PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

IWA: Triumph out of Tragedy

Tuesday night’s IWA show, “Psychopathic Tendencies,” could easily have been a disaster. At the last minute, their star attraction, the Insane Clown Posse, had to cancel. Late Monday afternoon, Violent J of the ICP called and explained that he had suffered a broken eardrum (doing something violent, no doubt) and IWA was left without a main event. Neither member of the ICP, nor Rude Boy, would be making the trip to South Charleston. However, something amazing happened. Even without the Insane Clown Posse, IWA East Coast managed to put on their most memorable show ever, in front of their largest crowd ever.

The show got off to a classy start. Mad Man Pondo announced that anyone who had come to see the ICP could get a full refund. This is very unusual for indy wrestling federations, who often use the “card subject to change” fine print as a way of getting out of giving refunds when the advertised stars don’t show. I didn’t see anyone leave. The fans started an “IWA, IWA” chant. The show was on. Then hardcore legend Ian Rotten spoke about Eddie Guerrero, the WWE Superstar who died unexpectedly on Sunday. Guerrero had worked with Ian in ECW and held the heavyweight belt in Rotten’s IWA Mid-South promotion. The entire roster came to the ring for the traditional 10-bell salute to the much loved Guerrero.

After that somber note, the surprises began. We’re talking Midget Wrestling, folks. Four-foot-four-inch Puppet, took on four-foot-four-and-one-half-inch Little Justice in a hardcore midget match. If you want a surreal experience, you can’t beat watching midgets staple dollar bills to each other’s heads. The winner was Puppet.

Ruckus then retained his CZW Heavyweight title against Old-school heel Tracy Smothers. Ashland’s The Juggulator (with Woody Numbers and a wheelchair-bound Crowza) lost in a shocker to Homeless Jimmy. All the matches were fast-paced and exciting, with memorable spots that the crowd of 400 was loving.

During the intermission, Charleston’s own Brain Trauma entertained with their theme song for IWA East Coast. I’m not big on rap music, but these guys sounded pretty good and really worked the crowd.

After the intermission we were treated to a women’s match, as Mickie Knuckles took on Portia Perez. Mickie is probably already the best female wrestler in North America, and is still gaining confidence as a performer and getting better with each show. Portia Perez looked like she was about 12 years old, but turned in a surprisingly strong match before being pinned. After the match, Perez ambushed Mickie and pinned her neck with with a steel chair. She then tore into the crowd, challenging any woman in the audience to take her on. This set up the next surprise of the evening, as Putnam County’s own Skytriss appeared and walked up behind the oblivious Perez.

Rusty Marks wrote a great profile on Skytriss in the Gazz a few months ago, but until you see her in person, you don’t realize just how enormous this woman is. Seeing her stride to the ring was like watching the Tall Ships come into Boston Harbor. Needless to say, the crowd loved it as Skytriss dwarfed Perez, who quickly made herself scarce. Then Skytriss carried a grateful Mickie to the back.

Following this match, Ironton’s Trik Nasty managed to defeat the monster Warpig and his keeper, Dr. Max Graves, by handcuffing Warpig to the ropes while he pinned the mad doctor. However, Dr. Graves swore some sort of evil retaliation, so this story is not yet done.

IWA East Coast Champion Chris Hero retained his title against what appeared to be an even more inebriated than usual El Drunko. Despite help from Woody Numbers, Crowza (still wheelchair-bound) and The Juggulator, El Drunko couldn’t pull off a win against IWA’s resident super-hero.

Then we got to the main event. Mad Man Pondo and Ian Rotten taking on “Mr. Insanity” Toby Klein, and The Necrobutcher in a bloody brawl that went all over the arena and wound up with Necrobutcher and Klein pinned beneath 40 or 50 steel chairs in the middle of the ring. When Pondo called for the fans to throw their chairs in the ring, it looked like some giant demented popcorn-popper, only with steel chairs instead of popcorn. When the DVD comes out, you’ll want to see this again and again. This was some first-class mayhem!

It was a wild night, even without the Insane Clown Posse. IWA East Coast’s shows just keep getting stronger and stronger, and when they return to the South Charleston Community Center in February, you can be sure I’ll be there.

The Next Wave from Adult Swim

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Adult Swim, the late night adult cartoon programming block on the Cartoon Network, has unleashed a slew of new programs lately. Some of these have been one-shot specials and others are long-term series. We’re going to catch up with some of the more notable efforts from the people who gave us Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021.

First up, we have Squidbillies, which is largely the work of Dave Willis from the ATHF creative team. This tale of inbred squids living in the backwoods of Georgia is a veritable whitetrash-apalooza. The star is Early Cuyler, a squid that embodies just about every negative redneck stereotype imaginable. After an iffy first episode, Squidbillies has proven to be just as perversely funny as ATHF turned out to be. Subversive and wilder than you’d think a Cartoon Network show could be, Squidbillies could become a breakout hit, or at least a cult favorite. It’s a crudely drawn, yet skillfully crafted cartoon for people who think that “Deliverance” is one of the funniest comedies ever made.

12 Oz. Mouse, like hard liquor, explosives and pharmaceuticals is an acquired taste. Imagine if the late Hunter Thompson and comedian Steven Wright were held at gunpoint and forced to write a cartoon after a three day drunk. Now imagine that their hands were crushed with cinderblocks before they were then forced to draw this cartoon. That’s the spirit of 12 Oz. Mouse. 12 Oz. Mouse follows the adventures of a liquored-up mouse who drives a yellow jet taxi, robs banks and creates mayhem. It looks like it was drawn on cocktail napkins two minutes before last call. This cartoon will NEVER win any awards for animation. But if you find anarchy, violence and exploding stoners funny, this is the show for you.

The Boondocks, based on Aaron Macgruder’s controversial comic strip, despite having several laugh out loud moments is a bit of a disappointment. Maybe we’re just over-reacting to the hype, but we expected something better than this. For some reason, rather than imitate the style of the strip, the producers chose to make the show look like a generic anime influenced TV cartoon. The pedestrian animation is a bit of a distraction. The pseudo-militant ironic observations about race don’t quite work, at least in the early episodes. The show seems to rely too much on the shock value of repeatedly using the “N” word, but unlike Dave Chapelle’s show on Comedy Central, the jokes aren’t funny enough to justify it. You have to wonder if, rather than being a cartoon that demonstrates the futility of racism, that Boondocks will become the favorite cartoon of racist morons who just can’t get enough of hearing that word. If Boondocks can evolve beyond the simple shock humor, it may grow into an amusing and possibly important show. For now, we’ll take a wait and see attitude.

In what was probably a one-shot deal, Adult Swim recently ran a cartoon called Minoriteam, about a team of racial stereotypes who fight against “the white man.” There are two notable things about this cartoon: The racial jokes, though well intended, fell completely flat and were totally unamusing. However, the cartoon itself was done in the style of the 1960s “Marvel Superheroes” cartoons, which were barely animated and used artwork traced from the actual Marvel comics. If you can ignore the ham-handed, rather pathetic attempts at humor, you’re left with a nice visual tribute to the late Jack Kirby, whose influence on this cartoon is so strong that they even bothered to acknowledge him in the credits.

If they run this again, watch it with the sound off. It was written by Adam De La Pena, from Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers, which explains how it was totally devoid of laughs. In an unfortunate bit of timing, this show premiered the same night as Boondocks, and aired right before an episode of Squidbillies where Early Cuyler declares his hatred of “the white man.” It made it seem like it was white guilt night on Adult Swim. Minoriteam, with any luck, will not be picked up as a series. The joke didn’t even last 11 minutes without growing stale.

Next week, we’ll bring you the latest animation news about John K. and an Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, and we’ll take a look at some interesting Saturday morning cartoons.

Weekend Injury Report

I now have one grand piece of advice that I can share with the world: If you must fall face-first, taking the full brunt of an impact on your visage, try not to do it in a gravel alleyway.

Saturday afternoon I was preparing for a visit from my sister and her kids, and took out the trash. Nothing unusual there. I noticed that, due either to a sloppy garbageman, strong winds, or a particularly muscular neighborhood rabbit, the garbage cans belonging to my neighbor across the alley were in my yard. I decided to be a good Samaritan and took his cans back to his yard. But I forgot about the old fencepost a car sheared off about 30 years ago that sticks up about three inches at the end of my yard. Beyond the yard lay the alleyway, in all its gravelly glory.

I don’t fall a lot. and I’ve never fallen and hurt myself. There’s a first time for everything. I had one empty garbage can in each hand, and didn’t let go of them. They acted like parachutes, catching the wind and pulling my arms back, so that the first part of my body to make contact with the ground was my face. (Actually my shoulder and face, but my face was the part that really counts here.)

Time slowed down, just like in the movies and in overly-dramatic first-hand accounts of stuff. As soon as I started falling, I realized that I’d tripped on the old fencepost. Then I thought, “This is going to hurt, but I’ll stop falling soon.” Only, I didn’t. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t my hands going in front of my face?” Then as the ground approached, I thought, “Something’s wrong here.”

So I went face first into the gravel. Once I stopped falling, I thought, “That wasn’t so bad.” Then I lifted my head, opened my eyes, and saw my glasses. And then I saw the rest of them. One lens had popped out, and the frame was smashed flat. It was at this point I realized that blood was pouring out of my face. The face is the second worst part of your body that you can have blood pouring out of. So I gathered up my glasses, returned my neighbor’s trash cans, and made my way to my house. I can see fairly well without my glasses, and it was clear that I wouldn’t be wearing them until I got the bleeding stopped. When I looked in my bathroom mirror, I was in for a surprise. My nose was split open, with an “S” shaped scar running right up the middle. It looked like I pissed off Zorro or something. (Actually, I looked like IWA wrestler Necrobutcher after one of his typical matches. I was wearing the “Crimson Mask.”)

I was hardcore!

Hurt like hell, too. So I cleaned myself up, loaded up a towel with ice, and called my brother. “Hey Frank, I just smashed my face open in the alley. I might need some help.” Then, I recalled my sister was on her way from Pittsburgh with the kids. Funny Uncle Rudy’s going to be a bloody mess. That’ll make the kids happy! She called with a progress report as they were passing through Fairmont. “Tell the kids Uncle Rudy has a boo-boo on his face. Lots of them!” While I was on the phone, my brother Frank came in.

Frank is the man to ask about falling. He’s been falling, walking into things and generally maiming himself for 35 years, ever since the infamous “glass door at Angela’s Pizza” incident. Frank has dozens of stories that start with, “Everything was covered with ice…” So I took his word on the facial damage I’d inflicted on myself– no plastic surgery needed. I may have a scar on my nose, but it’s not going to be prominent. Even if it is, I’ll just look like a Bond villain…..“Rudy Scarnose!”

Everything else will heal up fine–the eyebrow gash, the chin scrape, the two nose gashes. I think I know how Rocky Marciano felt after his second fight with Ezzard Charles. The only difference is that I didn’t come back to knock out the alley.

So when little Gina and Gino (the Ginoids, as we call them) showed up, it took a few moments for them to get used to seeing Uncle Rudy look like he was made up for Halloween. Luckily, I had Hot Wheels track, so they got over it real quick. And so did I. There’s nothing quite like playing Hot Wheels with a three-year-old to make you forget that you almost left your nose out behind the house.

Sunday morning I woke up, and to be honest, I didn’t feel that bad. My face is still a mess, but heck, that’ll just let me fit in with the IWA guys Tuesday night! I now know what it feels like to be busted open “hardway.” I figured I’d write up my story of smashing my face open, not because it’s really pop culture or anything, but at the very least, the guys over at WHCP will find it amusing. But I would like to not hear any more jokes about this happening because I was drinking. I am a notorious non-drinker. I’ve probably consumed less than three ounces of alcoholic beverages my whole life. I’d hate for anyone to think that I had to resort to artificial means to achieve an act of stupidity this monumental. The whole point of this self-indulgent post is that I’ll probably be posting a bit less this week. I’ll do a quick run-down of the IWA show on Wednesday, and Mel and I have an “Animated Discussions” on deck, but I have to take some time to get my glasses fixed and heal up a bit.

To make up for it, I’ll give you an Art Blog on Friday—“A Starry Night Over The South Side Bridge.” Things will be back to normal next week, barring any more face-smashing incidents.

Art Blogging


Scape number two

One more in the series

digital design, August 2005

Juggalos Invade South Charleston

Next Tuesday, the Insane Clown Posse will appear at the IWA East Coast Wrestling show, Psychopathic Tendencies, at South Charleston Community Center. This is going to be a wild night, as ICP’s faithful followers will gather to see their favorite horrorcore rap band charge into the squared circle. Despite being voted “worst band in the world” by several magazines, ICP has a rabid following, and their fan’s devotion is legendary.

At the last IWA East Coast show in September, ICP’s Violent J came to the rescue of Rude Boy, who had been brutally attacked by hardcore legend, Sabu. This was a huge surprise, since ICP is a nationally-known entity, and to see an unadvertised run-in by one of them was quite a shock.

However, after Violent J ran off Sabu, Rude Boy (a longtime associate of the Insane Clown Posse and their own JCW Wrestling federation) shocked the crowd by turning on his ally, beating on him and challenging him to a cage match. To make things even more surreal, he asked that Violent J’s partner in ICP, Shaggy 2 Dope, be the special referee.

So, next Tuesday night, Juggalos (diehard ICP fans) from all over the country will congregate at the South Charleston Community Center to see how this drama will play out. Will Shaggy 2 Dope be an impartial referee, or will he favor his partner? Heck, Shaggy may even turn on Violent J and break up the band. We’ll just have to see what happens.

In addition to the Insane Clown Posse, IWA East Coast will present a full card of their finest mayhem, with Mad Man Pondo and 2 Tuff Tony taking on “Mr. Insanity” Toby Klien and Necrobutcher in what promises to be a tag team bloodbath. El Drunko challenges Chris Hero for the IWA Heavyweight belt. Plus we’ll be treated to matches featuring IWA mainstays The Juggulator, War Pig and Dr. Max Graves, Trik Nasty, Mickie Knuckles, Ruckus, and more.

Juggalos are stridently loyal and follow the ICP with an almost-religious fervor. This will probably be the largest crowd ever at an ICP show, and from what I hear, ringside tickets are nearly sold out. It’s going to be a memorable evening. When it’s done, there should be blood, sweat, and Faygo everywhere.

If You Go: The IWA East Coast Wrestling show “Psycopathic Tendencies” begins 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15 at South Charleston Community Center, 601 Jefferson Rd. Tickets $10 general admission, $15 ringside. Order at www.iwaeastcoast.com.

Monday Morning Notes

Tom McGee (at right) returns to the airwaves tonight as WHCP begins their first newscast. It’ll be interesting to watch, just to see if WHCP can rise above their usual high-school A/V level production quality. Let’s hope that WHCP can fix their old transmission problems that recently cropped back up after disappearing for a few months. It’s not good for ratings when your station cuts out every four or five minutes. I’m going to give this new newcast a few days before I blog a review of it, just to give them a chance to work out the bugs. McGee, despite his off-screen troubles, has always projected an air of professionalism on camera, but we’ll have to see what sort of on-air crew he’s surrounded with, and how technically proficient the production people are. (I do have one wise-guy suggestion: How about calling the 10 p.m. newscast The Last Call?)

“Crash Gordon” premiered at the Capitol Center Theater Friday night, and a great time was had by all. The Voodoo Katz performed at a pre-show reception, and the crowd was treated to a gut-wrenching thrill-ride as Crash Gordon and his pals saved the Earth from a pandemic of alien flatulence. Director Bill Richardson took questions from the audience and explained the creative process. I’ll be keeping you up to date on future showings of this fun film spoof.

Melanie Larch, my longtime Gazette writing partner, will be joining me once a week as we bring our Animated Discussions column to the PopCult blog. Every Monday (roughly) we’ll bring you the latest news from the world of animation. Today we review Chicken Little and take note of a few local animation happenings. Next week, we’re going to look at the recent additions to the Adult Swim line-up. Melanie, aside from writing Animated Discussions with me for many years in the print Gazette, is also a titan of the Charleston stage, appearing in dozens of local productions. She’s currently gearing up for a solo performance with the West Virginia Symphony. There’s also that “main squeezedness” thing we have going on, but why belabor the obvious? The first PopCult editon of Animated Discussions appears in a posting earlier today.

Animated Discussions
By Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

REVIEW: CHICKEN LITTLE
Directed by Mark Dindal
Featuring the voices of Zach Braff, Amy Sedaris, and Joan Cusack

Disney’s Chicken Little is the studio’s attempt to replace Pixar, the computer animation house that gave us Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. While nowhere near Pixar in terms of quality, “Chicken Little” is still a solid effort that follows the successful formula: computer animation+heart tugging family rift + pop culture references = hit movie.

Chicken Little tells the famous children’s story of the chicken who thought the sky was falling, only this time, there’s a twist. It turns out the sky really is falling, but nobody believes him. The event is filtered through the prism of mass media exploitation. Actually, it turns out the sky is not really falling–it’s an alien invasion. But you get the picture.

Chicken Little is a very fast paced, action filled movie with some terrific gags and even though the “heart tugging family issues” seem a little artificial and tacked on, they don’t detract from a film that is good, light entertainment.

The voice cast is, to be honest, just a tad better than the material. Zach Braff (Scrubs) infuses Chicken Little with a voice that’s a decent approximation of a teenage Wally Cox. Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy) is wonderfully obnoxious as Foxy Loxy. While a big deal was made of Don Knotts’ role as Mayor Jerky Turkey, he actually has fewer lines than Adam West does in a surprise cameo. Fans of cheesy ’70’s music will be in hog heaven as Chicken Little’s porky sidekick, Runt(Steve Zahn), tends to break out with the playlist from an oldies soft rock radio station when he gets nervous. Though he doesn’t really speak, Fish (Out of Water) does as pretty good job of channeling Harpo Marx, and is responsible for some of the best moments of the movie.

Kids will love this film, despite the fact that it’s pure formula. Unlike last year’s dismal Shark’s Tale, this is formula moviemaking in the hands of people who know what they’re doing. Adults will also get a kick out of the film, with all the dated musical references and some very clever gags, although very picky people might recognize that some of them are recycled from other sources. Chicken Little is no home run, but it’s a solid triple. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Grade: B

FINALLY: BOOMERANG HITS TOWN!

After six years of begging, pleading, threatening, and then the quiet resignation that Charter must hate us, Charleston finally has the Boomerang Channel! Very quietly, with no fanfare or anything, Charter (the dominant cable provider in this area) added Boomerang on November 1st. It’s right there on Channel 111 on the digital tier, next to the Gospel music channel. Of course, the Gospel Music Channel gets a full page ad in Showtime, but they just chucked Boomerang out there with no warning, like they did with Logo back in June, almost like they were ashamed of it. We can’t imagine why, since we’ve been told repeatedly that Boomerang has been the most requested channel at Charter Communications for several years running. But hey, we get it now and that’s all that matters. In case you don’t know, Boomerang is the commercial free sister channel to the Cartoon Network. They show the classic Warner Brothers, MGM, and Hanna-Barbera cartoons and they’ve recently added the more recent but still excellent Superman and Batman series from the 1990’s. This is the only place where you can see the Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones and The Jetsons on a regular basis. Thank you very much, Charter! It’s about freakin’ time!

HOWL AT THE FILM FESTIVAL

This Saturday at 3:00 PM, the West Virginia International Film Festival brings us the only Charleston showing of Hayao Mayazaki’s latest masterpiece, Howl’s Moving Castle. This PG-rated anime feature celebrates the power of love to transform and the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity. When Sophie, a young woman, is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent, mysterious young wizard named Howl. Embarking on an incredible odyssey to lift the curse, Sophie finds refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle. Her love and support has a major impact on the wizard.

Catching Howl at the Film Festival this Saturday will be a great prelude to the Mayazaki film festival which will air on Turner Classic Movies in January. You can read more about it here.

Unfortunately, family commitments are going to prevent us from attending this Saturday’s showing. It’s a shame that a film of this stature gets relegated to a Saturday matinee during the Festival. It would be nice if more people would come out and support the Film Festival so that they could schedule more showings of some of the films.

For more information on the Film Festival and directions to the WVSU Capitol Center Theatre, check out their website here.

Art Blogging

The Union Building

Digitally Assualted Photograph

October, 2005

‘Crash Gordon’ World Premiere in Charleston on Friday

This Friday we get a rare chance to attend a world premiere right here in Charleston. I’m talking about “Crash Gordon,” the newly re-dubbed spoof by West Virginia filmmaker Bill Richardson. Not only is this your chance to see the first public showing of “Crash Gordon,” at the moment, it’s the only scheduled showing. So, if you like wild comedy with clunky robots, you won’t want to miss out on this chance to catch this flick.

I traded e-mails with Bill, and he told me about the creative process:

“The origin of this film began several years ago when I learned that there were a number of really great movies in the public domain. When something is in the public domain it basically means that everyone owns it. As an independent filmmaker I began looking for ways to use this discovery to help me make my first feature film.

After extensive research I decided that I would take the four-and-a-half hour serial “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” and turn it into a 90-minute comedy. The original film had a lot of unintentionally funny elements like silly robots, clunky spaceships and odd aliens and I felt I could build on those things and add a lot of other humor as well. The result is a film that has a very modern comedic sensibility but retains the visual character of the original film, with its soaring art deco sets and vintage sci-fi elements.

I have written dozens of scripts but this was by far the most difficult one I’ve ever done. Usually you start out with a blank page and can then let your imagination have free reign. In this case the visual part of the film was a given and I had to develop a plot, characters and jokes to fit the images. As a result, I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with a remote control in my hand rewinding and playing the original footage. It was a huge challenge. Not only did I have to come up with jokes that were funny, but I had to craft the wording of them so that they fit the lips of the characters on screen. A good joke is very hard to write. You have to use exactly the right words, in the right rhythm, with the right setup.”

The cast for “Crash Gordon” had to be adept at comedy, and flexible enough to do a sort of reverse lip-synch to match the footage. Crash Gordon, the lead character, is played by Dan Henthorn. Dan worked on “Falcon Crest” and has done summer stock and a lot of local theater. K.C. Bragg plays the scientist Dr. Jagov. Bill spotted K.C. when he was Hamlet in a local Charleston stage production. The female lead is Dull Ardent and she is played by Cindy McCoy. Cindy is a drama teacher at a small college in Williamson. She’s done voiceover work on some of Bill’s documentary projects.

The evil Emperor Bing is played by musician and actor Will Taylor. Another large role in the film is Captain Dork. He is Emperor Bing’s main henchman and is a thorn in the heroes’ side throughout the movie. Captain Dork is voiced by actor/singer/would-be-governor Jesse Johnson. Jim Damron, who was in both “Forest Gump” and “Matewan” played two different characters in the film, Captain Thong and Harelip.

Richardson assembled a troupe of voice artists to assay the minor incidental and background roles. Greg Harpold, Jeff Bukovinsky, Jason Dunbar, Jamie Dunbar and Richardson himself all voiced several different characters in the film. Bill tells me that some of the funniest lines in the movie are delivered by this little troupe.

“Crash Gordon” promises to be a unique West Virginia film experience. This is your chance to attend the first public showing of a movie that may very well become a huge cult hit. The premiere is 7 p.m. Friday night at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers Street with a Q-and-A with Richardson after the film. For more on the film fest, see the official festival site here.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Bonus Music Blogging

Apocolyspe On The River 02Remember the time that the Devil, himself, blew up South Charleston? It was in all the papers. Anyway, here’s a photo of what that event looked like as seen from Downtown Charleston. Accompanying this picture is a special piece of Halloweeen music–all nice and apocalypty. In fact, both the music and photo are titled, Apocalypse On The River.

The first half of the music is an old piece of music I wrote called “Machines Failing,” but in honor of the holiday, I wrote a new, orchestral, finish to it. Despite my compositional ineptitude, you may still notice that the end part is a wee bit similar to parts of Carmina Burana. I went for typical scary movie music, and that was what got stuck in my head. So I admit that it’s not the most original thing I’ve written, but after all, imitation is the flattest form of sincerity.