PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Monday Morning Art: Randolph Street

This week’s Monday Morning Art hails from the West Side of Charleston. It’s a digitally assaulted photograph looking Westward down Randolph Street at the intersection with Florida Street. This is the way the streets look to me. Click to enlarge.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Dig This!

This week we’re taking an educational turn with our cool toy, but don’t worry, it’s still fun. Our pick is the I Dig line of playsets from Action Products International. These are little (or big) hunks of rock that come with the tools needed to chip away at them until you reveal a fossil, arrowhead, or other nifty treat within. It’s a cool way for kids to learn the techniques of fossil recovery and excavation without digging holes all over your front yard. These are perfect for the budding archeologist or burgeoning tomb raider. The prices aren’t too bad, either. Small kits start at around five dollars, but some of the more elaborate kits sell for more than 50 bucks.

You can order these directly from API here, but if I recall correctly, these can also be found at the gift shop in the Avampato Discovery Museum at the Clay Center.

The Animated Blogosphere

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

There seem to be blogs out there on every topic, so it’s no surprise that there are thousands devoted to animation. We’re going to check in on three Spumco-related blogs today, and we’ll check back with more animation blogs in the coming weeks.

All Kinds Of Stuff is the blog of John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy and Ripping Friends. John’s blog isn’t just a repository for plugs of his work and upcoming projects, John K. has also been sharing his vast knowledge on animation history and technique. This blog is updated several times a week, and it’s all meat, no filler. John also gets more comments than any other blog we’ve seen. Any prospective animator, or fan of the art form, should bookmark this blog and visit it every day.

Funny Cute is the work of Katie Rice, a Spumco newcomer and protege of John K, who worked extensively on the most recent episodes of Ren & Stimpy. She specializes in drawing cute girls, and shares her work with her readers on a regular basis. Katie’s been doing her blog longer than the other Spumco folks, and it’s a safe bet that she may have inspired the others to claim their own little corner of the blogosphere.

Uncle Eddie’s Theory Corner was just launched last week by legendary animator Eddie Fitzgerald, a longtime John K. cohort, and the possessor of the famous “clean hand” from the days when Nickelodeon fired Spumco from Ren & Stimpy. On this blog, Eddie will share funny drawings, poetry and whatever else he feels like doing. It’s going to be a blog to watch.

Charleston Area Bloggers Want You

CAB5, the fifth gathering of Charleston Area Bloggers, will take place Friday May 25 at the coffeshop in Taylor Books. Bloggers will be meeting between 8 and 9 AM. I was lucky enough to attend CAB4 (as seen in Rick Lee’s blog, here), and I’ll be at Taylor Books Friday morning. The meeting is open to any blogger in the Charleston Area (extending to the entire state, really). It’ll be a fun meeting of the minds. Maybe we can get a record turnout this time.

Being Evil

Go ahead, follow this link. It’ll stick in your head for days.

Song Of The Week: New Bluegrass

This week’s SOTW, in honor of this weekend’s Vandalia Gathering, is a cool little tune by progressive bluegrass band, The Yonder Mountain String Band. “Left Me In A Hole” is a lament to a lost love from their 1999 CD “Elevation.” Despite the sad subject matter it’s an uptempo song with bright folksy vocals.

I first discovered the Yonder Mountain boys last year, when they provided the highlight of a CD tribute to the Beatle’s “Rubber Soul” album. On checking out their website, I was mightily impressed. I’m not normally a big fan of country-leaning music, but occasionally a bluegrass band will cut through the twang, and get to me with their musicianship. The Yonder Mountain String Band manages to stay true to traditional bluegrass instrumentation while bringing a fresh approach to arrangements and vocal harmony. They manage to do this without giving in to typical Nashville gloss and phoniness. As they say in their press kit, they’re “bridging the gap between bluegrass and rock.”

Our SOTW is not from their latest self-titled CD. The new CD takes the band even further into new musical territory. Best of all, you can hear their new CD for free. It’s streaming in the background when you visit their website. While visiting their website, you can also order their CDs and buy merchandise. I don’t know if these guys have ever been on Mountain Stage, but if they haven’t, they should be. They have the perfect sound for the show. They seem to be circling West Virginia for the next week, with shows in Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia. Maybe we can get them to play here some time.

Monday Morning Art: A Very Sunny Day

This week’s Monday morning jumpstart art is “A Very Sunny Day In Dunbar.” It’s a digitally assaulted photograph of the recently-dismantled vacant Ames Department Store in Dunbar. I took this photo last week, but thought it would look better with a surreal sky and giant sun. The sun appears courtesy of NASA. click the image to see it bigger

Over The Hedge, Under The Radar

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Dreamworks’ Over The Hedge opens this weekend, and it may be lost in the rush as crowds flock to “The Da Vinci Code” instead of taking in a fine family flick. Based on the comic strip, which has been running in the Sunday Gazette-Mail lately, all indications are that this is a fun, well-made little cartoon, but it may not be “flashy” enough to compete against summer blockbusters.

Initial reviews are generally positive, but not enthusiastically so. “Over The Hedge” just doesn’t seem to be a big summer movie, despite an all-star cast that features Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell and William Shatner, among others. It’s an indication of how far computer animation has come that the novelty has worn off. It’s not special any longer, and it’s going to take more than computer-animated cute little animals to stand out. The ad campaign for this film hasn’t been as ubiquitous as those for CGI cartoons usually are. Those ads that have run don’t make the film look much different from all the other CGI animal cartoons that are out there. Does anyone remember Disney’s “The Wild?”

With Ice Age 2 closing in on 200 million dollars, and Pixar‘s Cars due out next month, it’s possible that “Over The Hedge” could wind up lost in the glut. With the low-budget but heavily marketed Hoodwinked out on DVD this week, this could be a case of really bad timing for Dreamworks.

And that would be a shame. “Over The Hedge” is a sweet little cartoon that acts as sort of an origin story for the comic strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis. The writers and directors of the movie actually treated the source material with respect, which is rare for adaptations of comic strips or comic books. The designs had to be tweaked somewhat to be translated into 3D modeling, but they really seem to have stayed true to the spirit of the comic strip. Let’s hope that “Over The Hedge” doesn’t wind up as box-office roadkill.

Cool Toy Of The Week: Bush Bop Bag

It’s never good to kick a man while he’s down, but with the Bush Bop Bag, you can at least punch the president in the nose, while his poll numbers are at rock bottom. This is a fresh take on the old inflatable bop bag, only instead of featuring Bozo the Clown, it features a different bozo.

Produced by Rocket USA, a company that’s also cool enough to make toys based on Futurama and Family Guy, this punching bag of the punching bag in chief can be found online at Cool Cheap Stuff and Amazon. You can usually find this particular bag of hot air for less than 20 bucks.

Think of this as a less risky way of expressing your true feelings over the war in Iraq, the price of gas, the erosion of our civil liberties, or the way he pronounces “nuke-yoo-ler.” You can wail away at will without the fear of being dragged to the ground by the Secret Service and then whisked away to a secret prison where you’ll be tortured and forced to listen to Dick Cheney croon “Volare.”

A Day At The Races/ A Night At The Opera

It’s a stretch, but any tenuous link that lets me work in a cheap Marx Brothers reference in the headline is worth making.

Saturday, the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in horse racing’s famed Triple Crown, takes place at Pimlico, which is a fun word to say, wherever the hell it is. This is a very big deal for some people. Not as big a deal as the Kentucky Derby, because there seems to be less alcohol involved, but it’s a big deal nonetheless. NBC will be showing the big race at 6:14 PM, which means that you can watch it, then get dressed and head on over to the Clay Center.

Because at 8 PM, for one night only, the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra presents Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, which has a plot worthy of the aforementioned brothers Marx. It’s a race to the altar, as Figaro tries to wed his bride-to-be before she’s bedded by a philandering Count. This will be an elaborate version of the opera, with the Symphony at full strength under the baton of Maestro Grant Cooper. Director Richard McKee brings us a full staging, bolstered by the West Virginia Symphony Chorus, and several guest soloists.

If You Go: The Marriage Of Figaro kicks off at 8 PM at the Clay Center, Saturday May 20. Tickets start at $12 for the general public, with discounts for students. Call 561-3570 or visit the Symphony’s website for more details.