does not come honestly from your soul, it will ultimately be short lived.”

With BLOW LPJ and The Witnesses jump into the forefront of the Swing Revival movement, which is gaining steam once again and could well be the next big thing…again.  Let’s hope.

I’ve been playing tracks from both albums on The Swing Shift, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If you have a Swing Music lover on your holiday shopping list, you can find both albums at Amazon and visit his website for a sample of his music and tons of videos of the band in action.